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US Lawmakers Urge Action on Haiti

A group of U.S. lawmakers is urging the Bush administration to do more to help alleviate food shortages in Haiti, where riots linked to rising food and fuel prices left six people dead. VOA's Dan Robinson reports, the members of Congress were joined by a prominent civil rights leader at a news conference on Capitol Hill.

President Bush recently ordered $200 million of food released from a special reserve in response to appeals from the World Bank and International Monetary Fund, amid rising global food prices and riots in countries in Asia and Africa.

In the Caribbean nation of Haiti, the impact was seen in the virtual shut down of the capital Port-au-Prince, while discontent over food and fuel prices contributed to the dismissal of Haiti's prime minister by the country's parliament.

While members of Congress have welcomed the Bush administration response to a general appeal from World Bank President Robert Zoellick, they say more needs to be done for Haiti.

Among the steps, says New York Democrat Gregory Meeks, must be debt relief:

"International financial institutions should relieve Haiti of all of its debt, so it could focus its money on providing food to its people," said Gregory Meeks. "And in the event that it can't just relieve it, it should suspend the payment of the debt by Haiti so it can deal with this humanitarian crisis."

The World Food Program requested $96 million specifically for Haiti, but as of recently only about 13 percent of that had been received.

Carolyn Kilpatrick, a Democrat from Michigan, heads the Congressional Black Caucus:

"We call on President Bush today, help the people of Haiti, feed the children," said Carolyn Kilpatrick.

Democrats Jan Schakowsky of Illinois,congresswoman Yvette Clarke of New York contrasted U.S. spending in Iraq and Afghanistan with needs in Haiti:

SCHAKOWSKY: "Ninety six million dollars is [worth] about seven hours of what we spend right now in Iraq. I think we might be able to scrape up the money to relieve the immediate crisis right now in Haiti."

CLARKE: "To have this level of economic instability so close to our border is not in our best interests. And we are looking at strategic partnerships around the world, I think we need to start down south."

Members of the Congressional Black Caucus, and others concerned about Haiti appealed recently to U.S. Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson on debt relief for Haiti, which is estimated to owe more than one billion dollars to various international financial institutions.

Joining the lawmakers at their news conference was the American civil rights leader Jesse Jackson:

"We can't just look at the Haitian crisis, and people roaming the streets in desperation [and] political upheaval and shrug our shoulders and make this part of the bureaucratic rhythm [and say] this is the way life is," said Jesse Jackson. "Life doesn't have to be this way. We are the number one agricultural producing system in the whole world, and [here] in our hemisphere [is] the most starvation."

Against the background of 40 percent global food price increases since the middle of last year, the World Food Program recently appealed to donors to work harder to eliminate a $500-million gap in funding for food supplies.

Dependent on food imports, and with high unemployment, Haiti remains one of the world's poorest countries, with most of its people living on only a few dollars a day.