U.N., Haiti seek $2 billion to help in earthquake aftermath
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — The U.S., European Union and others pledged $600 million in additional funds Wednesday to help hundreds of thousands struggling six months after a powerful earthquake struck Haiti's southern region.
The pledges made during a conference held by the United Nations and Haiti’s government fell short of an international push to raise $2 billion to help the country rebuild from a magnitude 7.2 quake last August. It killed an estimated 2,200 people and destroyed or damaged more than 130,000 homes and some 1,250 schools.
Amina Mohammed, a deputy U.N. secretary-general, called the $2 billion figure “daunting,” but said Haiti needs international support.
“We are aware that aid budgets are under pressure across the globe. We also know there is donor fatigue. And we have heard, loud and clear, concerns about the results of aid in Haiti. But this is not the time to give up,” she said.
Shortly after she spoke at the conference held at a hotel in the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince and also streamed online, the U.S. Agency for International Development pledged an additional $50 million, the European Union more than $30 million worth of grants and Canada nearly $20 million, among others.
Ariel Henry, Haiti’s prime minister, thanked the international community for the solidarity they showed immediately after the quake but said much needs to be rebuilt, especially in rural communities.
“The government is doing all it can with the means it has,” he said, adding that nearly $350 million is needed to launch the reconstruction process.
Thousands of Haitians who lost their homes in the quake remain in makeshift camps in the southern coastal city of Les Cayes, living in cramped shelters made of plastic and cloth sheets and corrugated metal.
“We are not living like humans,” said Juste Joseph Jocelyn, a 39-year-old electrician who manages a camp that houses more than 150 people. “Can you imagine people waking up without water to drink? Even food.”
He said no local authorities have visited or helped them despite the camp being just a 10-minute drive from a main road. He noted people have to walk miles to get a bucket of water.
“We are on our own,” Jocelyn said.
Ariel’s administration estimates more than $1 billion is needed for the social sector, including housing, $400 million for education, $55 million for food security and $32 million for health needs. In addition, officials say $142 million is needed for transportation infrastructure, $41 million for agriculture and $11 million for water and sanitation.
Officials say 70% of schools in the area were destroyed, affecting 320,000 students.
Henry sought to assuage any concerns about the mismanagement of previous aid that poured in following a devastating magnitude 7.2 quake in 2010 that the government estimates killed between 200,000 and 300,000 people.
“My government has taken all measures to avoid a repetition of past errors,” he said.
Henry’s administration faces not only trying to help Haiti rebuild from the most recent earthquake, but also recover from the July assassination of President Jovenel Moïse, which has deepened political instability. Haiti also is fighting a spike in violence and gang-related kidnappings as well as skyrocketing inflation.
Just hours before international officials met Wednesday, thousands of factory workers marched through the streets again demanding pay raises. Currently, they make 500 gourdes ($5) for nine hours of work and are seeking a minimum of 1,500 gourdes ($15) a day.
Protesters threw rocks and tried to set a government building on fire as they clashed with police, who fired bullets and tear gas to disperse the crowd.
“I don’t know how I’m going to continue to survive with the salary that I’m getting,” said Jean Robert Jean-Louis.
The 36-year-old factory worker said he can barely afford to make it to work because of inflation. He said he has to walk several miles to catch the public bus, which no longer comes near his house because of clashes between gangs over territory.
That same violence has made it very difficult for aid and volunteers to reach southern Haiti, officials said.
Mohammed, the U.N. official, noted that “Haiti is again at a crossroads. ... We have an immediate opportunity to break out of the cycle of crises that has constrained Haiti’s development for so long.”
Associated Press writer Evens Sanon reported this story in Port-au-Prince and AP writer Danica Coto reported from San Juan, Puerto Rico. AP journalist Pierre-Richard Luxama in Les Cayes, Haiti, contributed to this report.