Press Conference on International Donors’ Conference for Haiti

29 March 2010

Press Conference on International Donors’ Conference for Haiti

29 March 2010
Press Conference
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Press Conference on International Donors’ Conference for Haiti

Ahead of Wednesday’s international donors’ conference at United Nations Headquarters, two senior officials closely linked with leading international recovery efforts for the country said today that they counted on the generosity of donors to mark a turning point in the Haitian people’s dream that one day their homeland would no longer need international assistance.

At a press conference to highlight priorities for the forthcoming conference “Towards a New Future in Haiti”, which begins at Headquarters on Wednesday, Edmond Mulet, Acting Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH), noted that the upcoming donors’ conference would not be the first time that Member States had met to raise funds for the country. 

Expressing hope that “we will get it right” on the present occasion, he emphasized that for too long the international community had bypassed national and local government institutions because of their perceived and real weaknesses.  “The Government of Haiti will be in the driver’s seat,” he said, adding that it would be working with the international community in a single framework for quick delivery and mutual accountability.

Mr. Mulet said the 12 January earthquake had struck at the country’s political and economic heart, decimating not only its people, but also its institutions, and threatening even one of the few things remaining in Haiti -- hope.  However, in the days and weeks following the disaster, the international community had responded with unprecedented generosity, not only saving many lives, but also enabling the Haitians and their partners to maintain much-needed stability while assessing the extent of the damage, and to begin thinking that beyond the tragedy, the earthquake might in some ways represent an opportunity not merely to rebuild, but, in the words of Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, “build back better”.

He said that the United Nations family, itself deeply affected by the tragedy, stood by the Government, and on 31 March, nations would be able formally to pledge their support to Haiti’s reconstruction at a donors’ conference organized by the United Nations, United States, Brazil, Canada, France, Spain and the European Union.  A series of events -- starting with an international conference in Montreal on 25 January and followed by others in Washington, D.C., Martinique, Haiti, and Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, last week -- had helped forge a vision of what Haiti could be.

For the next 18 months, he continued, the country would need some $4 billion in investments, not only to rebuild hospitals, schools, roads and ports, but also to rebuild and re-design Haiti in a way that would put it on the road to growth and modernization.  After an initial two years, more funds would be needed to support the Government’s vast and ambitious reconstruction and renewal agenda. 

“In the meantime, we should not think that the humanitarian crisis is over, he cautioned, pointing out that the rain and hurricane seasons would start soon, potentially causing hundreds of thousands of Haitians now living in tents once again to lose everything.  To forestall that possibility, there was an urgent need to build more durable shelter and to redouble efforts to ensure that the most vulnerable, especially women and children in camps, received adequate protection.  The United Nations and many of its partners were actively working on those objectives, but time and money were running out, he said.

Another imperative was to provide the Government with immediate and sustained budget support to pay salaries and provide key social services, he said.  With its revenues significantly disrupted, the Government would need support to resume its basic functions, as that was the only way to build capacity so that the international community could then progressively “work itself out of a job”.

He said objectives developed in the Government action plan submitted to donors this week would be of key importance in pursuing support for the decentralization and de-concentration agendas at the core of the Government’s reconstruction strategy; creating jobs in close cooperation with the private sector; and bringing children back to safe classrooms, as an investment in Haiti’s future.  The Haitian people needed to see a continuing dividend from the international presence on the ground, and to the maximum extent possible, it must be delivered speedily by Haitians, through Haitians and for Haitians, he said.

Accompanying Mr. Mulet was Helen Clark, Administrator of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), who said the key message for the donors’ conference was the need to maintain solidarity with Haiti, both with respect to the outstanding contributions to the Flash Appeal, and to the major rebuilding and reconstruction envisaged.  The aim of this week’s conference was to raise around $3.8 billion for recovery and reconstruction “for the next 18 months or so”.  That figure had come out of the post-disaster needs assessment launched by Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive in February.  It was supported by the United Nations, the European Union, the Inter-American Development Bank, and the World Bank.

The Prime Minister would present the plan of action for national recovery and development during the conference, she said.  At its core lay the vision of turning what had been an unspeakable tragedy into an opportunity to build back better for Haiti and its people.  “Running right through the plan of action, and everything we do with respect to the recovery, is the basic assumption, the basic philosophy, that Haitians themselves have to be at the very centre of building a new Haiti, and that the support that the international community provides must be aligned with the priorities that are being set by Haiti’s Government,” she emphasized.

Ms. Clark outlined some areas of emphasis as follows:  the rebuilding of Government institutions and infrastructure to restore State functions, including the rule of law, health care services, and education; the absolute imperative of protecting vulnerable Haitians from the looming hurricane and rainy seasons; placing disaster risk reduction at the heart of the recovery effort; “building back better” while also restoring the integrity of Haiti’s ecosystems, so critical in areas like afforestation, reforestation and catchment protection; decentralizing economic development and social infrastructure beyond the Port-au-Prince metropolitan area to regions and cities throughout the country; creating jobs, both in the short and long term; and ensuring that civil society and the private sector participated in the reconstruction.

There was no doubt that short-term jobs had helped and that many tens of thousands of temporary jobs had been created and continued to be created with the help of the international community, she said.  As the situation stabilized and became more conducive to investment and economic activity, there would be a need to shift the focus to sustainable employment, while supporting micro-enterprise and entrepreneurship; giving priority attention to the needs of women, girls and other vulnerable groups; and ensuring coordination, mutual accountability and transparency, which were essential for sustainable recovery and aid effectiveness.

“We will all have to live up to our commitments and deliver results which directly support the vision the Government of Haiti is bringing to the pledging conference,” she said, adding that the United Nations was helping the Government implement a publicly accessible aid information management system.  It would enable the tracking of aid commitments, disbursements and results, she said, adding that the idea was to strengthen national capacity to coordinate aid.

Strengthening training in technical and vocational skills would be very important, she stressed, adding that the private sector was clearly a key force in re-activating the economy.  Civil society was essential in fostering the social cohesion and sustainable recovery that Haiti needed.

Asked about the importance of the international community “getting it right” since it had got it wrong before, and what the consequences and risks of failure would be, Mr. Mulet said: “I think the international community is co-responsible for that weakness of Haitian institutions and the Haitian State.  We’ve always worked not with the Government, not through the Government, because there were some excuses that the Government has been too corrupt, that it’s inefficient, that it’s too week, etcetera.  But if we don’t address the situation right now, we will have a peacekeeping mission and international interventions in Haiti for the next 200 years.  I think this is the time, the moment, to really change that”.

The same correspondent wanted to know how Haiti could spearhead its own reconstruction efforts when its Government was widely reputed to be inefficient and corrupt on the one hand, and with foreign investors no doubt lining up for lucrative contracts on the other hand.  “How confident are you that the Haitian people themselves, at the civil society or grassroots level, would have a serious input into how their country would be rebuilt?” she asked.

Ms. Clark said it was critical that Haiti was “owning, driving and leading” its own recovery.  “We can support and underpin and help build the capacity of the Haitian Government, and certainly encourage its accountability to its people.  If civil society doesn’t feel as if its needs are being responded to, that in itself impedes recovery.”

Both Mr. Mulet and Ms. Clack stressed that everything was being done to protect the vulnerable, especially women and children, against violence and sexual abuse, both in Port-au-Prince and in the countryside, which was an enormous concern.  Mr. Mulet pointed out that the United Nations had, for instance, requested that police-contributing countries send mainly women police and formed police units.  Bangladesh had offered a full female formed police unit though the offer was not yet official, he said, adding that such units would be “very helpful” in conducting patrols and protecting camps for women and children.

Asked why UNDP was paying below the minimum wage under UNDP’s food-for-work and cash-for-work programmes, Ms. Clark said it was her understanding that the cash-for-work programme had been launched with a daily rate that was actually a little above what had been Haiti’s minimum rate.

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For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.