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Aid after Haiti earthquake: President René Préval sees need for shift

Almost two months after the Haiti earthquake, President René Préval is in Washington to outline his plan for the kind of aid Haiti needs next. It includes seeds and fertilizers for this summer’s crops.

By Staff writer / March 10, 2010

Haiti earthquake: Haitian President René Préval pauses during a joint news conference with Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, Tuesday, at the State Department in Washington.

Haraz N. Ghanbari/AP

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Washington

Haiti’s President René Préval visits the White House Wednesday to thank the United States for the hundreds of millions of dollars in aid provided since his country’s ruinous earthquake Jan.12. But he’s also coming to ask that continuing assistance not make matters worse.

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Instead of more food donations, for example, Mr. Préval would like to see seeds coming into his country. Long-term debt relief is good, he will say, but cash to repair drainage systems and get schools up and running again will have a more immediate impact.

Préval’s visit, his first meeting with President Obama, comes as Haiti’s earthquake has fallen off front pages but as officials and members of Congress formulate plans for Haiti’s long-term revival and reconstruction. (Envisioning a new Haiti. Monitor report here.)

The temblor, considered by the Inter-American Development Bank to be “the most destructive natural disaster in modern times” given Haiti’s population and economy, left more than 220,000 Haitians dead and caused an estimated $14 billion in damage.

Donors conference at the United Nations

The White House, which is preparing to ask Congress for more than $1 billion in additional aid for Haiti, wants to demonstrate Mr. Obama’s commitment to the Haitian people and also to drum up support for the international donors conference for Haiti, which the US will host at the United Nations in New York March 31, officials say.

Another US objective, especially before the donors meeting, is to demonstrate to a skeptical world that the Haitian government – heavily criticized for its sluggish response after the quake – is operating effectively and capable of managing a significant reconstruction program. (Monitor report: Test for US, Obama in Haiti earthquake response.)

Préval is keenly aware of the importance for him and for Haiti that he appears to be in command – prepared to administer a program that meets Haitian priorities and international demands, say experts in the region and natural-disaster response.

“He needs to have his priority list in his hands when he walks into the Oval Office,” says Johanna Mendelson Forman, a senior associate with the Americas program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.

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