Donor Countries Discuss Efforts to Help Haiti Rebuild

International donors agreed Monday during a meeting in Montreal on a 10-year rebuilding effort for earthquake-damaged Haiti that would cost approximately 3 billion dollars. Patrick Delatour, a presidential aide, said that this money would be used to house 200,000 people left homeless in 200 model communities complete with schools and health care centers, as well as to rebuild government ministries and national infrastructure.

Addressing representatives from 14 countries and the European Union about their concerns about the government’s ability to direct a large reconstruction project, Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive explained, “The Haitian government is working in precarious conditions, but it can provide the leadership that people expect.” President René Préval, whose office at the National Palace was destroyed, sent aides to the palace grounds to begin the process of building temporary offices and lodging for him there. President Préval, who has yet to formally address the country since the earthquake, issued a written plea for immediate aid on Monday, asking for 200,000 sturdy, family-size tents and 1.5 million food rations.

The countries being called on for help requested an independent damage assessment, which could begin as early as next week, “made up of experts from the World Bank, the Inter-American Development Bank, and the United Nations Development Program. The donor nations agreed that the Haitian government would be front and center in the international effort to rebuild the country, with the United Nations acting as a conduit for donations. They also agreed that the aid would be closely tracked.

The Haiti director for the United Nations program Eric Overvest sees this as an opportunity “to rebuild a better Port-au-Prince.” Before the quake, the capital had been dangerously overcrowded, with makeshift homes built on the steep hillsides surrounding the city and narrow, winding roads clogged with traffic. Construction standards were all but absent. “We have to do things differently,” said Jacques Gabriel, the minister of public works. “We’re sending a message to the population not to rebuild their damaged homes. It’s not safe. We need to evaluate the buildings first.”

In addition to the sheer magnitude of the physical task ahead, Mr. Delatour said that Haiti’s recovery effort was challenged by the difficulty of coordinating the countless countries and humanitarian organizations eager to provide assistance. And he said it would not be easy for the government, with its long history of corruption, to win people’s trust. Rather than waiting for a government they are skeptical of to help them out of this crisis, Mr. Delatour said, Haitians of all classes have already begun their own recovery efforts. Port-au-Prince is bustling with work crews hired by those with means to clear away the rubble so they can begin rebuilding their homes or businesses.  “Haitians have been managing their own survival for 200 years, so they’re not waiting for the government,” Mr. Delatour said. “The government is playing catch-up.”

The one-day meeting in Montreal was only a first step to develop a structure for future, extended talks about the reconstruction and the donor nations’ foreign ministers will meet again in March at the United Nations headquarters in New York. Canadian foreign minister Lawrence Cannon explained, “This conference is an initial, albeit critical, step on the long road to recovery. We need to identify with the Haitian government key priorities in order to define a road map of the tasks ahead.”

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