Thursday, March 11, 2010

Haiti Asks US For $15bn Aid Package

By Brad Norington

HAITI'S President is asking for a $US14 billion ($15.3bn) aid package to turn the rubble of Port-au-Prince into a thriving modern city after January's earthquake.

President Rene Preval unveiled details after meeting President Barack Obama at the White House yesterday.

Speaking afterwards, Mr Obama did not commit to dollar figures but went out of his way to stress the horrific living conditions for Haitian survivors and committed the US to long-term assistance.

"The situation on the ground remains dire, and people should be under no illusions the crisis is over," Mr Obama said.

He said the challenge remained to prevent a second disaster based on the desperate need for food, shelter and medicines.

The plan for Port-au-Prince, which will be submitted to a special UN donors conference on March 31, includes proposed funding for a model city of cycle paths, beachfront boardwalks and eco-friendly housing.

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Up to half a million of the homeless refugees living around Port-au-Prince in tents or in the open would be relocated to suburbs outside the capital. The economy would be revitalised, ideally through tourism and agriculture exports such as coffee, mangoes and flowers. Haiti, which experienced a turbulent political history before Mr Preval became President, is promising economic regrowth will not be accompanied by corruption.

The US government is in the throes of reducing its official presence in Haiti after the navy hospital ship Comfort left Haiti yesterday. The number of military personnel has been halved to about 10,000 in recent weeks.

Mr Obama insisted the reduction in the military presence was not an indication that the US commitment was waning. Standing alongside Mr Preval in the Rose Garden of the White House, Mr Obama said he intended the US commitment would endure.

"This pledge is one I made at the beginning of the crisis, and I intend for America to keep our pledge," he said. "America will be your partner in the recovery and reconstruction effort."

The US President said his country would work with others to build Haiti's capacity to deliver basic services.

The Haiti earthquake struck on January 12 with its epicentre in the town of Leogone, about 25km west of Port-au-Prince. It left 230,000 dead and more than one million homeless.

Stories of how aid has failed to reach suburbs outside the immediate Port-au-Prince city abound. The report of a doctor accompanying aid organisations obtained by The Australian describes how malnutrition and vitamin deficiency is widespread weeks after the disaster.

It says many infectious diseases have spread, and reports that up to 50 per cent of children in some areas have diarrhoea. Gastroenteritis is common. Diseases reported include tuberculosis, typhoid, malaria and dengue fever.

Mr Preval faced criticism immediately after the earthquake for not offering leadership to his people. He has since reappeared and his presence yesterday at the White House was part of a big push by the Haitian government for international aid. The amount of likely future US aid for Haiti remains unclear, but some estimates put it at $US1bn.

Source: TheAustralian

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