PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AP) — The United States, European Union and others on Wednesday pledged $600 million in additional funds to help hundreds of thousands of people in need six months after a powerful earthquake hit the southern region of Haiti.
Pledges made at a conference organized by the United Nations and the Haitian government have fallen short of an international push to raise $2 billion to help the country rebuild after a magnitude 7 earthquake ,2 last August. It killed around 2,200 people and destroyed or damaged more than 130,000 homes and some 1,250 schools.
Amina Mohammed, the UN’s deputy secretary-general, called the $2 billion figure “discouraging” but said Haiti needed international support.
“We are aware that aid budgets are under pressure around the world. We also know donors are tired. And we heard, loud and clear, concerns about the results of aid in Haiti. But now is not the time to give up,” she said.
Shortly after speaking at the conference held at a hotel in the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince and also streamed online, the U.S. Agency for International Development pledged an additional $50 million, the European Union more than $30 million in grants and Canada nearly $20 million, among others.
Ariel Henry, Prime Minister of Haiti, thanked the international community for the solidarity shown in the immediate aftermath of the earthquake, but said there was still much to rebuild, especially in rural communities.
“The government is doing everything it can with the means at its disposal,” he said, adding that nearly $350 million is needed to start the reconstruction process.
Thousands of Haitians who lost their homes in the earthquake remain in makeshift camps in the southern coastal city of Les Cayes, living in cramped shelters made of plastic and fabric sheets and corrugated iron.
“We don’t live like humans,” said Juste Joseph Jocelyn, a 39-year-old electrician who runs a camp that houses more than 150 people. “Can you imagine people waking up without water to drink? Even the food.
He said no local authority had visited or helped them, despite the camp being just a 10-minute drive from a main road. He noted that people have to walk for miles to get a bucket of water.
“We are alone,” Jocelyn said.
Ariel’s administration estimates that more than $1 billion is needed for the social sector, including housing, $400 million for education, $55 million for food security, and $32 million for dollars for health needs. In addition, officials say $142 million is needed for transport infrastructure, $41 million for agriculture, and $11 million for water and sanitation.
Officials say 70% of schools in the area have been destroyed, affecting 320,000 students.
Henry sought to allay any concerns about the mismanagement of previous aid that poured in following a devastating 7.2 magnitude earthquake in 2010 which the government estimates killed between 200,000 and 300,000 people.
“My government has taken all measures to avoid a repetition of past mistakes,” he said.
Henry’s administration must not only try to help Haiti rebuild after the most recent earthquake, but also recover from the July assassination of President Jovenel Moïse, which has deepened political instability. Haiti is also battling a spike in gang-related violence and kidnappings, as well as soaring inflation.
Just hours before international officials meet on Wednesday, thousands of factory workers once again took to the streets to demand wage increases. Currently, they earn 500 gourdes ($5) for nine hours of work and charge a minimum of 1,500 gourdes ($15) per day.
Protesters threw rocks and attempted to set fire to a government building as they clashed with police, who fired bullets and tear gas to disperse the crowd.
“I don’t know how I will continue to survive with the salary I receive,” said Jean Robert Jean-Louis.
The 36-year-old factory worker said he could barely afford to go to work because of inflation. He said he had to walk several miles to catch the public bus, which no longer comes near his house due to gang clashes over the territory.
That same violence has made it very difficult for aid and volunteers to reach southern Haiti, officials said.
Mohammed, the UN official, noted that “Haiti is again at a crossroads. … We have an immediate opportunity to break out of the cycle of crises that has hampered Haiti’s development for so long.
Associated Press writer Evens Sanon reported this story in Port-au-Prince and AP writer Danica Coto reported from San Juan, Puerto Rico. AP journalist Pierre-Richard Luxama in Les Cayes, Haiti, contributed to this report.
Danica Coto and Evens Sanon, The Associated Press