- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 14, 2009

WASHINGTON (AP) - International donors pledged Tuesday to provide Haiti with $324 million over the next two years, well below the $900 million that the country’s prime minister says the government needs over that period.

The pledges were announced after representatives from more than 30 donor countries and international organizations gathered to raise money to help the Western Hemisphere’s poorest country recover from last year’s devastating hurricanes and food riots.

The Brussels-based International Crisis Group, a conflict watchdog, last month urged donors to provide the struggling Caribbean country $3 billion over the next few years.

The $324 million in pledges include about $41 million in budget support for 2009, according to Pablo Bachelet, a spokesman for the Inter-American Development Bank, which hosted the conference. Bachelet provided no breakdown of donors’ pledges.

Before the pledges were announced, Haitian Prime Minister Michele Pierre-Louis said Haiti’s government needs about $900 million over the next two years to pay for education, infrastructure, health, the deficit and other items.

Pierre-Louis’ government developed a two-year economic recovery plan after political turmoil and natural disasters ruined three consecutive years of economic growth and improved stability.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, who is visiting Haiti on Thursday, told the conference that giving Haiti help during a period of global financial turmoil is a “test of resolve and commitment.”

Haiti needs humanitarian aid so many of its citizens can get enough food and send their children to school. It has the region’s highest rate of HIV and AIDS, the highest rate of maternal and child mortality, and 70 percent of its people are without jobs.

“This small nation of 9 million people is on a brink,” Clinton said. “And it, as well as this region, will be shaped to a large extent by the decisions that we make.”

The United States, Clinton said before the pledges were announced, is already providing nearly $290 million in non-emergency aid to Haiti this year. It was unclear how much the Obama administration pledged Tuesday.

The United States also has given Haitians duty-free and quota-free access to its market for the next nine years.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said Haiti is at a critical moment and will either slide backward into deeper poverty and misery or move forward with the help of world donors.

“We have an opportunity to bring … a measure of real promise and potential prosperity,” Ban told the conference, which was also attended by former U.S. President Bill Clinton and billionaire philanthropist George Soros.

Last April, riots over high food prices resulted in the overthrowing of the prime minister. Months later, the country was pummeled by four storms that left nearly 800 people dead, caused $1 billion damage and halted economic growth.

Pierre-Louis spoke at the conference of a “feeling of urgency” and the “overwhelming task” that her government and outside donors face during the worst global financial crisis in decades.

“The population is watching us, judging us and commanding us to take action,” she said, describing the need for new public services, jobs, investments and the building of roads to connect parts of the country that have been isolated for centuries.

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