MONTREAL (Reuters) - Haiti needs at least five to 10 years of reconstruction help after its people were “bloodied, martyred and ruined” by the devastating earthquake this month, Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive said on Monday.
“The people of Haiti will need more and more and more in order to complete the reconstruction,” Bellerive told an international aid conference, intended to survey immediate needs and then begin plotting Haiti’s long-term recovery.
“I bring you the thanks of a people who have been bloodied, martyred and ruined but who are standing,” he told U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner and representatives of 10 other countries.
The conference heard of immediate needs but also began to look beyond to a strategy to rebuild from the January 12 earthquake that killed up to 200,000 people and smashed the capital Port-au-Prince.
A key theme that emerged was the importance of ensuring development and population was not so concentrated in Port-au-Prince, which sits right on a fault line.
“In 30 seconds, Haiti lost 60 percent of its GDP (gross domestic product),” Bellerive said, referring to excessive centralization in the capital. “So we must decentralize.” He noted that already people had streamed from the capital.
Clinton said agriculture, which can act as a magnet back to the countryside, had not gotten the attention it deserved.
“I was quite heartened to hear the prime minister say that ... we should look at how we decentralize economic opportunity and work with the Haitian government and people to support resettlement,” she told reporters.
Bellerive said Haitian President Rene Preval had just called him to press urgently for a further 200,000 tents for people who lost their homes.
But U.N. Emergency Relief Coordinator John Holmes said stronger temporary structures would be needed for Haiti to face the start of the rains in April and hurricanes in June. “Tents, while the only shelter solution available quickly enough now, will not be much good for these purposes,” he said.
Oxfam called on the meeting to cancel Haiti’s foreign debt, which it said amounted to $890 million. Bellerive said this was not his main concern, although it would free up resources.
“In the face of the real demands we have, our debt is minimal,” Bellerive told CBC television before the meeting started. “What we’re looking for is a long-term (development) commitment... At least five to 10 years.”
Harper went further: “It’s not an exaggeration to say that 10 years of hard work at least awaits the world in Haiti.”
Haiti’s neighbor on the island of Hispaniola, the Dominican Republic, proposed to donors last Monday the creation of a $10 billion five-year assistance program for Haiti.
Clinton said she expected a donors conference where pledges would be made would likely occur in 30 to 60 days, and a Canadian official said this would likely be in March.
Asked earlier about complaints that the U.S. military had dominated the relief, she said effective aid delivery would not have succeeded without additional military assets.
“It’s just easier for the United States to get there first because Haiti is our neighbor. We appreciate the very positive endorsement of our efforts that we have heard,” she said.
Clinton said in response to a question that the United States was looking at the possibility of increased immigration from Haiti as one of many options, but Bellerive said in Montreal that Haiti should be able to settle its own people.
“We don’t want to create an exodus,” he said.
Tragically, Bellerive said the government had received signals a quake might be coming but did not act.
“We must admit that our geological technicians had warned us of the possibility of an earthquake but dealing with social conflicts, such as the fight against poverty, meant we didn’t have the time or the means to take the measures needed to limit the damage,” he said.
Additional reporting by Andrew Quinn in Washington and David Ljunggren in Ottawa; Editing by David Storey and Vicki Allen