MONTREAL – The United States and other allies of Haiti agreed Monday to a 10-year effort to rebuild Port-au-Prince and foster the long-term development that has eluded the Caribbean country despite decades of foreign assistance.
The commitment grew from a conference of 19 foreign ministers and international organizations, known informally as the Group of Friends of Haiti, who gathered in Montreal to discuss how to manage what promises to be one of the most daunting reconstruction efforts in modern times.
“It’s not an exaggeration to say that 10 years of hard work – at least – awaits the world in Haiti,” said Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who hosted the meeting.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced plans to host a more comprehensive conference of donor countries in March at the United Nations headquarters in New York.
By then, Clinton said, the U.N. should have completed a review of all the needs in Port-au-Prince and the rest of the Haitian provinces, and their estimated costs.
“The extent of the devastation is almost more than any of us can grasp,” Clinton said.
Haiti’s prime minister, Jean-Max Bellerive, was noticeably uncomfortable discussing long-term reconstruction plans while tens of thousands of people in his country went another day searching for food, water and shelter.
Amid discussions of donor countries’ deference to Haitian sovereignty, Bellerive made an urgent plea for 200,000 tents needed to shelter displaced victims, and prosthetics for those who lost limbs in the catastrophe.
“I could continue on all of these emergencies; there are many,” he said. “It is very difficult for me to talk reconstruction when we do not take these matters into account.”
Bellerive said it would likely take four or five years just to restore Port-au-Prince to what it once was – a sprawling city with too many people and too few jobs, where much of the population lacked electricity or running water.
But the effects of the earthquake go far beyond the city. Bellerive said the entire country may have to be remade, as the displaced flee Port-au-Prince by the thousands for their home provinces – the very areas so many people left for lack of jobs or opportunities.
“The redistribution of people has changed the whole country,” Bellerive said.
The ministers all agreed that any future redevelopment plans must be led by the Haitian government, not the international community. How these parties will coordinate is far from clear, though Clinton offered the tsunami recovery as an example, in which Indonesia worked mainly with the U.N. and the World Bank with guidance from an executive committee of donor countries.
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