Nations urge Haiti to take the lead

AP , MONTREAL

Wed, Jan 27, 2010 - Page 7

Haiti must lead the effort to rebuild after its devastating earthquake, the US and other nations said, while Haiti’s prime minister acknowledged that relief efforts so far had fallen dramatically short.

“To date we have not been able to feed everybody, to give water to everybody,” Haitian Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive said on Monday at the end of a daylong conference intended to review and improve the delivery of short-term aid as well as chart a course for long-term recovery.

Haiti’s magnitude 7.0 earthquake killed an estimated 200,000 people and left the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere virtually without a functioning government.

It wrecked the presidential palace, parliament, government ministries and the UN headquarters, among thousands of other structures.

The conference did not result in any firm financial commitments, but Canadian Foreign Minister Lawrence Cannon said talks had produced “the beginnings of a road map” for helping get Haiti back on its feet, as well as a “shared vision” of the island nation’s longer-term rebuilding.

“The government of Haiti must and will be in the lead,” US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said. “We cannot any longer in the 21st century be making decisions for people and their futures without listening, and without giving them the opportunity to be as involved and make as many decisions as possible.”

Bellerive said Haiti could lead the rebuilding effort.

“Haitians continue to work in precarious conditions,” Bellerive said in opening remarks, but Haiti’s government “is in the position to assume the leadership expected of it by its people in order to relaunch the country on the path to reconstruction.”

The participating countries agreed in a joint statement that “an initial 10-year commitment is essential.”

Clinton also said the US would host an international donors conference for Haitian relief in March at UN headquarters in New York.

Clinton told the concluding news conference that it would be unwise to organize a donors conference now in the absence of a reliable assessment of Haiti’s needs and a road map for how to coordinate and execute an international recovery plan.

“We are still in an emergency,” with many Haitians suffering and desperate for immediate relief, she said, adding that the Montreal talks were a first step. “We’re trying to do this in the correct order.”

Robert Fox, the executive director of Oxfam, agreed that the international community should not start investing in huge projects until there’s a clearer picture of what’s needed.

“If we move too quickly, we fall into the trap of rebuilding the Haiti that existed two weeks ago. The Haiti that existed two weeks ago we do not want to rebuild,” Fox said. “It was a country of inequality, and of poor infrastructure.”