Sultan Al-Tamimi, Arab News
JEDDAH: Saudi Arabia will donate $50 million in aid to earthquake-devastated Haiti. â€œOn instructions from Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah, the Kingdom will donate $50 million to assist the Haitian people,â€ Foreign Ministry spokesman Osama Nugali said Monday.
The cash donation is thought to be the largest given by a Middle Eastern country, although some have made significant donations in kind. The funds will be channeled through the United Nations.
Last week, the secretary-general of the Organization of the Islamic Conference, Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, urged all OIC member states and Islamic organizations to provide help to Haiti following the Jan. 12 earthquake.
Meanwhile, the Riyadh-based Arab Gulf Program for United Nations Development Organizations (AGFUND) has become one of the first organizations in the Kingdom to donate to Haiti, with a contribution of $100,000. â€œThe contribution is an extension to the role of the Arab Gulf Program and its humanitarian stand in alleviating the suffering of victims, and it is in response to the urgent call from the Haitian government for humanitarian assistance,â€ AGFUND spokesman Abdul Latiff said.
Other Middle Eastern countries have chipped in. The United Arab Emirates said a plane carrying 77 tons of basic relief supplies has been sent by the government to Haiti. Jordan sent six tons of relief supplies to Haiti shortly after the quake hit. A field hospital was also dispatched there to help treat survivors, including members of Jordanâ€™s 700-strong peacekeeping contingent in Haiti. Three Jordanian peacekeepers were killed and 23 wounded in the quake.
The United Nations said Monday it has so far received pledges of more than $270 million in emergency relief funding for Haiti, representing nearly half of its target. The funds are meant to go toward food, medication, water and tents for three million people affected by the earthquake, which according to the Haitian government, claimed around 150,000 lives.
Haitian Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive urged donors Monday to swing behind his nationâ€™s massive reconstruction, as aid groups called for Haitiâ€™s billion-dollar foreign debt to be wiped clean.
â€œI just want to say that the people of Haiti will need to be helped to face this colossal work of reconstruction,â€ Bellerive told international officials as closed-door talks in Montreal began.
â€œThe government of Haiti wants to assure the entire world that it will remember and be worthy of the exceptional sympathy that it receives,â€ he added. The talks are aimed at defining key strategies to rebuild the country from the ground up in the wake of the quake.
An umbrella group of Canadian and Haitian aid organizations called on donors to cancel more than $1 billion in foreign debt. â€œWe hope that you use the weight of your governments to convince international financial institutions to cancel Haitiâ€™s entire foreign debt,â€ said Eric Faustin, director of Rocahd, the Coalition of Canadian-Haitian Development Organizations.