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UN Chief: Haitian Quake Disaster Offers Reconstruction Opportunities

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As relief efforts continue in the wake of the devastating quake which struck Haiti last week, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon Friday emphasized the need to rebuild the impoverished Caribbean nation and "turn disaster into opportunity."

Addressing the UN General Assembly on Friday morning, Ban said the emergency response to the 7.0 magnitude quake must shift in the coming weeks towards longer-term relief and recovery.

The international community must help the Haitian government reconstitute itself, restore basic services and jump-start the economy, he said.

Haiti, the Western Hemisphere's poorest nation, was making progress prior to the January 12 tremors, enjoying political stability and stepped up economic investment.

But the earthquake, which ravaged the capital, Port-au-Prince, has affected one third of the country's population of 9 million.

"Haiti's recovery must begin with its people -- strong, resilient and impatient to get to work rebuilding their lives and their country," the secretary-general told the 192-member Assembly.

Last week's disaster provides an "opportunity to build back better," he said, quoting his Special Envoy Bill Clinton, who is the former US president.

On top of restoring the government, governance must be improved, and along with rebuilding factories, the right environment to draw ever greater investment must be created, Ban noted.

"And we need to provide jobs, not only to those who lost their jobs last week, but to the millions of Haitians who did not have a job in the first place," he emphasized.

"The people of Haiti are not looking for handouts," said the secretary-general, who visited the country on Sunday.

To this end, the UN has launched a cash-for-work program to " help Haitians help themselves" by paying them to clear rubble from the street, distribute urgently-needed aid and build camps for those made homeless by the quake.

The UN Development Program (UNDP) has appealed for over US$40 million to support the project, which aims to involve 220, 000 people and indirectly benefit 1 million others, and Mr. Ban told the Assembly that he hopes to scale up the scheme three-fold or more.

The US$5 a day Haitians will earn through the initiative will circulate through the economy, boosting small businesses and banks, ultimately stimulating the economy and spurring job growth.

The secretary-general said that "a clear and concrete sense of gaps and needs" is essential for success in Haiti, directing UN agencies to coordinate with the World Bank and others to launch a post-disaster needs assessment.

He will also dispatch John Holmes, the UN emergency relief coordinator, and UNDP Administrator Helen Clark to Montreal, Canada, early next week to help coordinate a global reconstruction conference.

"Haiti has never been more in need," Ban said.

(Xinhua News Agency January 23, 2010)

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