Former U.S. presidents Bush, Clinton visit quake-hit Haiti

13:10, March 23, 2010      

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Former U.S. president Bill Clinton (L) speaks as Haiti's President Rene Preval and former U.S. president George W. Bush listen during a news conference at the destroyed national palace in Port-au-Prince March 22, 2010. Clinton and Bush are in Haiti to discuss the impoverished country's long-term recovery after a January earthquake killed hundreds of thousands of people. (Xinhua/AFP Photo)

Former U.S. presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton on Monday made their first joint visit to Haiti, which was devastated by a strong earthquake on Jan. 12.

On a tour of the quake-torn capital, the two former presidents visited the Champ de Mars, the national mall, which is providing shelter for some 60,000 homeless survivors amid tight security, according to reports reaching here from the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince.

Bush said at a joint press conference with Haitian President Rene Preval in the national palace, which almost collapsed in the quake, that he was shocked by the damage inflicted by the natural disaster.

"It's one thing to see it on TV, it's another to see it firsthand. Hopefully our visit will remind people that Haiti needs help," Bush said.

Bush left in the afternoon, while Clinton, who was appointed last year as UN special envoy to Haiti, was reportedly to stay overnight for more talks on relief efforts.

"The most important thing in the short run is to coordinate what the NGOs do with the long-term plans that the Haitian government has," said Clinton.

According to Reginald Boulos, Haiti's Chamber of Commerce chairman, Clinton is expected to co-chair a task force with Haitian Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive to oversee the international aid.

Clinton said he had not received the offer formally, but was ready to help.

According to an official report, quake-ravaged Haiti needs about 11.5 billion U.S. dollars for relief work and an extra 200 million dollars to finance the national budget and pay Haitian public servants' salaries.

The report, presented at a preparatory meeting ahead of an international donors' conference to be held at the end of March, said economic loss suffered by Haiti reached 7.754 billion dollars, leaving 71 percent of the Haitians in extreme poverty.

Moreover, the 7.3-magnitude quake killed 222,570 people, leaving 869 people missing, 310,928 people injured and 1.5 million affected.


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