$5.3 billion pledged over 2 years at U.N. conference for Haiti reconstruction

Haiti appealed to the world's nations to donate $3.8 billion dollars to start rebuilding earthquake-ravaged Haiti. In the first minutes of a day-long conference, the U.S. and the E.U. pledged more than two-thirds that amount. (March 31)
By Mary Beth Sheridan and Colum Lynch
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, April 1, 2010

UNITED NATIONS -- The international community pledged $5.3 billion Wednesday for earthquake-shattered Haiti over the next two years, launching an ambitious effort not just to rebuild the hemisphere's poorest nation but also to transform it into a modern state.

The amount exceeded by more than $1 billion the goal set ahead of a conference co-sponsored by the United Nations and the U.S. government. In all, countries, development banks and nongovernmental groups pledged nearly $10 billion for Haiti in years to come.

"This is the down payment Haiti needs for wholesale national renewal," said U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon. He emphasized, however, that donors must deliver on the promises of cash, something they have sometimes been slow to do.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton noted that nearly 50 countries made pledges, twice as many as contributed to rebuilding the area hit by the 2004 tsunami in South Asia. She announced $1.15 billion in U.S. funds for the nation-building effort in Haiti.

The reconstruction plan calls for building ports and hundreds of miles of new roads, resurrecting Haiti's withered agricultural sector, relocating people from the crowded capital and establishing an efficient bureaucracy in a country that never had one.

Clinton warned that if the aid effort proves slow or uncoordinated, "the challenges that have plagued Haiti for years could erupt, with regional and global consequences." She evoked the possibilities of a stream of boat people, increased drug trafficking and the spread of drug-resistant diseases.

In the past two decades, billions of dollars in foreign aid have been sent to Haiti, with limited results. Money was stolen by corrupt Haitian bureaucrats or wasted on uncoordinated projects by development organizations.

The architects of the new Haitian nation-building effort -- including the U.S. government and international development institutions -- say they will try to do things differently.

The plan calls for an Interim Haiti Recovery Commission -- co-chaired by Haiti's prime minister, Jean-Max Bellerive, and former president Bill Clinton -- to oversee the reconstruction with the assistance of scores of foreign technocrats, including officials seconded by the U.S. government. It will also have a watchdog office to discourage corruption.

The commission, which is to be in place for 18 months, will provide a sort of scaffolding for the creation of a senior Haitian bureaucracy, officials said.

Haiti's already-weak government was devastated by the Jan. 12 earthquake, which killed an estimated 17 percent of the country's civil servants and leveled all but one of the ministry buildings.

The donor conference, held in a wood-paneled hall at the United Nations, thrust the Clintons into perhaps their most prominent international role since Bill Clinton's presidency. They both sat on the dais, flanking Ban and Haitian President René Préval.

The Clintons have taken a deep interest in Haiti since a post-wedding trip there in 1975. Haiti was high on Bill Clinton's foreign policy agenda when he was president, with U.S. troops restoring Jean-Bertrand Aristide to the presidency after a coup.

"My job in the next 18 months is going to be to try to connect the inside and outside forces in a way that maximizes the input and the impact of all the players, [and] minimizes the frictions and transaction costs," Bill Clinton told the U.N. gathering.

The commission will work with a multi-donor trust fund administered by the World Bank that will raise and track funds for Haiti. The U.S. contribution, which Congress must approve, is focused on four areas: agriculture; health; security and governance; and infrastructure, particularly the development of clean energy sources.

It is unclear whether Washington will give any money directly to Haiti's government, whose tax revenue has dried up since the earthquake. Its leaders are seeking $320 million this year to close a hole in its budget.

Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the managing director of the International Monetary Fund, pleaded with countries to provide cash to the Haitian government, warning that otherwise it would print money to pay its bills. That could send inflation soaring and "will destroy all the forecasts we made today," Strauss-Kahn said.

Congress has been leery about direct payments because of the Haitian government's history of corruption and dysfunction.

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