Italian Official Condemns Haiti Earthquake Relief as 'Vanity Parade'

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by
The Guardian/UK

Italian Official Condemns Haiti Earthquake Relief as 'Vanity Parade'

Guido Bertolaso, who led L'Aquila quake response in Italy, targets lack of leadership and role of US military

by
Peter Walker and agencies

A boy hold the hand of a U.S. Soldier while waiting to receive food and water in Port-au-Prince January 24, 2010. (REUTERS/Ana-Bianca Marin)

The Italian government official who led the country's response to the L'Aquila earthquake has condemned relief efforts in Haiti as a disorganised "vanity parade", ahead of an international conference on rebuilding the devastated country.

Guido Bertolaso, the head of Italy's civil protection service, said there had been a fundamental lack of leadership thus far in foreign aid missions to Haiti, warning also that the large US military mission in the country was not entirely helpful.

"The Americans are extraordinary, but when you are facing a situation in chaos they tend to confuse military intervention with emergency aid, which cannot be entrusted to the armed forces," Reuters reported him as telling Italy's RAI television.

Italy's foreign minister, Franco Frattini, swiftly distanced the government from Bertolaso's comments. He had "attacked American and international organisations head on. The Italian government does not share these statements," Frattini told reporters in Washington.

Dozens of nations have sent rescue teams and relief supplies to Haiti. The effort involves government staff, troops and representatives from hundreds of separate charities and NGOs. The process has already been criticised as taking too long to bring desperately needed food, water and shelter.

Later today, the Haitian prime minister, Jean-Max Bellerive, will join Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state, and ministers from Canada, France and other nations in Montreal to begin planning his country's long-term reconstruction.

Bertolaso led Italian relief and reconstruction efforts following the quake in April last year around the city of L'Aquila. The death toll was a relatively low 307 but thousands of buildings were damaged or destroyed.

Having arrived in Haiti on Friday, Bertolaso said he had seen "a terrible situation that could have been managed much better".

"When there is an emergency it triggers a vanity parade. Lots of people go there anxious to show that their country is big and important, showing solidarity," he said.

He expressed doubt over the efficacy of having so many US military personnel involved. "It's a truly powerful show of force but it's completely out of touch with reality. They don't have close rapport with the territory, they certainly don't have a rapport with the international organisations and aid groups."

Haiti's government has raised the confirmed death toll from the 12 January quake to 150,000, saying the figure could double. About 1.5 million people are believed to have been left homeless.

Canada's foreign minister, Lawrence Cannon, said today's Montreal meeting was intended to begin mapping out what was needed to get Haiti's government back up and running for reconstruction.

"It's not a donor or pledging conference," he told the Associated Press. "It's to make sure we have an action plan. We want to co-ordinate better in the short term and make sure we all know who is doing what and how."

One goal, he said, was to "physically get the Haitian government back on its feet".

The British-based aid agency Oxfam has called on the conference to cancel Haiti's £552m debt, saying an insistence on repayment would be "both cruel and unnecessary".

"Immediate cancellation of foreign debt must be accompanied by urgent action to support farmers and prevent a man-made food crisis exacerbating the hardship faced by the people of Haiti," said Jeremy Hobbs, the executive director of Oxfam International.

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