World descends upon UN Headquarters to show support for Haiti

31 March 2010

United Nations Headquarters in New York was bursting at the seams today as delegates from countries large and small attended a donors’ conference to show solidarity with Haiti in the wake of January’s catastrophic earthquake and help lay the foundations for the country’s long-term recovery and reconstruction.

So many participants – representing more than 130 nations, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and other groups – arrived for the event that they quickly filled the main auditorium and spilled into a nearby room, which then also filled to capacity.

The UN Development Programme (UNDP), which is organizing the day-long conference, said it is happy with the large turnout, which it described as making manifest the international community’s sense of unity with the people and Government of Haiti.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon opened proceedings by calling for the wholesale rebuilding of Haiti, urging donors to provide $11.5 billion over the next 10 years for the reconstruction of the Caribbean nation, already the Western Hemisphere’s poorest before the magnitude-7.0 quake struck the country on 12 January.

Camera bulbs flashed as delegates, clutching programmes and typing furiously on their Blackberries, made their way into the main chamber, usually home to the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), to listen to speakers, including Haitian President René Préval, United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and UN Special Envoy for Haiti Bill Clinton, who are co-hosting the gathering with Mr. Ban.

Speaker after speaker underscored the urgent need to meet the nearly $4 billion target for today’s conference, echoing the importance of “building back better.”

Robert Zoellick, World Bank President, proposed a division of labour among international agencies to avoid “tripping over one another.”

He also called for another meeting in six months’ time, coinciding with the annual high-level General Assembly debate in September to assess progress made in creating a new future for the country.

“This can be our accountability report to the people of Haiti,” Mr. Zoellick said.

For his part, International Monetary Fund (IMF) Managing Director Dominique Strauss-Kahn voiced optimism that the country will see growth averaging 8 per cent annually for the next five years.

But this, Mr. Strauss-Kahn said, can only happen if “we really have Haitian authorities in the driver’s seat.”

At today’s conference, entitled Towards a New Future in Haiti, the country’s Prime Minister, Jean-Max Bellerive, presented its needs and plans for recovery.

“Rebuilding must ensure that no future catastrophes” can have as devastating impact as has January’s earthquake, which left one third of Haiti’s 9 million-strong population in need, said Percival James Patterson, representing the Caribbean Community, known as CARICOM.

It is vital that “in years to come, the result of this august gathering will not be measured by the eloquence of fine rhetoric,” Mr. Patterson said, but rather by “the timely delivery of tangible results.”

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