Haiti Earthquake: Bill Clinton Launches the UN’s Largest-Ever Natural Disaster Appeal

At the UN moments ago, UN Special Envoy for Haiti Bill Clinton launched the a $1,441,547,920 humanitarian appeal for Haiti.  This is the UN’s organization’s largest ever appeal for humanitarian assistance following a natural disaster. 

At a meeting at the UN, Clinton delivered an impassioned appeal for international support for Haiti relief.  He said the appeal was important for long term rebuilding, but the most immediate concern was to meet Haitians’ basic needs.  “You can’t build a country back when a third of the people are living day-to-day…when people are worried about things like their children dying of dysentery in a camp,” said Clinton.  “We need to move them from living day-to-day to living month to month.”  He repeated that refrain a number of times, at one point banging the table for emphasis.    

His job now is to help convince donors that their donations will be used effectively.  To that end, he announced the launch of a website, Haitispecialenvoy.org, that will allow donors to track their funds.  He also expressed his confidence in the Haitian government, which is an important thing considering that much of the funding will be used to support Haiti’s crippled governing infrastructure.  Clinton even cited a conversation he had with Haiti President Rene Preval in which Preval refused to lament the loss of his presidential palace, saying “everything from this day forward should be about the country we wish to become, not the country we used to be.”

The report (pdf) that has accompanied the appeal contains some new facts and figures that give some perspective to the immense scale of the disaster.  According to the  document, 217,366 people are were killed in the earthquake and over 300,000 wounded.  The amount of displacement is also staggering.  Nearly 2 million people are living in “spontaneous settlements,” both in Port au Prince and in the rural environs.  The $1.44 billion appeal is intended to provide relief to the affected population and set the stage for Haiti’s long term recovery. 

The full explanation and justification for that figure can be found in the 130 page report.  Two things to keep in mind, though. First, about one-third of the appeal, or  $480 million, is for food aid. Before the earthquake Haiti was dependent on food aid. Now, even more so. (Again, this gets to Clinton’s point about the need for moving people beyond living day-to-day).  Second, this appeal will fold in the emergency $577 million “flash appeal” that was launched in the week following the earthquake.  That appeal exceeded its overall funding mark earlier this week, meaning that the international community and donors now need to come up with an additional $760 million or so to meet Haiti’s needs in areas ranging from food aid, to shelter, schooling, sanitation, etc for the next year.   

This is an unprecedented undertaking. Fortunately, it is also unprecedented for someone as high profile as Bill Clinton to be leading the charge.  As I’ve said before, one thing that Haiti has going for it is that Bill Clinton is in their corner. And if there is something in which President Clinton truly excels, it is fundraising.  I must say, having just watched Bill Clinton brief the UN on the appeal, it is clear that despite his recent health scare, he is eager to put these talents to use on behalf of the Haitian people.