MONTREAL: Haiti needs the world to stick with the Caribbean country for at least five to ten years after its devastating earthquake, Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive said on Monday as he sat down to an aid conference.
"The people of Haiti will need more and more and more in order to complete the reconstruction," Bellerive told the conference, intended to survey immediate needs and then to begin plotting Haiti's long-term recovery.
The one-day meeting brings together US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner and others to start a strategy to rebuild from the January 12 earthquake that killed up to 200,000 people and left the capital Port-au-Prince in ruins.
"Even in the midst of inconceivable devastation, we must begin to plan, to give hope where there is despair," Canadian Foreign Minister Lawrence Cannon told the opening session. "We stand ready to help."
Officials say it is too early to turn this meeting into a pledging conference and basic questions need to be answered first.
"There's the question, for example, of whether we'll rebuild on the present site of Port-au-Prince," Cannon told CBC television, saying geological fault lines had to be considered.
Oxfam called on the meeting to cancel Haiti's foreign debt, which it said amounted to $890 million, but Bellerive said this was not his country's main concern although it would free up resources.
"In the face of the real demands we have, our debt is minimal," Bellerive told CBC before the meeting started. "What we're looking for is a long-term (development) commitment... At least five to ten years."
Clinton, speaking to reporters on her plane before taking off for Montreal, said she expected a donors conference where pledges would be made would likely occur in 30 to 60 days.
"There's a tremendous desire to help but we've got to create the mechanism so that it can be done effectively and we've got to get ... the Haitian government's capacity to lead put together," she said.
Asked earlier about complaints that the US military had dominated the relief, she said effective aid would not have succeeded without additional military assets.
"It's just easier for the United States to get there first because Haiti is our neighbor. We appreciate the very positive endorsement of our efforts that we have heard, not just today from the foreign minister, but over the course of the last 10 days," she said.
Clinton said in response to a question that the United States was looking at the possibility of increased immigration from Haiti as one of many options, but Bellerive said in Montreal that Haiti should be able to settle its own people.
"We don't want to create an exodus," he said.
Bellerive made the point that before the quake, Haiti had already put forward a development plan and would like to relaunch the country on that path. "It's not a question of going back to the status quo," he said.
Haiti's neighbor on the island of Hispaniola, the Dominican Republic, proposed to international donors last Monday the creation of a $10 billion five-year assistance program for Haiti.
In addition to hoping for concrete progress on Haiti, to a certain extent leaders may also be trying to be seen to be active, so as to avoid the sort of criticism of being slow off the mark that characterized relief for the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami or Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
The conference will also help Canada's Harper focus domestic attention away from what had been scheduled to be the resumption of the Canadian Parliament on January 25. He arranged last month for its suspension until March 3 after the Vancouver Olympics, coming under heavy opposition attacks for doing so. （China Daily)