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Haiti PM begs for more quake aid

world Updated: Jan 25, 2010 23:05 IST
AFP
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Haiti's hobbled government called for more international aid for desperate earthquake survivors still living in the rubble as donors met to draw up a recovery plan for the shattered country.

Nearly two weeks after the disaster which killed at least 150,000 people, Haitian authorities struggled to control fresh outbreaks of looting and the huge foreign assistance effort faced criticism for lack of leadership.

Bulldozers clawed rotting corpses from Port-au-Prince amid dimming hopes of finding anyone alive in the debris, with the focus shifting to relief and reconstruction as donor countries held emergency talks in Montreal.

"Haiti needs the massive support of its partners in the international community in the medium and long term," Haitian Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive said told world officials at the conference.

He said that before reconstruction started, the top priorities for the swelling number of people living in makeshift camps in the poorest nation in the Americas were food and water, shelter and health care.

"The Haitian government is working in precarious conditions but it can provide the leadership that people expect," he said, responding to criticism that authorities had been almost absent from relief efforts.

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and officials from the United Nations were among those taking part in the conference.

The United States has taken a frontline role in the disaster relief effort, sending in 20,000 troops and anchoring a hospital ship offshore, while the United Nations is also heavily involved in relief efforts.

With the search for buried survivors officially over, one rescue team's hopes of finding another person alive 13 days after the quake were dashed when signs of life picked up by radar turned out to be a false alarm.

"We came across a body full of worms which perhaps accounts for the movement that was detected," said Samuel Bernes, the head of a French rescue team.

Rescuers have saved 133 people from the debris since the 7.0-magnitude earthquake on January 12, including a man who survived for 11 days on cola and snacks.

The UN said that more than 235,000 Haitians have taken advantage of free buses to flee the filthy conditions in Port-au-Prince for more hygenic camps outside the capital that have yet to be set up.

The mass exodus was putting a huge burden on small towns like Saint Marc, some 80 kilometers (50 miles) from the capital, where 10,000 refugees were lodging with friends, strangers or in churches.

"My house was destroyed. We slept on the pavement near the wounded, we had to leave," said Magalie Esteverle, a 43-year-old dressmaker with three children staying with a distant cousin of her husband.

Continued looting in the capital prompted European nations to agree to send some 300 police officers to help keep order and ease aid distribution, despite British opposition to the idea.

But the international aid effort came under fire from Italy's public safety chief, sent to Haiti last week, who criticised a lack of leadership in the response to the quake.

Guido Bertolaso told Italian television it was "a terrible situation that could have been managed much better" and said that the US force had "too many officers" to find a capable leader.

But Clinton said military contributions from around the world were vital to helping Haiti. "It's just easier for the United States to get there first because Haiti is our neighbor," she told reporters as she left for Montreal.

The World Council of Churches meanwhile called for "the immediate and unconditional cancellation of the country's foreign debt" by international creditors at the Montreal meeting.

Japan was reportedly pledging 70 million dollars in aid to Haiti at the conference and Saudi Arabia said it was is giving 50 million dollars.