Haiti recovery summit focuses on rural exodus

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Haitians arrive at a bus station in Port-au-Prince on Monday, hoping to find a ride out of the capital. More than 235,000 Haitians have taken advantage of free transport to flee the quake-struck Port-au-Prince area.Jewel Samad / AFP - Getty Images
/ Source: The Associated Press

An effective recovery strategy for Haiti must take into account a sudden rush of thousands of quake survivors from Port-au-Prince into the countryside, where the economy cannot sustain them, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said Monday.

Clinton, speaking to reporters during a break in a daylong conference intended to review and improve the delivery of short-term aid as well as chart a course for long-term recovery, said she was encouraged by the analysis of Haitian Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive. He told the conference that the exodus from Port-au-Prince has added a new twist to the post-quake challenge.

"The distribution of people (and) their needs have changed," he said. "We have to reassess the whole country," in terms of job creation and requirements for housing.

With Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper at her side, Clinton said she was pleased to see Haitian leaders addressing this problem.

"I was quite heartened to hear the prime minister say that as part of our multilateral efforts to assist Haiti we should look at how we decentralize economic opportunity and work with the Haitian government and people to support resettlement, which they are doing on their own as people leave Port-au-Prince and return to the countryside from which most of them came," she said.

Harper said he shared Clinton's view.

"It does also indicate to us the need for us to work closely with the Haitians, who do understand the conditions on the ground maybe a little better than some of us with high intentions but a little farther-away view," Harper told reporters.

Up to Haitians, Clinton says
In her remarks to an afternoon session that was closed to press coverage, Clinton stressed the importance of not dictating to Haiti what its priorities should be.

"Ultimately, the Haitian people will be the ones to lift up their country and chart their own destiny," she said, according to a copy of her prepared remarks.

She also called on other countries to join Brazil, Argentina and other Latin American nations in contributing to the U.N.-led military and police force in Haiti.

She called Monday's conference "the beginning of a conversation" about Haiti's future that will continue for years.

On her flight to Montreal from Washington, Clinton told reporters traveling with her that the U.S., in collaboration with international donors and organizations, had been mapping out a plan for Haiti's development for months before the quake. She indicated this could be the basis for a revised plan now.

"I don't want to start from scratch, but we have to recognize the changed challenges that we are now confronting," she said.

Attending the conference were foreign ministers from more than a dozen countries, plus representatives of eight international bodies, including the United Nations and the Organization of American States, and six major non-governmental organizations. They hoped to set a target date for a followup conference at which donations would be pledged for Haiti's recovery and rebuilding.

Donor conference upcoming
Clinton said before arriving in Montreal that the donors gathering likely would be held in the next two months.

Haiti's magnitude-7 earthquake killed an estimated 200,000 people and left the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere virtually without a functioning government. It wrecked the presidential palace, parliament, government ministries and the U.N. headquarters, among thousands of other structures.

Haiti's government wants many of the homeless to leave the capital city of 2 million people, to look for better shelter with relatives or others elsewhere. Officials estimate that about 235,000 have taken advantage of its offer of free transport to leave the city, and many others left on their own, some even walking.