EU envoy visits Haiti, defends lateness of trip

Last Updated: Thursday, March 4, 2010 - 12:54

Port-au-Prince: European Union foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton visited quake-hit Haiti with pledges of long-term aid and sought to defend her delay in making the trip.

"I wouldn`t have been helpful, I would have got in the way," Ashton said as she visited an Irish charity`s project in one of Port-au-Prince`s innumerable makeshift camps set up after the January 12 quake.

She said Europe`s initial response had been to send emergency relief and dispatch the EU commissioner for humanitarian aid, Kristalina Georgieva, who also joined her in Haiti on Wednesday.

"I came now because my job is to build for the long-term. And I`m sure that was the right thing to do. And actually the people I met here today told me it was the right thing to do," she said, cradling a Haitian infant on her lap.

She was speaking in a tent serving as a breast-feeding sanctuary set up by Concern Worldwide, an Irish charity funded through donations and Irish and British subsidies.

"Children are children everywhere, and we have to build this country for their future. It`s one of the things that all the foreign ministers across Europe said to me: we have to think about the children."

Ashton, who was criticised in Brussels for not heading out to Haiti soon after the 7.0-magnitude quake, met with Haitian President Rene Preval and Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive to discuss the country`s needs.

While those needs were still being defined, the EU envoy said that "clearing rubble, helping to rebuild infrastructure, roads and schools would be really, really important."

Bellerive stressed at a joint press conference with Ashton and Georgieva that it was "extremely important that the humanitarian roll-out be discussed in detail," but that things were still in a "state of preparation".

During her talks with Haiti`s leaders, Ashton emphasised the EUR 100 million (USD 135 million) that the European Union released on Tuesday to help Haiti tackle its challenges.

She said the latest funds took direct EU aid to more than EUR 120 million, out of a tranche of more than EUR 300 million committed by Brussels to help Haiti.

National donations by individual EU states raised total European aid to Haiti to EUR 609 million (USD 828 million).

Haiti`s quake killed more than 222,000 people and left 1.3 million people homeless in and around the capital Port-au-Prince.

Bureau Report

First Published: Thursday, March 4, 2010 - 12:54

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