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March 28, 2010

International Community Meets for Haiti Pledging Conference

by Margaret Besheer

The international community meets at the United Nations this week to make financial commitments to earthquake-ravaged Haiti's reconstruction. Haitian President Rene Préval is expected to ask for some $11.5 billion to rebuild his country.

Haiti's long-term reconstruction will take years and cost billions of dollars.

The 7.0 magnitude quake that struck in January killed more than 230,000 people and left more than a million others homeless in a nation where most citizens were already living in deep poverty.

On Wednesday, Haitian President Rene Préval will present the international community with his government's needs and its plan for recovery and reconstruction.  He is co-hosting the meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.  Mr. Ban has said the focus is now beginning to shift from emergency aid to longer-term reconstruction.

"I hope that this international donors conference on 31 March will be a crucially important momentum where international community express their strong solidarity and support for the Haitian government and people through very generous financial support," said Mr. Ban.

The United States and several other countries have already expressed their intention to help. President Barack Obama has asked Congress for $2.8 billion to help Haiti.  Last week, the Inter-American Development Bank forgave nearly a half a billion dollars of Haiti's foreign debt.

The U.N. Development Program (UNDP) is in the lead on the donors' conference from the U.N. side.  Jordan Ryan is UNDP's director of Crisis Prevention and Recovery.  He says the hope is that the pledging conference will raise the funds necessary for the first two to three years of reconstruction.

"We do hope that we will find resources in the range of $3.5 billion, maybe a bit more, that would be able to get the early reconstruction underway," said Ryan.

And there is plenty to do.  A top priority is building transitional shelters for Haiti's more than one million homeless.  Funds are also needed for rebuilding the country's heavy infrastructure, its schools and hospitals.

Haiti's government will have the ultimate responsibility for overseeing those plans.  But it will work closely with international partners, including the United Nations, the United States and international financial institutions.

"The international community is working closely with the Haitians in developing what might be an Interim Development Commission," Ryan added.  "There's talk now, and I think it will be announced at the conference, of engagement of former [U.S.] President [Bill] Clinton as U.N. Special Envoy to work shoulder-to-shoulder with the Haitian president and prime minister in that commission."

Mr. Clinton, along with former President George W. Bush, most recently visited Haiti last week.  Mr. Clinton stressed the importance of involving a wide range of people and organizations in the reconstruction.

"The diaspora, the NGOs, all the people who have been moved by the earthquake and want to continue their involvement, and the private investment community - we have to get them all going in the same direction and we're going to try to do that," said Mr. Clinton.

Those groups will have representatives at the donor's conference who will give their assessment of what is needed for the reconstruction effort.

The money the conference hopes to raise is in addition to the $1.4 billion the United Nations appealed for earlier this year to meet emergency humanitarian needs.  Only about half those funds have been pledged.