Haitian president moves to shore up aid, new future

The task of knocking down, smashing apart and hauling away the mountain range of rubble left by the Jan. 12 earthquake will take years and cost as much as $1 billion.
By Mary Beth Sheridan and William Booth
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, March 10, 2010

With his country's economy stalled, crops unplanted and a million people without homes, Haitian President René Préval began a visit to Washington Tuesday to focus on how U.S. and international donors can help the beleaguered nation recover from a devastating earthquake.

The Haitian government is racing to finish a blueprint on which it will to base its requests for potentially record-breaking aid commitments at a United Nations conference this month. The Jan. 12 quake killed more than 200,000 people, and the Inter-American Development Bank has estimated that the damage could hit $14 billion.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said Tuesday after talks with Préval that "progress has been made, but not nearly enough, and therefore we are holding these meetings . . . to discuss in depth what we need to do still to alleviate suffering and what we will do together to help build back Haiti better."

Among the few specifics she offered was that Préval is eager to hold parliamentary elections. A vote had been scheduled for February but was canceled because of the disaster.

"I assured President Préval that the United States would work with the international community to hold elections as soon as possible," Clinton said.

With the March 31 donors conference rapidly approaching, U.S. officials and lawmakers appeared eager to nail down Haiti's priorities and plans. Congressional staffers said they expect the administration to request an aid package of between $1 billion and $3 billion in the coming weeks.

Préval is likely to find a sympathetic but skeptical audience when he meets with President Obama, congressional leaders and other officials who have seen past assistance to Haiti evaporate in a miasma of mismanagement and corruption.

Cheryl Mills, Clinton's chief of staff and point person on Haiti, said U.S. officials "want to have an understanding of their long-term goals, of the priorities they have, and their vision for doing things differently."

In Haiti, about 300 people have been scrambling to put together what many simply call "the plan" -- officially, a Post-Disaster Needs Assessment -- that will be presented at the U.N. conference.

A draft is scheduled to be completed in the next week.

Drawn up by Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive, who is also the minister of planning, with the assistance of imported development wonks and aid bureaucrats, the plan is being spoken of as a founding document for a new Haiti -- not only a wish list for food, tarps and medicine, but a road map to move beyond a legacy of dependence. It will include a vision for the next five, 10 and 15 years, officials said.

Drafts of the plan call for the decentralization of power, population and industry away from the teeming, ravaged capital to the environmentally degraded countryside, which the plan says could bloom again, with solar-powered irrigation systems and mango processing facilities -- and flower farms shuttling fresh-cut bouquets by cargo jet to Montreal, Miami and New York.

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