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Former Presidents Bush, Clinton Visit Haiti To Highlight Need For Aid

Former U.S. presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton are visiting Haiti on Monday “to spotlight the dramatic need ahead of a critical March 31 U.N. donors conference in New York, where Haitian officials will ask for $11.5 billion in reconstruction help,” the Associated Press/New York Times reports. “It is the first joint visit to the impoverished Caribbean nation for the two former leaders, who were tasked by President Barack Obama with leading the U.S. fundraising effort” after the January 12 earthquake according to the news service.

Bush and Clinton are expected to meet with Haitian President Rene Preval “on the grounds of the collapsed national palace” before moving on “to tour the tarps-and-tent city on the adjacent Champ de Mars, the national mall filled with 60,000 homeless quake survivors living in squalor.” The article notes that the Clinton Bush Haiti Fund “has raised $37 million from 220,000 individuals … About $4 million has gone to such organizations as Habitat for Humanity, the University of Miami/Project Medishare mobile hospital in Port-au-Prince and the U.S. branch of the Irish charity Concern Worldwide. The rest has yet to be allocated” (3/22).

In a related article, the AP/Washington Post looks at the situation on the ground as Bush and Clinton visit the country. “The pair will arrive in a country struggling to feed and shelter victims of the magnitude-7 quake, which killed an estimated 230,000 people. Hundreds of thousands still live in dangerous camps, some already flooding ahead of the April rainy season,” according to the news service.

“President Rene Preval’s government has criticized non-governmental organizations for not being accountable to the Haitian state. In turn, Haitian officials have been accused of ineffectiveness and corruption. On Tuesday, a group of Haitian and U.S. human-rights advocates will ask the Organization of American States for an inquiry into why $2.2 billion in aid has not helped more people.” The article discusses how the country’s history with both former presidents color their visit (Katz, 3/22).

Media Outlets Examine Food Security, Haiti’s Rebuilding Plans, Tent Cities 

In a second story, the AP/Washington Post examines how trade policy and food aid have “left impoverished countries such as Haiti unable to feed themselves. While those policies have been criticized for years in aid worker circles, world leaders focused on fixing Haiti are admitting for the first time that loosening trade barriers has only exacerbated hunger in Haiti and elsewhere.”

The article looks at the factors that lead Haiti and other developing countries to import food and notes some of the international efforts, including the G8’s $22 billion agriculture initiative, aimed at enhancing local food production. It also mentions legislation sponsored by Sen. Richard Lugar (R-Ind.), which would “create a White House Global Food Security coordinator to improve long-term agriculture worldwide, with a budget of $8.5 billion through 2014” (Katz, 3/20).

Meanwhile, the Miami Herald examines Haiti’s rebuilding plan ahead of an international donors conference scheduled for the end of this month. “The plan includes creation of an Interim Haitian Recovery Commission that will – for the first time – seek to guide how and where aid is spent by giving both Haitians and foreigners a vote in reconstruction priorities and projects over the next 18 months,” according to the newspaper.

While Haiti’s president will have veto power, Clinton “will be asked to help lead Haiti’s reconstruction planning over the short-term as co-chair – along with the Haitian prime minister – of the commission,” the newspaper reports, adding that Clinton has not yet said whether he will accept the position.

“The commission’s goal will be to plan and coordinate reconstruction priorities and projects over the next 18 months … Eventually, the commission would morph into the Haiti Development Authority (HDA), a central planning agency tasked with approving all reconstruction projects in Haiti regardless of which country or aid agency is funding it. The authority’s executive director, like that of the commission, likely would be a well-respected Haitian,” according to the Miami Herald, which also outlines the main criticisms of the plan.

Other countries, including the U.S., and international organizations have also come up with reconstruction plans. The Miami Herald reports on some of the recent changes to the U.S. plan, based on input from Preval (Charles, 3/21).

But “[b]efore long-term reconstruction begins, though, Haiti faces the challenge of managing a displaced population of about 1.2 million temporarily resettled in some 460 encampments in the Port-au-Prince area,” the New York Times reports. “About 40 percent still do not have tents or tarpaulins.”

According to the newspaper, the tent cities continue to grow because of “the food, water, sanitation and medical services” that are provided by international groups. The article describes life in the camps and notes the challenges of relocating the families that live there. “Moving families from encampments like the Petionville Club entails finding and preparing some 1,500 acres of land – one relocation site recently opened and another is being prepared – and then persuading people to move outside the metropolitan area, international groups say. It will be an undertaking” (Sontag, 3/21).

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