Haiti pull-out - Soaring costs halting Gov't's quake relief efforts
Arthur Hall, Senior Staff Reporter
FACED WITH a ballooning price tag, and with promised financial assistance slow in coming, the Government has decided to pull the plug on elements of its relief efforts in Haiti.
Less than 72 hours after The Gleaner first reported that financial challenges could force Jamaica to withdraw its soldiers, medical team and firefighters from Haiti, Information Minister Daryl Vaz used yesterday's post-Cabinet media briefing to announce that the pull back has started.
"I think we recall that the minister of national security (Dwight Nelson) indicated that there would be a need to withdraw the troops out of Haiti based on the cost of approximately $773,000 per day and the fact that, up until now, we have not been able to get any funding to carry this operation," Vaz said as he pointed to a story carried by The Gleaner on Monday.
According to Vaz, the Government has already racked up a bill of approximately $40 million, with only token contribution from other regional states.
"And, therefore, the plan was to start effecting withdrawal from January 30, with everybody to be home by February 5," added Vaz.
Still sending donations
He said this would not mean an end to Jamaica's assistance to the earthquake-ravaged Haiti as donations will still be sent to that country using a Canadian air bridge which has been established in Kingston.
Jamaicans in Haiti who want to come home will also be taken back by the Canadians.
Jamaica was among the first countries to respond after a 7.0-magnitude earthquake struck Haiti on January 12.
Teams from the Jamaica Defence Force, the Jamaica Fire Brigade, the Ministry of Health and private medical practitioners rushed to Port-au-Prince to provide emergency assistance, saving hundreds of lives, rescuing trapped persons and providing food and water to thousands of Haitians.
However, faced with its financial woes, the Government made it clear that it could not fund the operation and was promised financial assistance from other CARICOM states, developed countries and international donor agencies.
But so far, only a trickle of money has been received, leaving the Government with little option but to call the troops home.
"We have done a remarkable job with the little resources that we have in helping our sister nation during these last few weeks but, based on the constraints that you are all aware of, without any further funding we cannot sustain the operations," Vaz said.
Yesterday afternoon, just hours after Vaz's comments, CARICOM stated that its Secretary-General, Edwin Carrington, had signalled the Community's commitment, in the long term, towards Haiti's recovery and reconstruction.
A release from the CARICOM Secretariat's Georgetown, Guyana headquarters, stated that, at its 13th meeting of the Budget Committee, Carrington said the Secretariat had moved to establish a "dedicated unit to coordinate the short and medium term involvement of the Community in the recovery, reconstruction and development of Haiti".
The secretariat said that mandate was handed down by the Bureau of Heads of Government, which met in Paramaribo, Suriname, last Friday.
"We are fully seized not only of the financial and economic challenges facing our member states, but also of the implications of our short, medium and long-term involvement in the rehabilitation and development of Haiti as indeed of all our member states," Carrington said.