Clinton: Haiti faces emergency

Tens of thousands of Haitians
living in tents are still facing “an emergency situation” that must be solved
before hurricane winds and rains thrash the quake-shattered nation, former
President Bill Clinton said Saturday in Miami before closing a meeting that
sought to energize and harness student activism.

He specifically cited “20,000 to
40,000” Haitians at risk, among the more than one million displaced people,
who are “living in tent settlements that are simply too low to be certifiably
safe if you have massive rain, accompanying a hurricane or without it.”

Clinton, the U.N. Special Envoy to Haiti, was recently named co-czar of Haiti’s
reconstruction effort to help manage nearly $5.3 billion over the next 18
months. He spoke about the rebuilding effort at a news conference ahead of the
closing session of the Clinton Global Initiative, his third annual gathering of
young leaders, held at the University
of Miami.

In a special nod, he also
acknowledged the “amazing” volunteer work of “the great actor Sean Penn”
who has been in Haiti for
more than a month, Clinton
said, “heroically” running a displaced persons camp in Port-au-Prince’s
Petionville suburb.

The former president, who along
with University of Miami President Donna Shalala had lunch with Haitian
educators, spoke of his optimism for the Caribbean
nation’s future at a news conference set up for student journalists.

“I’m 63 years old,” he said,
reminding them that he had recently undergone heart surgery.

“You think I’d commit the next
five years of my life to working down there if I thought it was a losing

Later, he closed the meeting for
some 1,300 students from 83 countries, 318 schools and all 50 states by hosting
a roundtable conversation on Haiti’s future that featured, among others, Haitian-American
author Edwidge Danticat, a Miami resident, and NPR host Michele Norris as moderator.

“It was a tragedy, but it’s one
that offers us this chance to redefine ourselves, to redefine our country,”
Danticat said, evoking images of amputees and tent dwellers in her nation.