UNITED NATIONS -- Haiti requested $3.8 billion in international donations today for an 18-month project aimed at jump-starting its recovery from a devastating January earthquake.
Billions of dollars more will be needed over the next 10 years to facilitate what is shaping up to become the largest experiment in nation building ever attempted, according to a vision presented by the Haitian government and United Nations at a donors conference here.
Haitian President René Préval presented the effort as an opportunity for international aid programs to end their habit of funding multiple, overlapping development projects that go nowhere and consolidate efforts into a single, coherent, traceable plan. His speech emphasized the importance of financing education for a generation of students who lost their schools and colleges in the Jan. 12 earthquake.
"There's also a need for us to take stock and learn from this terrible disaster," Préval told hundreds of foreign ministers and government officials at the U.N. headquarters. He urged donors to make aid spending in his nation "more disciplined."
A post-disaster needs assessment by the United Nations, World Bank and other agencies puts the damage from the earthquake at an estimated $8 billion, or roughly 120 percent of Haiti's meager gross domestic product. The quake devastated the capital and three other cities, the source of roughly 65 percent of Haiti's economy and more than 85 percent of the government's tax revenue.
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, who chaired the conference's opening session, said the U.S. government will pledge $1.15 billion toward the $3.8 billion target that Haiti hopes to generate here. She said the overall development effort "cannot retreat to failed strategies" of the past but rather figure out how to end Haiti's dependence on international aid over the next 10 years.
"Before the earthquake, Haiti was on a path to progress," Clinton said, noting the country's economy managed to grow by 3 percent last year after steadily shrinking for more than a decade. "But with the earthquake, the results of much of this hard work was wiped away."
Brazil, which is leading the U.N. peacekeeping mission in Haiti, pledged to donate $172 million for the 18-month recovery period. Brazil's foreign minister also called on all members of the World Trade Organization to eliminate tariffs on Haitian imports during the recovery process. Canadian Foreign Minister Lawrence Cannon said his government was working with the Group of Seven developed states to wipe out all of Haiti's foreign debt.
"Effecting such monumental change in Haiti will require unprecedented long-term support," Cannon said.
Préval said his government estimates that more than 300,000 people died in the quake, the result of overcrowding in unplanned communities where shoddy construction was the norm. About 1.3 million people were made homeless, with some 600,000 of those fleeing the worst hit areas to seek shelter and livelihoods in other parts of the country. The United Nations says at least 1 million Haitians are now being housed in tents or plastic shanties as officials struggle to find more adequate temporary shelters as the rains strengthen and the hurricane season approaches.
The national rebuilding plan discussed today is not without controversy.
For the next 18 months, Haiti's government says it will need about $260 million dollars in support for agricultural endeavors -- at least 85 percent of the nation's food needs is met with imports. Yet, the government has also earmarked $500 million just to lease or purchase land for the temporary settlements it is building, designed to move residents out of urban centers while reconstruction is under way. News reports suggest leasing agreements are being negotiated in secret with wealthy landowners.
The recovery plan will also include measures to better manage and rehabilitate the nation's fragile watershed, yet the report under discussion offers no details or cost estimate for that side of the overall effort. Haiti's deforested landscape and eroded hillsides routinely cause deadly flash floods; earlier this month 12 people were reportedly killed in heavy rains in Les Cayes, a city in the far southwest. Storm damage was regarded as the main threat to health and safety prior to the earthquake.
Other areas not directly related to the disaster are covered in the plan. For example, Haiti wants $30 million for a national literacy campaign. Out of the $3.8 billion fund, $60 million would be earmarked to finance elections, while $20 million would be used to fund Parliament.
Beyond the recovery effort, Préval also called on the United Nations to establish a permanent humanitarian response force, or a team of "red helmets" that could be dispatched to respond to other large-scale natural disasters anywhere in the world. An internal review led by the United Nations' top humanitarian coordinator, John Holmes, criticized the international response immediately after the quake for a lack of coordination and strategic planning. There were 101 U.N. civilian and military personnel killed in the earthquake, including the organization's top representative to the country.