MONTREAL — The United States and other allies of Haiti agreed Monday to a 10-year effort to rebuild Port-au-Prince and foster the long-term development that has eluded the Caribbean country despite decades of foreign assistance.
The commitment grew from a conference of 19 foreign ministers and international organizations, known informally as the Group of Friends of Haiti, who gathered here to discuss how to manage what promises to be one of the most daunting reconstruction efforts in modern times.
“It’s not an exaggeration to say that 10 years of hard work — at least — awaits the world in Haiti,” said Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who hosted the meeting. ‘‘We must hold ourselves and each other accountable for the commitments we make.”
The meeting produced few details about the scope of the damage from Haiti’s Jan. 12 earthquake, or the potential cost of the reconstruction. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced plans to host a more comprehensive conference of donor countries in March at the United Nations headquarters in New York.
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By then, Clinton said, the U.N. should have completed a review of all the needs in Port-au-Prince and the rest of the Haitian provinces, and their estimated costs. With emergency relief and rubble rescues still ongoing in the Haitian capital, a larger picture of the devastation and its long-term affects has yet to emerge.
“The extent of the devastation is almost more than any of us can grasp,” Clinton said.
Haiti’s prime minister, Jean-Max Bellerive, was noticeably uncomfortable discussing long-term reconstruction plans while tens of thousands of people in his country went another day searching for food, water and shelter.
Amid discussions of donor countries’ deference to Haitian sovereignty, Bellerive made an urgent plea for 200,000 tents needed to shelter displaced victims, and prosthetics for those who lost limbs in the catastrophe.
“I could continue on all of these emergencies, there are many,” he said. “It is very difficult for me to talk reconstruction when we do not take these matters into account.”
Bellerive said it would likely take four or five years just to restore Port-au-Prince to what it once was — a sprawling city with too many people and too few jobs, where much of the population lacked electricity or running water.
The ministers all agreed that any future redevelopment plans must be led by the Haitian government, not the international community. Still unclear is how much any reconstruction plan may cost.
Last weekend, The Miami Herald reported that Haitian officials had made a preliminary estimate of $3 billion needed just to restore the capital’s infrastructure, government offices, schools and hospitals.