Former US presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton were seeking to reassure Haitians with a visit yesterday that the world has not forgotten them after the disastrous earthquake 10 weeks ago.
The unlikely duo are to meet Haitian President Rene Preval and see first-hand the wretched situation in some of the camps where hundreds of thousands of survivors are at risk from the coming rains and hurricane season.
The pair head the Clinton Bush Haiti Fund, a relief organization set up after the Jan. 14 quake that leveled the Haitian capital Port-au-Prince, killing at least 220,000 people and leaving 1.3 million homeless.
They were tapped by US President Barack Obama to lead high-profile fundraising campaigns and oversee long-term reconstruction and relief efforts in the country, the poorest nation in the Americas.
Haitian Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive said he expected “more commitments” from them during the day-long visit, which comes ahead of a crucial donors summit in New York next Wednesday.
“I am sure that the joint effect of the two ex-presidents will be something that is going to benefit the Haitian population,” Bellerive said.
Almost 10 weeks after the magnitude 7.0 quake, the government and international aid groups are racing against time to relocate more than 200,000 people in high-risk camps.
Some fear it is too late to avoid a second disaster because many lie on steep slopes that could be washed away when the rains come. People also don’t want to move to new sites away from the capital that aren’t ready yet.
The Haitian government is expected to appeal in New York for US$11.5 billion in international aid to kick-start the epic reconstruction effort following the unprecedented disaster.
Local experts and academics produced a stark assessment on Sunday of the impact of the quake on higher education in Haiti and issued an impassioned plea for funding.
“Eighty-seven percent of Haiti’s higher education institutions were impaired or completely demolished,” the report said. “Investment in higher education, in this immediate aftermath of the disaster, will be critical to the long-term development and rebuilding of Haiti’s future.”
As Bush and Clinton will hear, the list of worthy causes is endless and a large part of the challenge in the build-up to New York will be prioritizing who gets what split of the money and how that cash will be accounted for.
Assistant UN Secretary-General for Disaster Risk Reduction Margareta Wahlstroem said that one of the keys to success would be decentralizing the recovery effort.
“It’s clear that local government has not really been consulted properly, that this has been a very centrally driven process,” she said during a tour of Jacmel, an important cultural and tourist town decimated by the earthquake. “Unless you are determined to get the resources to this level, recovery is going to be very slow.”
An adherent to the old adage that earthquakes don’t kill people, buildings do, Wahlstroem said the Haitian government must take the lead in regulating safer construction standards in the future.
“I think it is really difficult for countries in an era when disasters are in the face of the whole world, and there’s nothing like a big disaster to engage people’s emotions, political opportunities, pressure,” she said. “You cannot do a reconstruction plan for places like this in three months, even less one month. At the end of the day it will have to be revised and rethought over the years to come.”
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