Haiti Donor Conference Begins In New York

An international donors conference to raise financial support for reconstruction of earthquake-shattered Haiti began at the UN headquarters in New York on Wednesday, with Haiti hoping to raise the funds required for the completion of the first phase of its reconstruction plan.

The first phase of the plan is aimed at rebuilding the country's destroyed infrastructure, government buildings, hospitals and schools over a period of 18 months. The 18-month project is estimated to cost nearly $4 billion.

UN Secretary General Ban ki-Moon opened Wednesday's donors conference, which he is hosting jointly with Haitian President Rene Preval and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. The conference is being attended by representatives from over 100 nations, business concerns and international financial institutions such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund.

Ban in his opening address said he envisions "wholesale national renewal" for Haiti and urged participants to help "build a better future" for the quake-devastated nation. He also backed the reconstruction plan, describing it as "concrete, specific and ambitious."

"By the end of this day I am confident we will truly have helped Haiti along the road to a new and better future,'' Ban told the delegates.

Hillary Clinton, Ban's co-host for the conference, was the first to make a pledge on Wednesday, saying that the United States will donate $1.15 billion for the recovery and reconstruction efforts in Haiti. She said the US donation "will go to the government of Haiti's plan to strengthen agriculture, energy, health, security, and governance."

"We need Haiti to succeed. What happens there has repercussions far beyond its borders, Clinton said, reminding the other donors that the conference was not only to pledge financial support but "to offer support in a smarter way."

Following Clinton's pledge, European Union foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton announced the EU's pledge of 1.235 billion euros, or $1.6 billion, to the Haiti reconstruction efforts. More countries are expected to make such pledges as the conference progresses.

Haiti's President Rene Preval told the conference that he wanted education to be the focus of the reconstruction efforts, pointing out that it would help the 9 million population of the impoverished country to provide for their own future.

"Let us dream of a new Haiti whose fate lies in a new project for a society without exclusion, which has overcome hunger, in which all have access to secure shelter ... (and their) health needs provided,'' Preval said.

"I call on Haitians, both at home and abroad, to add their resources to those of our friends from the international community in order to transform Haiti to a place of knowledge," he added.

A draft reconstruction plan prepared by the Haitian government with the help of aid organizations and international experts estimated that about $11.5 billion dollars would be required for rebuilding the quake-hit nation.

The $11.5 million mentioned in the draft plan, the Preliminary Damage and Needs Assessment (PDNA), is a rough estimate of the money required for the complete reconstruction of Haiti and for tackling the massive economic and governance challenges facing the country in the aftermath of the 12th January earthquake.

The document put the earthquake damages suffered by Haiti at $7.9 billion, which is almost 120% of the country's GDP. It is estimated that almost 70% of the damages impacted the private sector, but the widespread damages also affected the schools, hospitals, roads, bridges, buildings, ports and airports.

"The total amount of money needed stands at 11.5 billion dollars and breaks down like this: 50 percent for the social sector, 17 percent for infrastructure including housing, and 15 percent for the environment and disaster risk management," the draft reconstruction plan stated.

Apart from addressing the immediate concerns like construction of damaged buildings and relocation of survivors, the plan also listed long-term goals such as "reconstructing the state and the economy in the service of all Haitians" and reforming the country's judiciary.

On 12th January, a deadly quake measuring 7.2 on the Richter scale shook Haiti, leaving much of the western regions of the country in shambles. The quake is estimated to have killed 217,000 people and caused damages between $8 billion and $14 billion.

Official estimates indicate the quake left at least 1.5 million people homeless across the devastated country, mostly in the capital Port-au-Prince. An estimated half-a-million homeless are currently living outside in improvised camps in the capital city.

Haiti is the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere, and the deadly quake followed a series of hurricanes that battered the country in 2008. Hurricanes Gustav and Ike, as well as tropical storms Hanna and Fay devastated Haiti in August and September 2008, leaving an estimated 793 people dead and 21 others missing.

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