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EDITORIAL: Rebuilding battered Haiti

Published:Saturday | April 3, 2010 | 12:00 AM

As Christians around the world celebrate Holy Week with reflections on the life of Christ, his crucifixion and resurrection, we welcome the news that the international community has pledged US$5 billion to help rebuild earthquake-ravaged Haiti over the next 18 months.

All told, representatives from more than 50 countries who attended the international donor conference at the United Nations (UN) headquarters in New York earlier this week pledged US$10 billion for the Haitian rebuilding effort over the next five years. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said the donations exceeded expectations and was much more than the Haitians had requested.

Long before the earthquake in January, Haiti had been mired in misery: economic mismanagement, political instability, poor infrastructure and dismal rule of law. The killer earthquake simply piled more anguish on an already fragile nation. The reality is that countries with huge balance-of-payment problems, rank unemployment and deep social issues cannot return to economic health without help to rebuild infrastructure, strengthen governance and create long-term sustainable development. It was against this background that a group of respected aid agencies working in Haiti wrote a letter of appeal to the donors. Between 2000 and 2004 international aid agencies had closed the door on Haiti.

But this week, 59 nations and international organisations came through for Haiti. Yet, Haitians know very well that pledges flow faster than actual funds for they were previously promised millions of dollars for hurricane relief and only a fraction was ever delivered. We hope that the donors will honour their commitment and match their words with timely action.

Accountability question

Predictably, the question of accountability has been raised, for far too often aid is squandered and funds are diverted from their intended use. Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive who, with former US President Bill Clinton, chairs the interim reconstruction committee overseeing the aid, while acknowledging that Haiti has a credibility problem, promised transparency. The donations are to be fed into a multinational fund supervised by the World Bank.

Relief workers say there is an urgent need to relieve human suffering by solving the housing and sanitation needs of more than half a million homeless people. The key outcome is that this level of aid should alter the scale of poverty; it should empower the Haitian people with the result that their standard of living is improved and poverty is lowered.

The UN secretary general has promised a robust Internet-based tracking system to ensure accountability and transparency in the aid distribution. We trust that at the end of the day the bulk of the money will benefit the Haitian people. Here is the opportunity to shape Haiti's political, social and economic future to benefit generations to come. It is imperative that the right decisions are made.

Natural disasters are becoming more frequent and more intense and it is conceivable that rich countries will be called on more and more to provide aid. The truth is, when countries prosper everyone benefits. People will not feel compelled to flee their borders in search of opportunities if they feel confident they can earn a livelihood at home.

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