HAITI: Donors Pledge 15 Billion Dollars in Aid

  • by Armin Rosen (united nations)
  • Inter Press Service

On Wednesday, 59 U.N. member states, international institutions and NGO coalitions pledged over five billion dollars towards the nation's near-term reconstruction and almost 10 billion dollars towards reconstruction costs over the next decade. Donors shattered the pre-conference goal of 3.9 billion dollars for the next 18 months.

'By their actions this day, the friends of Haiti have acted far beyond expectations,' said U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon. 'We can report very good news.'

The funds will establish an interim redevelopment commission that will help the country transition from its current humanitarian emergency to a long-term rebuilding process.

Even though several speakers, including U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, discussed Haiti's ongoing humanitarian crisis, the conference mostly concentrated on the next 18 months to 10 years of redevelopment work.

'Here is an opportunity for a better future to emerge from Haiti's suffering,' said Clinton during the opening session, noting the over one million Haitians who are still homeless after the January earthquake. 'But it will take a commitment from all of us to offer our support in a better way - a smarter way.'

For Clinton and the other conference participants, which included co-chairs Spain, Canada, Brazil, France the United States and the European Union, that 'smarter way' means investing heavily in Haiti's hobbled government and 'putting Haitians in the driver's seat.'

To that end, the U.S. pledged 1.15 billion dollars towards 'supporting the government of Haiti's plan to strengthen agriculture, energy, health, and security and governance.' Other major donors include Venezuela and the Inter-American Development Bank, which each pledged around two billion dollars over the next decade.

Haitian Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive said the government devised its own redevelopment framework after producing a post-earthquake needs assessment report. According to Bellerive, that plan entails major investment in basic infrastructure along with the short-term reconstitution of the Haitian government, which lost all of its ministry buildings and a quarter of its civil service in the January quake.

Bellerive also stressed that poor central planning and underdevelopment in the country's peripheral regions led to the overcrowding of the capital, Port-au-Prince - a social and economic phenomenon that was directly responsible for the severity of the earthquake.

'We need to redeploy people throughout the country,' said Bellerive. 'We need strong regions with capable infrastructure of economic development, with a planning process.'

Former U.S. president Bill Clinton, who will co-chair the interim redevelopment committee with Bellerive, was candid in discussing the shortfalls of previous approaches to international development in Haiti, and struck a self-critical note in discussing his pre-quake work as a U.N. Special Envoy, a position he has held since May 2009.

'I was asked...to harass all the donors to see that they honour their commitments. I was a failure at that,' he said, noting that only 30 percent of the funds requested for development in Haiti before the earthquake had actually been dispersed.

The rebuilding process is still fraught with uncertainty, largely because of the possibility that the international community will not follow through on its commitments.

Marc Levin, a professor of sustainable development at Columbia University's Earth Institute who was in Haiti in the period immediately after the earthquake, told IPS that the rebuilding process will have to play out before the conference can be considered a success.

'A major part of story is going to be about the international community being ready to get really involved with the Haitian people and government and helping to pay for it,' he said. 'The donors' conference doesn't really give you any clues if that's going to happen. These are the baby steps of a process that could lead to a great recovery.'

He cited the Marshall Plan, the U.S. government's programme for restructuring European economies and governments after World War II, as a model for the kind of comprehensive, far-reaching redevelopment that will be needed in Haiti.

He wondered if today's donors are actually serious about taking up that challenge. 'The donor countries have a history of forgetting about [development goals in Haiti] rather rapidly,' he said. 'The pledges are nonbinding.'

In a press release, Oxfam spokesperson Philippe Mathieu expressed similar concerns about the donor nations' commitment. 'The last time the region was hit by a natural disaster of this scale, Hurricane Mitch of 1998, only less than a third of the nine billion dollars promised materialised,' he wrote. 'This cannot be allowed to happen this time.'

While the future of the redevelopment efforts remains murky, Wednesday's conference offered more occasions for optimism than pessimism.

Marie St. Fleur, Massachusetts's first Haitian-American state legislator, received one of the day's largest ovations for a speech about how the rebuilding process could give Haitians the opportunity to take responsibility for their nation's future.

'It is up to us to help make real the hard won freedom that the fathers of the Haitian Revolution fought so valiantly for,' she said, referring to the 1804 slave uprising that made Haiti the Western Hemisphere's second independent state.

© Inter Press Service (2010) — All Rights ReservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service