- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 10, 2010

President Obama said Wednesday that living conditions in Haiti remain “dire,” despite recovery efforts since the Jan. 12 earthquake. He was joined at his White House speech by Haitian President Rene Preval, who called for improvements to the United Nations’ disaster response.

“People should be under no illusions that the crisis is over,” Mr. Obama said during the Rose Garden ceremony. “Many Haitians are still in need — desperate need in some cases — of shelter and food and medicine. And with the spring rains approaching, those needs will only grow. The challenge now is to prevent a second disaster.”

The magnitude-7.0 earthquake killed more than 230,000 people in and around the capital city of Port-au-Prince, and the recent rains have been blamed in the deaths of 15 more people.

Mr. Preval called for the United Nations to create a first-response, red-helmet team similar to the agency’s blue-helmeted peacekeeping forces.

“These would be an observatory … a humanitarian force which would be the equivalent of the blue helmets,” he said.

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Mr. Preval said a team to coordinate efforts in the first minutes after a disaster is “fundamental to saving lives.”

Mr. Obama expressed his grief, then praised the U.S. and international relief effort and promised his country’s continued commitment.

“You will continue to have a steady and reliable partner in the United States of America,” he said.

However, the president also acknowledged that an effort of such magnitude cannot be “without its difficulties” and suggested Haiti at the the upcoming U.N. international donors conference lead efforts to make improvements.

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