Haiti situation ‘dire’

President Obama pledged enduring
U.S. support on Wednesday for Haiti’s recovery and reconstruction following its
devastating
earthquake
two months ago, and the visiting Haitian president urged
the creation of a special U.N. disaster relief force.

“The situation on the ground
remains dire, and people should be under no illusions that the crisis is
over” in Haiti, Obama said after a meeting with Haitian President René
Préval. With the onset of the spring rainy season, Haitians’ needs “will
only grow,” Obama said, adding, “The challenge now is to prevent a
second disaster.”

Appearing with Préval in the White
House Rose Garden, Obama said, “America’s commitment to Haiti’s recovery
and reconstruction must endure and will endure. . . . America will be your
partner in the recovery and reconstruction effort.”

Préval thanked the United States
and the international community for what he called “the massive,
spontaneous, generous help” that Haiti received in response to its
“unimaginable” disaster. But he said the effectiveness of such
efforts “must be improved,” and he expressed support for the
“creation of so-called ‘red helmets’ within the United Nations,” a
humanitarian response force for natural disasters that would be the equivalent
of U.N. peacekeepers, who traditionally wear blue helmets.

Préval arrived in Washington this
week in search of additional U.S. and international help for his beleaguered
nation, where the economy is stalled, crops have gone unplanted and a million
people remain homeless.

The Haitian government is racing to
finish a blueprint on which it will to base its requests for potentially
record-breaking aid commitments at a United Nations conference in three weeks.
The 12 January quake killed more than 200,000 people out of a population
approaching 9.8 million, and the Inter-American Development Bank has estimated
that the damage could
hit $14 billion
.

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