- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 26, 2010

The Obama administration wants to use a plan for rebuilding Haiti it had before this month’s earthquake, rather than “start from scratch,” Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said Monday as top diplomats from around the world gathered to map out the country’s recovery.

The host of the talks in Montreal, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, warned that the rebuilding process will last at least a decade and urged participants to commit long-term efforts to it.

On her way to Montreal, Mrs. Clinton praised a plan the administration had developed with the private sector, including an effort by her husband, former President Bill Clinton, who is U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s special envoy for Haiti.

“He had just had a conference with 500 businesspeople. They were signing contracts, they were making investments. Twenty-four hours later, we get this terrible calamity,” she said in reference to the 7.0 magnitude quake on Jan. 12, which devastated the already poor country with a weak government and killed up to 200,000.

“So we have a plan,” she said. “It was a legitimate plan, it was done in conjunction with other international donors, with the United Nations. And I don’t want to start from scratch, but we have to recognize the changed challenges we are now confronting.”

It was not clear whether other donors shared Mrs. Clinton’s view. In fact, Mr. Harper called on his colleagues in Montreal to draw up “the beginning of a plan that will guide reconstruction in Haiti in a way that is effective, coordinated and strategic for the decade to come.”

“It was not an exaggeration to say that at least 10 years of hard work awaits the world in Haiti,” he said. “We must work to ensure that every resource committed, every relief worker, every vehicle, every dollar is used as effectively as possible.”

Mrs. Clinton signaled some flexibility, which was apparently designed to attract more contributions from other countries for both Haiti’s immediate recovery and long-term reconstruction.

“Obviously, [the existing plan] has to be revised in light of the circumstances we’re facing, but we had already done so much of the work, built the relationships with the president, the prime minister, other members of the government, as well as members of the legislature and the private business sector.”

More than $1.2 billion has already been pledged by dozens of countries and organizations. A large donors conference will take place at the U.N.’s New York headquarters in March, said Canadian Foreign Minister Lawrence Cannon.

Johanna Mendelson Forman, senior associate with Americas Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said that, “while there is no shortage of money” promised, the “first challenge of leadership will be to ensure that a single fund is created to manage the resources collected.”

“Events in Haiti will be a test of the policies of the Obama administration to really incorporate multilateralism into the reconstruction, bringing to the table multiple partners — nations, the private sector, international financial institutions, and nongovernmental organizations,” Ms. Forman said.

“The best that could happen would be a new model of development for Haiti that would allow the government — no matter how limited — to set the priorities for reconstruction. This recovery will be so large that no one nation, even the United States, will be capable of handling it alone,” she said.

Several officials in Montreal emphasized the importance of having less development and population concentration in Haiti’s capital, Port-au-Prince, which sits on a fault line.

“In 30 seconds, Haiti lost 60 percent of its [gross domestic product],” said Haitian Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive. “So we must decentralize.”

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