Haiti, the West’s poorest, gets a new lease of life

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Now is the time to help Haiti because inaction would lead to significantly greater human suffering, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton says. The United States is providing $287 million in nonemergency assistance this year, Clinton said in a speech at a Haiti donors’ conference April 14 at the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) in Washington.

“Today, Haiti is the poorest nation in our hemisphere,” Clinton said. “With Haiti, we have the chance through global cooperation and collaboration to stand in solidarity with a government and a people who are seeking that way forward, a nation where small investments and assistance from other countries are beginning to reap dividends in economic growth, wider access to education and health care, stronger governmental institutions, greater safety and security, and a higher quality of life that results when material conditions improve.”

At the conference, Haitian President René Garcia Préval and Prime Minister Michele Duvivier Pierre-Louis proposed a two-year economic recovery plan that targets four critical areas: enhanced security, significant infrastructure improvements, recovery from recent hurricanes and an improved agricultural base.

“We are treading on very fragile ground. If no action is taken now the consequences will be catastrophic,” Pierre-Louis told the conference. The donors’ plan is designed, she said, to provide Haiti with 150,000 jobs and also encourage private-sector investment.

Delegates from 28 countries and multilateral organizations gathered to express their support for Haiti and the proposed economic recovery plan. Donors pledged $324 million in additional aid to Haiti over the next two years. Some $41 million of that amount is for budget support this year, the IDB said in a statement.

“The support that you will grant Haiti today will help us provide a short-term response to basic needs in terms of economic reconstruction and rehabilitation after the devastation caused last summer by four hurricanes in a row in less than a month,” Pierre-Louis said.

Clinton said the United States will give $2 million to help fight drug trafficking through the Merida Initiative, a law enforcement plan conceived by Mexico, Central American nations and the United States. “This money will fund a secure communications network for the Haitian police; provide a maritime base, vehicles and operational support for police drug units; provide training to promote cross-border cooperation between Haiti and the Dominican Republic; and sharpen the investigation and prosecution of drug crimes,” she said.

To spur job growth in Haiti, the United States in 2006 gave garments made in Haiti tariff-free access to U.S. markets. The United States has extended this trade preference for another 10 years, Clinton said.

To help relieve Haiti of some of its debt, the United States will provide $20 million to help pay its upcoming debt obligations and to free up other resources, Clinton said.

“There is an urgent need for sustainable agriculture and food security,” Clinton said. In 2008, Haiti experienced food riots that ultimately brought down the government. To help, the United States is providing a $15 million in-kind contribution of food while Haiti rebuilds its agricultural base.

Also read: Haiti: A mud eating population warns the world

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