Haiti to Request $4 Billion from Donors for Reconstruction

The Haiti president, René Préval, speaks as former US president Bill Clinton (far right), US secretary of state Hillary Clinton (far left) and UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon (second left) look on. (Photo: Peter Foley/EPA)

Haitian authorities are expected to request nearly $4 billion from international donors today for initial funding of an elaborate 15-year reconstruction plan that will move the country far beyond its status quo prior to the Jan. 12 quake.

Haitian President René Préval will reveal the plan today at the U.N. headquarters in New York City where representatives of some 120 countries will be gathering to discuss funding for rebuilding the devastated Caribbean country.

"[Haiti] has the best chance in my lifetime ... to build a modern self-sustaining state," former U.S. president Bill Clinton, a U.N. special envoy for Haiti, said in a speech last week.

The crux of the massive plan, whose authorship was directed by Haitian Prime Minister Jean Max-Bellerive, is focused on decentralizing Haiti from its capital city, Port-au-Prince, where nearly half of the country's 9 million population lived prior to the quake.

The plan also calls for building new roads, airports and seaports, as well as developing tourism and health care.

"Rebuilding Haiti does not mean returning to the situation that prevailed before the earthquake," the document states. "It means addressing all these areas of vulnerability, so that the vagaries of nature or natural disasters never again inflict such suffering or cause so much damage and loss."

Over $5 billion has already been promised to Haiti prior to the conference, including $2.7 billion from the European Union and a coalition of humanitarian groups and $2.8 from the U.S. government.

In a statement released yesterday, Refugees International Senior Advocate Patrick Duplat called the Obama administration's pledge a "reassuring sign of America's continued interest in the well-being of the Haitian people" adding that "we must ensure that it's spent wisely."

At the same time, however, Duplat notes that "millions of Haitians are still desperate for food, water, shelter and protection from abuse and exploitation" despite the billions of dollars that have flowed into the country since the quake.

Adequate shelter, in particular, is becoming increasingly vital for those displaced by the quake, as heavy rains and floods, which left 13 dead in February, continue to threaten livelihoods.

Catholic Relief Services (CRS), which has raised nearly $121 million for quake victims, has started a campaign to ensure that all homeless Haitians can have at least a sturdy tent to shelter themselves with before the rain comes.

"The push is to be able to give people safer options than where they are living now," CRS worker Isaac Boyd told Catholic News Service (CNS). "The main point is either to get people off some pretty unsightly sites or at least slim down the population in these camps significantly."

Meanwhile, a $1.4 billion campaign by the U.N. to address immediate needs in Haiti remains less than 50 percent fulfilled.

"The appeal has stagnated," Elisabeth Byrs, spokeswoman for the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, said on Tuesday. "It is essential that the burst of generosity that we saw at the beginning of the crisis continues."

The 7.3-magnitude earthquake on Jan. 12, which claimed the lives of over 200,000 people, was the worst natural disaster to hit Haiti in nearly two centuries.

The quake caused an estimated $14 billion in damage to the country, which was already the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere, with 80 percent of its population living on less than $2 a day.

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