Obama warns of second humanitarian disaster after talks with Haitian president

With Haiti anticipating spring rains, US President Barack Obama warned that the "crisis was not over" after meeting with President René Préval at the White House on Wednesday. Obama promised that the US would be a partner in reconstruction efforts.


AFP - US President Barack Obama said on Wednesday that the situation in Haiti following January's earthquake was still "dire" and warned that a second humanitarian disaster was possible.

After talks with Haitian President Rene Preval at the White House, Obama said that the looming spring rains in Haiti could pose a severe threat to 1.3 million people left homeless, almost two months after the monstrous earthquake.

"The situation on the ground remains dire and people should be under no illusions that the crisis is over," Obama said during a joint appearance with Preval in the White House Rose Garden.

The president said that there was a "desperate need" for humanitarian aid in Haiti, describing the quake which killed more than 220,000 people as "one of the most devastating natural disasters ever to strike our hemisphere."

"The challenge now, is to prevent a second disaster," Obama said, hours after former president Bill Clinton, now a UN special envoy to Haiti, warned that a new wave of deaths could be caused by poor sanitary conditions.

Obama described his Oval Office talks with Preval as "very productive" and said the Haitian leader had provided him with an update on the "awful scale of Haitian loss."

"No nation could respond to such a catastrophe alone," Obama said, adding that an international donors conference for Haiti later this month at the UN would allow the world to keep its commitment to help Haiti rebuild.

"This pledge is one that I made at the beginning of this crisis, and I intend for America to keep our pledge," Obama said. "America will be your partner."

Clinton delivered his warning in testimony to the Senate Foreign Relations committee, saying his biggest worry was that unsanitary conditions would "lead to a second round of deaths" when the rainy season comes.

Preval used his joint appearance with Obama to thank the American people for a swift and massive response in the wake of the January 12 quake, and offered condolences to Americans who had lost loved-ones in the disaster.

And he also delivered a stark warning that the lessons of his country's disaster must be recognized, arguing that global warming could cause similar humanitarian catastrophes in future.

"We must draw the lessons from what occurred in Haiti. These are lessons for all of mankind," Preval said.

"The massive, spontaneous, generous help was a good response to the disaster. However, its effectiveness must be improved, because effectiveness depends on the quality of coordination."

Preval said that donor funds gathered at the United Nations conference in New York at the end of the month should be administered by one single authority to ensure they were spent wisely.

And he pleaded for help to offer Haitians health care, jobs and education, to forestall a possible wave of migration to the cities which could worsen the humanitarian situation.

Obama also said he was "extraordinarily proud" of each member of the US armed forces who flocked to Haiti in the aftermath of the disaster of help with the relief effort and provide much-needed security.

"They saved lives, countless lives, of men and women and children," Obama said.

The Pentagon said that the Comfort naval hospital, which is leaving Haiti on Wednesday, treated 871 patients during its seven-week mission and performed 843 surgeries.

The Comfort has spent the past two weeks helping Haitians for ailments unrelated to the earthquake, with the last person treated for earthquake injuries discharged on February 27, Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said.

The naval doctors also delivered 10 babies onboard the ship, he said.

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