July 20, 2004. New international aid must flow rapidly to Haiti to bring new jobs, better roads, water fit to drink and other concrete improvements to the lives of its people, Secretary of State Colin Powell said Tuesday.

Opening a donors’ conference for the Western Hemisphere’s poorest nation, he urged support for the interim government to help establish a working democracy and a stable economy.

“Haiti’s needs are great, but with our help her government and people will be equal to the task,” Powell said.

The session at World Bank headquarters drew representatives from more than 20 countries and 30 intergovernmental and nongovernmental organizations. Organizers hope the two-day session, which began Monday, will yield at least $924 million in pledges of support for Haiti.

The World Bank and other multilateral financial institutions estimate the Caribbean country needs $1.36 billion for reconstruction through 2006.

Powell said U.S. aid to Haiti for 2004-2005 will amount to $230 million. The Inter-American Development Bank has pledged $400 million. The U.S. figure does not include money that the United States will make available for peacekeeping in Haiti, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said.

“After taking into account Haiti’s current planned resources and the pledges it has received, the (World) bank estimates a significant shortfall of $924 million and we must close the gap,” Powell said.

Among the pledges expected to be announced at the conference was one from Canada for $135 million.

Powell said the people of Haiti deserve a chance to succeed, especially since over the past 12 months they have experienced economic crisis, political chaos, devastating floods and fires.

In February, a rebel uprising forced President Jean-Bertrand Aristide to resign and flee the country, according to him at the behest of the Bush administration. Haiti’s interim government is headed by Prime Minister Gerard Latortue.

Latortue told the conference, “Despite the catastrophic situation in every respect we found the country in, I can tell you there is hope for real and lasting change in Haiti.”

He said the only objective of his government, which has promised elections in 2005, is to make the transition succeed, “to seize this last chance offered to us to lead the country to better economic well-being.”

Haitians earn on average 361 dollars a year, just under $1 a day. Half of the country’s urban population does not have access to clean drinking water. About five percent of the population of 8 million is estimated to be infected with HIV/AIDS, the highest rate in the Western Hemisphere.

Among those taking part in the conference was former Chilean Foreign Minister Juan Gabriel Valdes, who was named last week as top U.N. envoy to Haiti. His mission includes a peacekeeping force expected to swell to 6,700 troops and more than 1,600 international police.

The force started arriving June 1 to replace a 3,600 strong U.S.-led multilateral force sent after a three-week rebellion drove Aristide, Haiti’s first democratically elected president, to flee in February.

Human rights groups protested outside the donors’ meeting contended in a statement the hoped-for $924 million could end up in “the pockets of foreigners and Haitian elite with little reaching the people in need.”