Haiti seeks food and shelter so displaced residents can survive the coming weeks

By Glenn Kessler and William Booth
Washington Post Staff Writers
Tuesday, January 26, 2010; A08

MONTREAL -- Haiti's government made an emotional appeal for more aid Monday, asking for food to feed 1.5 million people for 15 days, as international donors gathered for a conference here to attempt to organize an orderly path to recovery for the quake-devastated nation.

"We need your help now," Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive told representatives of about 20 nations and multilateral organizations.

Haitian President René Préval issued a communique saying his country needed 36 million emergency rations of food just to get through the next few weeks and 200,000 tents immediately.

In Port-au-Prince, the Haitian government confirmed the death toll at 112,250 and rising, with an additional 194,000 people injured. Lewis Lucke, the U.S. special coordinator for relief and reconstruction in Haiti, said the estimated number of homeless had climbed to 800,000.

The day-to-day functioning of government remains disrupted. The Haitian government lost so many of its buildings that it is now camped at a federal police facility formerly occupied by its SWAT team. Meetings with top Haitian officials take place under a tree. United Nations officials have been given permission to politely decline to attend meetings in Haitian government buildings they deem too unstable to stand the continuing aftershocks.

But new aid efforts are underway or being planned. Lucke said the U.S. government will lease its abandoned embassy near the Port-au-Prince port to the Haitian government for $1 a year.

In Montreal, foreign donors agreed that any nation seeking to help rebuild Haiti should make a commitment of at least 10 years to the cause. The prime minister acknowledged that his country still had no estimates of how much foreign aid ultimately would be needed.

U.N. officials in Haiti have talked about the need to rebuild large sections of the capital -- to move roads, infrastructure and multistory buildings away from the active and dangerous fault line that crisscrosses the city.

Mindful of the possible scope of the rebuilding, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton announced that the United States will host a donors' conference in March, to be held at the United Nations' headquarters. She said the key donors -- led by the United States, Canada, Brazil, the European Union and France -- were trying the "novel idea" of conducting a needs-assessment study before planning and then raising the necessary funds.

Clinton, joined by other foreign ministers gathered here, insisted that "this is truly a Haiti-led effort," even though the government currently is barely functioning. "It is important that we see ourselves as partners of Haiti, not patrons," Clinton said.

Bellerive dismissed reports that Haiti was seeking an immediate infusion of $3 billion, saying the government had only the glimmerings of its reconstruction needs.

Speaking earlier to representatives of donor nations, he said that it was "very difficult for me to speak of reconstruction" when the country's government is still struggling to regain its footing.

Haiti was already the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, but "in 30 seconds, Haiti lost 60 percent" of its gross domestic product, he said.

"The distribution of people and their needs have changed," Bellerive said. "We have to reassess the whole country."

Seated next to Clinton and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Bellerive noted that hundreds, if not thousands, of Haitians had their limbs amputated as a result of the quake, but there are virtually no prosthetic devices in the country.

The meeting Monday was not intended to be a formal donors' conference, though Japan announced that it would provide $70 million in humanitarian aid and Norway said it would boost its assistance to $34 million. Instead, the gathering was intended to lay the groundwork for the pledging conference.

Harper told the gathering that "it was not an exaggeration to say that at least 10 years of hard work awaits the world in Haiti." He added, "We must work to ensure that every resource committed, every relief worker, every vehicle, every dollar is used as effectively as possible."

The United States initially promised $100 million to deal with the humanitarian crisis in Haiti, and Clinton said Monday that "there will be more to come."

In Haiti, many victims are increasingly anxious about the slow pace of aid and are growing restless. Worries about security are hampering efforts to deliver food and water to Haitians camped across the city.

The U.N. World Food Program reduced its deliveries Monday for lack of U.N. soldiers, said program spokesman David Orr.

Soldiers are used to control the crowds of people and as a show of force. Large, jostling crowds push toward the trucks unless soldiers are present, according to two U.N. officials who abandoned a delivery of thousands of bottles of water when peacekeepers left.

Though the U.N. food program hoped to reach as many as 100,000 people at 20 sites, Orr said, "today we're doing a much smaller number than that. . . . We're trying to do a few well."

Booth reported from Port-au-Prince. Staff writer Peter Slevin in Port-au-Prince also contributed to this report.

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