Press Conference by European Union on Donors’ Conference for Haiti

31 March 2010

Press Conference by European Union on Donors’ Conference for Haiti

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

Press Conference by European Union on Donors’ Conference for Haiti

The European Union would pledge some $1.6 billion for Haiti’s reconstruction at today’s “International Donors’ Conference towards a New Future for Haiti” at United Nations Headquarters, top officials of the Union told correspondents today.

Catherine Ashton, the Union’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, said that after the “terrible tragedy” in Haiti that had left some 230,000 people dead, 300,000 injured and more than 1 million people homeless, it was clear that a long-term plan -– a “10-year plan” –- for economic recovery was needed that would help to provide a sustainable economy.  Elements of such a plan -- that would be owned by the Government of Haiti -- included education; infrastructure; capacity to make the necessary changes in the legislative and constitutional framework to help support the economy and to attract investments; and continued humanitarian aid in providing health, shelter and support.

She said that during the first weeks after the earthquake, support had come from all member States of the European Union.  During the pledging conference, the Union would pledge 1.2 billion euros, or $1.6 billion, as a contribution to the medium-term plan.  The importance was to start to work to develop a secure economic future for the people of Haiti and to provide for the children “the everyday miracle of a normal life”.

Kristalina Georgieva, European Union Commissioner for International Cooperation, said that the response had been remarkable in very difficult circumstances.  Most of the humanitarian needs, such as food and water and some shelter, had been met, but “the job is not done”.  For at least one year, a good balance had to be observed between relief and transition to rehabilitation and development.  Some problems, however, were emerging that should be handled with care, including security in camps.  As the rainy season had started and the hurricane season was approaching, it was essential to have replenishments ready of emergency stocks.

She said that in order for reconstruction to be successful, it was critical to build in disaster preparedness and response and to increase Haiti’s resilience to natural disasters.  For Haiti to be ecologically sustainable, long-term issues such as reforestation must be taken seriously into account.  The Union had made a commitment of 322 million euros towards that goal, in addition to the development and reconstruction pledge made today.

Answering correspondents’ questions about how the Union’s pledge would be spent, Ms. Ashton said the $1.6 billion covered the first 18 month- to two-year period of the plan.  She underlined that the Union already had a history of assistance in Haiti, for instance in road building.  The Union was also well-known for its assistance in institution building.  No details could be given yet, because the Government of Haiti owned the plan and discussions were ongoing.  One example, however, was support for the upcoming elections in very difficult circumstances.  There would also be support for local government institutions.

Regarding Haiti’s history of corruption, she said that the European Union had a good track record in carefully monitoring how budget support was being spent.  It was supporting institution-building, including through training, to ensure that the mechanisms were in place to spend the money correctly.

Ms. Georgieva stressed the importance of striking a balance between reconstruction and building an economy.  It was crucial, for instance, to increase the sustainability of the agricultural sector.  Although that sector employed about 50 per cent of the population, it was unable to feed the country.  Malnutrition indicators were highest in the rural areas.  The Union would support decentralization in rural development, as the country was “the Republic of Haiti, not the Republic of Port-au-Prince”.  The humanitarian aid was being linked to development by providing humanitarian assistance to areas where people had moved after the earthquake.  Jobs, schools and hospitals had to be located where people would settle down outside of Port-au-Prince in order to facilitate the city’s reconstruction.

Asked about the European External Action Service (EEAS) and reported criticism from the group “German Agro-Action”, Ms. Ashley said there was no controversy.  The “EEAS” was a diplomatic service created for the twenty-first century, which recognized the distinctly European approach in dealing with issues around the world.  “If we want a sustainable, secure European Union, we need a sustainable, secure world.”  That meant focusing the Union’s contributions where that kind of support could be offered best.  The Union was trying to support institution-building in some countries.  “That is Europe at its best.”  In Haiti, she said Ms. Georgieva was taking responsibility for humanitarian work and she herself was taking responsibility for the long-term work.  Both were taking responsibility for the European Union approach together. 

Ms. Georgieva added that Agro-Action was doing very good work in Haiti.  One had to be mindful, however, of the balance between steps to be taken urgently to meet peoples’ needs and those that had to be taken carefully over time to make development sustainable.  The initial response of the group was based on humanitarian action.

“We should not just think of the money,” she said, “we should think of the policy decisions that are being made.”  The European Commission had made a policy decision on food security and food aid that strongly emphasized local purchases of food for the humanitarian aid operations, which would have a tremendous positive impact on local farmers.  It would give them predictability and expand their access to credit.  A comprehensive, holistic approach was necessary in Haiti, where money was important but other steps were equally –- sometimes more -– important. 

Answering a question about the need to relocate some 500,000 people staying in areas that were in danger of being flooded, Ms. Georgieva said relocation had been delayed because of a lack of appropriate sites.  The Government had now dedicated a large piece of land for relocation, and transitional housing was being built there rapidly.  There was also need for schools, health care and meeting basic needs.  The communal spirit must also be understood, as after the earthquake, people had moved as neighbourhoods.  One had to be careful not to break that social fabric.  She also noted that most of the canals had been cleaned by the Army, which had reduced the risk of flooding from seven to two “hot spots”.

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