By Patrick Markey and Patricia Zengerle
PORT-AU-PRINCE (Reuters) – Haiti could start relocating homeless earthquake survivors from its ruined capital this week, but it will need at least five to 10 years of international help to rebuild from the catastrophe, the government said on Monday.
Appealing for long-term support from foreign donors meeting in Montreal, Canada, Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive told them his people had been “bloodied, martyred and ruined” by the January 12 quake that killed up to 200,000 and left hundreds of thousands more Haitians injured and homeless.
Bellerive thanked the world community for its help so far, but said “more and more and more” was needed to rebuild a fragile Caribbean state that even before the quake was the poorest in the Western Hemisphere.
“What we’re looking for is a long-term commitment … At least five to 10 years,” he said.
As the huge relief operation for Haiti turned from rescue to recovery, authorities were trying to relocate at least 400,000 survivors — now sheltering in more than 400 sprawling makeshift camps across Port-au-Prince — in temporary tent villages outside the wrecked city.
“We have to evacuate the streets and relocate the people,” Communications Minister Marie Laurence Jocelyn Lassegue said. “We hope we will be able to start at the end of the week.”
Health Minister Alex Larsen said 1 million Haitians had been displaced from their homes in the Port-au-Prince area. The government had tents for 400,000 to be used in the new, temporary settlements, but would need more.
Bellerive said President Rene Preval had called him to ask donors for an additional 200,000 tents. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner and representatives of 10 other countries attended the Montreal donors’ meeting.
The group decided to hold an international pledging conference at U.N. headquarters in New York in March.
“We actually think it’s a novel idea to do the needs assessment first, and then the planning, and then the pledging,” Clinton said at a closing news conference.
REBUILDING RAVAGED CAPITAL
Almost daily aftershocks have shaken Port-au-Prince since the quake, raising the possibility the city might have to be rebuilt on a safer location, away from geological fault lines.
“In 30 seconds, Haiti lost 60 percent of its GDP,” Bellerive said, referring to the concentration of commerce and people in the capital. “So we must decentralize.”
Nearly two weeks after the magnitude-7.0 quake demolished swaths of Port-au-Prince and other cities, the huge U.S.-led international relief operation is struggling to feed, house and care for hundreds of thousands of hungry, homeless survivors, many of them injured.
Facing persistent complaints by desperate survivors that tons of aid flown in was not reaching them on the ground, U.S. troops, U.N. peacekeepers and aid workers have widened and intensified the distribution of food and water.
Some of the food handouts in the capital have turned unruly, forcing U.N. peacekeepers and Haitian police to fire shots in the air to restore order.
At a tent camp outside the wrecked presidential palace on Monday, desperate Haitians pushed through a cordon of Uruguayan U.N. peacekeepers to grab at sacks of beans on a truck.
The U.N. troops fired riot-control shotguns into the air and sprayed Mace from canisters before they eventually dumped the sacks on the ground and let the Haitians jostle for them.
In the debris-strewn streets of Port-au-Prince, U.S. Army troops traveling in Humvees fanned out carrying doctors, food and water to some of the survivors’ camps.
At the Saint Louis high school, where refugees camped out in makeshift tents and huts, U.S. medics attended long lines of injured Haitians, many of them children.
“We’re driving around, letting people know we’re here to help. We’ve treated 200 people today,” said Lieutenant Larry West of the U.S. 82nd Airborne.
At Titayen, on a plain about six miles north of the capital, trucks were still arriving daily bringing bodies for burial in a mass grave.
Canadian Foreign Minister Lawrence Cannon told the Montreal meeting that donors stood ready to help, but basic questions about the recovery strategy first needed be thrashed out.
“There’s the question, for example, of whether we’ll rebuild on the present site of Port-au-Prince,” Cannon told CBC television, citing the threat of future quakes.
Haitian authorities said last week they initially planned to move, with the aid of foreign partners, a first wave of 100,000 survivors to tent villages of 10,000 each at Croix Des Bouquets, just northeast of Port-au-Prince.
An International Monetary Fund official said in Montreal restarting business and encouraging lending was a priority.
Haiti’s trade minister said the quake had eliminated one in five jobs in the country.
Essential for both delivery of aid and resumption of commerce is reopening the port of Port-au-Prince. Authorities working to reopen the port said it would be able to handle as many as 700 containers a day by mid-February.
Before the quake hit, the IMF, the World Bank and several lending nations had already forgiven a great deal of Haiti’s debt, simply on the grounds of need.
The IMF chief has proposed a Marshall Plan-type reconstruction effort for Haiti.
“We should seize this opportunity to build the foundation and infrastructure of the country better and stronger than it was before,” IMF official Caroline Atkinson said in Montreal.