Agencies welcome Haiti debt move


Irish aid groups have welcomed the move by Group of Seven leaders to cancel Haiti's debt in the wake of the devastating earthquake there.

G7 countries have told earthquake-ravaged Haiti that any debts it owes them need not be repaid and said international lenders should do the same, Canadian finance minister Jim Flaherty said over the weekend.

“The debt to multilateral institutions should be forgiven and we’ll work with these institutions and other partners to make this happen as soon as possible,” Flaherty said at a press conference closing a two-day gathering of finance ministers from the G7 industrialised nations.

Goal chief executive John O'Shea welcomed the G7 move but added this alone would not ensure the Caribbean nation made a satisfactory recovery.

"This is a welcome development. . . . However, the Haitian government and Haitian people will require the direct intervention of the international community on a long term basis if the country is to be rebuilt, such was the scale of the devastation caused by the earthquake," Mr O'Shea said.

"There remains the need for one powerful country to take responsibility for ensuring that the physical reconstruction of Haiti is completed effectively. The business of rebuilding thousands of schools, hospitals, factories and the re-housing of 1.5 million people, can only be achieved by massive assistance from the international community," Mr O'Shea said.

Earlier, Tom Arnold, chief executive of Concern Worldwide, said cancelling Haiti’s debt was a very positive development.

“Cancelling the debt should be part of a wider and more comprehensive approach to Haiti that should involve the International monetary Fund. If this country is to recover it will involve a lot of money and a lot of planning. But cancelling Haiti’s debt means it doesn’t start with a millstone around its neck,” he said.

Haiti says that more than 200,000 people died in the January 12th earthquake, which wrecked the country’s capital, Port-au-Prince.

Yesterday, hundreds earthquake survivors protested in a suburb of the capital yesterday, accusing a district mayor of corruption and hoarding food aid provided by relief groups, witnesses said.

The protest in the Petionville neighbourhood of Port-au-Prince was one of the largest since the January 12 quake that killed more than 200,000 people and left over one million homeless. It reflected still simmering anger among survivors over problems in the massive international relief effort.

Aid agencies from around the world have moved tons of rice and other food into Haiti but distributions to the hungry and homeless have been slow and sometimes chaotic.

Haitian president Rene Preval, who has been seen only occasionally in public since the quake, has been targeted by some protests, and graffiti messages of "Down with Preval" have been scrawled on some buildings and walls.

During a visit by senior Dominican Republic officials to Port-au-Prince over the weekend, Mr Preval said he estimated some 250,000 people had been killed in the quake, and 250,000 houses were destroyed.

He added that a million homeless people urgently needed to be relocated in temporary shelter before the rainy season, which normally begins in March.