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Rice: Nations Reaffirm Cooperation Pledge for Haiti

March 31, 2010 at 12:00 AM EDT
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With hundreds of thousands of Haitians still displaced by the earthquake, the nation is urgently seeking aid from the international community. Judy Woodruff talks to United Nations Ambassador Susan Rice about the donors conference aimed at underwriting much of the rebuilding.
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JUDY WOODRUFF: I’m joined now by the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice.

Madam Ambassador, thank you for talking with us.

We have — as we have been reporting, the U.N. is trying to raise $4 billion now, over $11 billion eventually. Is this money that can realistically be raised?

SUSAN RICE, United States Ambassador to the United Nations: Well, yes, Judy.

In fact, as we speak, there have been over $5 billion in pledges made by over 55 countries today. And the pledging is still going on. That exceeds the $3.9 billion goal that the government of Haiti and the United Nations and other donors set for this initial pledging period of 18-24 months.

This is the initial tranche of support that Haiti needs to move beyond the emergency phase into real, lasting recovery and development. And the theme of the conference today, the pledging conference, which the U.S. co-chaired — Secretary Clinton was here on behalf of the administration — is to build back Haiti better.

It’s not sufficient simply to see Haiti return to the status quo ante, which, frankly, was one of desperate poverty and underdevelopment. There is, in this tragedy of the earthquake, an opportunity, with strong leadership from the government of Haiti and strong support from the United States, which has been by Haiti’s side from the very beginning, from the region and the rest of the international community and the United Nations to help Haiti restore and rebuild in a fashion that leaves its people better off.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, what would you say is the priority? We hear the needs are enormous, housing, education, hospitals, and on and on. What are the priorities?

SUSAN RICE: Well, the immediate priorities in this period going forward, after we manage the still ongoing effects of the emergency — and we still have real needs with shelter and sanitation and the rainy season coming — but when we get into the phase of long-term recovery and development, the government of Haiti has identified a number of priorities: agriculture, health, education, infrastructure, security, and governance.

Those areas are those that the donors today have committed to support in a sustained way over an extended period of time. It is going to take years, Judy, for Haiti to be able to get back on its feet and to begin again to make the sort of progress that it was beginning to make before this tragedy struck.

The irony is that, for all of Haiti’s long history of struggle and tribulation, the period of a year or two preceding the earthquake were a period of economic growth and optimism in Haiti. And that was dashed in a matter of seconds.

And now the challenge is to come back together, help Haiti rebuild and strengthen its institutions of governance, to make sure that we’re no longer focusing only on Port-au-Prince, but developing the provinces and secondary cities, which is an important element of the government’s program, and ensuring that the many friends and supporters of Haiti, the non-governmental organizations, the donors, the private sector, are coordinating in a fashion unlike ever before.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well…

SUSAN RICE: And one of the most important things to come out of this conference today is a commitment on the part of the NGOs and many others to respond to the government of Haiti’s plan and to work together.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Let me just ask you a couple of quick questions, then, on the donors, which you just mentioned. They are saying they want transparency. They want know that their dollars are going to be spent the way they should be spent. How do you give them — what assurance can you give them?

SUSAN RICE: Well, absolutely. We, the United States, as a very major donor, having pledged today $1.15 billion as part of Haiti’s long-term relief and recovery, in addition to the substantial investment that the American people have made — over half of American households have donated in support of the people of Haiti in the wake of the earthquake.

And the United States did a huge amount in the emergency phase. We are all committed to ensuring that the money that is being provided gets to the people who need it. And, in this instance, with this pledging conference, for the first time, and quite uniquely, there is a higher degree of transparency than ever before.

Pledges will be vetted, and to ensure, for example, that they’re not double-counting, that governments aren’t saying that they’re giving new money, when, in fact, it’s money that they have previously pledged or committed.

The government of Haiti and the United Nations are going to have a tracking mechanism to ensure that the pledges made are actually delivered, and that what is promised is actually fulfilled.

So, we are quite hopeful in this instance that — that commitments will be tracked, monitored, and honored.

JUDY WOODRUFF: On the other hand, we hear from Haitians that they don’t want outsiders telling them how to manage their government. How do you — how do you strike that balance of knowing that the money is spent as the donors want it, but, on the other hand, giving Haitians the ability to determine their own fate?

SUSAN RICE: Well, that’s — that’s an excellent question.

And a real focus of the effort today at the United Nations was to ensure that all of the stakeholders, first and foremost, the people and the government of Haiti, are driving this process. The resources that have been pledged today are in support of a plan developed by the government of Haiti.

And the government of Haiti in this process consulted with civil society, the Haitian diaspora, the private sector, non-governmental organizations, civil society. All of these groups were represented today and had their say and will continue to have a say in how this money is allocated.

It’s the government of Haiti that is ultimately responsible. We and other donors are working in support of that government. We’re not there to supplant it. And some very thoughtful and, I think, very effective implementing mechanisms have been set up and an interim authority to manage these resources.

The World Bank has been given the lead in managing what is called a multidonor trust fund. And pledges will go into that and have the rigor and transparency that a World Bank mechanism ensures. And I think the American taxpayers can be confident that the dollars that they have contributed, both on an individual base, a private basis, and that the U.S. government, with strong support from Congress, will contribute, will be money well spent and money that will meet its intended purpose.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And, very briefly — I ask you this because of what you just said — and that is that so much money and so much help has been poured into Haiti over many, many decades. It remains the poorest country in this hemisphere. How do you tell people, how do you assure people that that’s going to change?

SUSAN RICE: Well, Judy, for the first time, there is a new approach to development in Haiti. It’s one in which the government has the lead, rather than a myriad of individual private or non-governmental organizations.

It’s a strategy that is not just concentrated on the capital, but that is actually designed to build up the regions and the provinces and secondary cities, where the need is enormous and where the potential is great.

There will be a huge and — and lasting focus on agriculture, which is arguably the most important thing, along with energy and infrastructure, to enable Haiti to achieve a degree of development and progress that it hasn’t in the past.

So, in many different ways, from transparency, to the sectoral approach, to giving the government the lead, and building up a long-term capacity for the government to sustain that progress, things will be done differently this time. And we are hopeful that, this time, progress will be lasting.

JUDY WOODRUFF: U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice, thank you very much for talking with us.

SUSAN RICE: Thank you, Judy.