Haiti’s hurricanes caused $1B in damage

HaitiHaiti’s impoverished economy has been battered by $1 billion in damage from last year’s hurricanes and a drop in money transfers from Haitians working abroad caused by the global financial crisis, the top U.N. envoy to the Caribbean nation said Monday.

Ahead of next week’s donors conference in Washington, Hedi Annabi told the U.N. Security Council that continued humanitarian aids is critical to ensure many Haitians get enough food and are able to send their children to school.

He said international assistance also is needed to generate immediate jobs as well as longer-term development to help Haiti escape its plight as the Western Hemisphere’s poorest country.

“It can only do so with the continued, strong support of external partners,” Annabi said.

He expressed hope the April 14 donors conference will provide funds for immediate road rebuilding and steps to lessen the impact of future hurricanes and for longer-term investments to improve ports and electricity and revive the private sector, especially the garment industry.

Haiti’s government also needs $125 million so it can meet its $256 million budget for the current fiscal year, Annabi said.

The shortfall is a result of the government spending emergency funds last year during four hurricanes that killed nearly 800 people.

“The scope of the damage wrought by last summer’s hurricanes is estimated at about $1 billion, or equivalent to about 15 percent of Haiti’s GDP,” Annabi said.

“This has now been compounded by the global financial crisis, which in February brought a 14 percent reduction in the remittances that constitute a lifeline for many Haitian families, and represent nearly three times the figure for international assistance.”

An 8,000-soldier U.N. peacekeeping force has significantly improved security over the past four years, but Haiti “continues to face a number of threats, including a significant risk of civil unrest,” Annabi said.

This reflects “Haiti’s difficult living conditions, and the continued presence on the ground of a number of potentially violent elements, including former gang members and discontented army veterans,” he said.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press.