EU, world generous with earthquake-hit Haiti

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Some 50 donors, among whom the largest was the EU, promised a total of 7.3 billion euros for the reconstruction of earthquake-hit Haiti at a conference in New York yesterday (31 March). The EU contribution amounts to €1.235 billion, the bloc's foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton announced.

The donation largely exceeded the hopes of the conference organisers, who had hoped merely to raise 3.8 billion dollars to fund the first stage of rebuilding following January's massive earthquake.

The most generous donors were the European Union and the United States.

Catherine Ashton, the EU's High Representative for Foreign Affairs, announced the EU's pledge of €1.235 billion, equivalent to over $1.6 billion. This comes on top of the €295 million that the EU has already contributed in humanitarian aid, and adds to the €650 million that citizens from all across Europe have provided from their own pockets.

The US committed to donating $1.15 billion.

"I speak here today for the European Union – for all 27 member states, our institutions and our citizens," Ashton told the conference, chaired by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

"Food and water have now reached people. But there is a long journey ahead. And this is what bring us together today: a commitment to build a better future for the next generations," the HR stated.

Haitian President René Preval said the outcome of the donor conference had shown that his country was not alone after January's devastating earthquake.

But UN humanitarian aid chief John Holmes said the best sign that a recovery was underway in Haiti would be an upturn in private investment.

"There need to be real investments that are really sustainable," Holmes told the Associated Press. "Given half a chance this country can recover."

The effort to attract private investment is being led by former US President Bill Clinton, the UN special envoy to Haiti.

One example of the private sector's commitment is the Coca-Cola Company's unveiling of a $7.5 million, five-year project to foster mango production by means of developing a new Odwalla juice product called Haiti Hope Mango Lime-Aid. All proceeds will be reinvested to help growers.

Haiti is the poorest country in the Western hemisphere, and has experienced a lot of political violence throughout its history. In February 2004, an armed rebellion forced the resignation and exile of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide. A provisional government was put in place, with security provided by MINUSTAH, the United Nations Stabilisation Mission in Haiti. Réné Préval, the current president, was elected in 2006. 

Scientists said the earthquake which hit Haiti on 12 January was the strongest on Earth since 1770. The damage was high, as the catastrophic 7.0 magnitude epicentre was just 10 miles west of Port-au-Prince and its two million inhabitants. 

The Haitian government reports that between 217,000 and 230,000 people have died. On 24 January the Haitian government announced that 150,000 bodies had already been buried in mass graves in Port-au-Prince alone. 

The devastation was widespread. Vital infrastructure was destroyed, including telecommunications, every hospital in the capital, and air, sea and land communication services.

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