Countries Pledge Billions Toward Haiti's Recovery

Donor nations and international relief groups met at the United Nations Wednesday, and pledged financial support for Haiti's reconstruction effort following January's earthquake. While the amount raised exceeded expectations, there are still concerns about how effectively — and transparently — the money will be spent.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Im Renee Montagne.

MARY LOUISE KELLY, host:

And Im Mary Louise Kelly, sitting in for Steve Inskeep.

Many of us responded to the earthquake in Haiti by donating money - it was a disaster of epic proportions, more than 200,000 dead, millions homeless. And, as we've reported, the conditions are still grim for people crowded into survivors' camps. Electricity, food, water, toilets - all in short supply, even though the earthquake happened back in January.

MONTAGNE: While the survivors in Haiti are preoccupied by day-to-day needs, a world away, in New York City, foreign donors and Haitian leaders are considering a long-term plan.

They met yesterday at the United Nations in New York to come up with a dollar amount, a number to pay for Haiti's rebuilding. A number that Planet Money's Chana Joffe-Walt watched grow bigger and bigger as the day went on.

CHANA JOFFE-WALT: The big shots all spoke, one after the other: Secretary-General Ban ki-Moon, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, former President Bill Clinton. And while all that was happening, George Sassine was sitting near the back.

Sassine is the head of the Haitian Textile Industry, and he sat there with the day's schedule in one hand, a pen in the other, speech, speech, speech, number. When someone said a number, Georges wrote it down.

What do you have so far?

Mr. GEORGES SASSINE (President, Haitian Textile Industry): Okay, we have Brazil with $172, plus, Canada didnt say anything. European Union, $1,235,000 plus $295 million, plus $650 million, plus $180 million, plus they're giving $20 million budget support.

JOFFE-WALT: Michael Fairbanks was also sitting with a notebook, listening to the speeches. He's with the consulting group called OTF. He's advising Haiti's private sector. But Fairbanks was keeping a very different kind of tally.

Mr. MICHAEL FAIRBANKS (Founder, OTF): The platitudes are flowing. Yeah, I actually wrote the word platitude someplace. Or I actually started to make notes on where the platitudes were.

JOFFE-WALT: There was the quoting of Langston Hughes' "A Dream Deferred," the repeated declaration from the world's leaders that Haitian leaders need to control their own destiny. And several people mentioned it's important to empower Haitian farmers and Haitian children. And, most popular of all, here delivered by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Secretary HILLARY CLINTON (State Department) And we will seek specifically to empower the women of Haiti.

JOFFE-WALT: This was all happening inside a big meeting room where the donors were speaking to each other. After each donor gave their speech inside, they would walk out into the hall, stand in front of the cameras and offer another speech.

The hallway speeches for the press were variations on a theme. The we were in Haiti before Haiti was cool theme. For instance, Canada got up and committed $400 million to rebuilding Haiti in the short-term, and then Minister Bev Oda reminded everyone...

Minister BEV ODA (International Cooperation, Canada): As you all know, Canada has been a longstanding friend and supporter in Haiti. In fact, we were one of the first responders after the earthquake.

JOFFE-WALT: The Inter-American Development Bank matched Canada's 400 million, although in grants over two years. President Luis Moreno then shared this fact: The IDB, the largest multilateral agency in Haiti, has been there for five decades.

Mr. LUIS MORENO (President, Inter-American Development Bank): At the end of the day, when all the cameras are gone and everything is said and done, I think there will continue to be a smaller number of donors who have this staying power.

JOFFE-WALT: Brazil's Foreign Minister Celso Amorim committed $172 million.

Mr. CELSO AMORIM (Foreign Minister, Brazil): In the case of Brazil, for instance, this has been our largest ever involvement in any - with any other foreign country, in terms of help, aid...

JOFFE-WALT: Right around 3:00 in the afternoon, there was this moment. It started to become clear that the platitudes and inter-donor competition was actually adding up.

Gabriel Verret is the economic advisor to Haiti's prime minister. And he says he realized that, first when Qatar committed $20 million and then Norway made their announcement. Norway?

Mr. GABRIEL VERRET (Economic Adviser to President, Haiti): I dont think Norway has ever provided more than $10 million in any one year to Haiti. And so when the Norwegian representatives informed me that they were going to pledge $100 million, I started to think, well, this could be interesting.

JOFFE-WALT: The Haitian government asked the world for 3.9 billion in the short-term. By the end of the day yesterday, they had more than five billion.

Now thats pledged money, money pledged at a very public event in a moment when sympathy for Haiti is at an all-time high. There's usually a difference between money pledged at events like these and money that actually shows up.

Still, Verret, a serious economist-government-guy, at the end yesterday, felt this way.

Mr. VERRET: Just I think right now, I think everybody is, I would say, almost elated.

JOFFE-WALT: Almost. He's got a lot of work to do now.

Chana Joffe-Walt, NPR News, New York.

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