Money from kin abroad buoys Haiti quake victims


Port-au-Prince : The arrival of the first remittances from abroad since the Jan 12 earthquake has brought a hint of relief to some of the three million Haitians affected by the disaster.

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The money transfer agencies that opened their doors Thursday quickly attracted Port-au-Prince residents desperate for cash to obtain food and other necessities in this devastated capital.

“If I don’t manage to pick up my money today I will die of hunger. I have two children to feed; without money I can do nothing,” Louisse Matturin, a young woman who works at a hotel, told EFE outside the door of one agency.

To facilitate the flow of funds, some companies decided to temporarily waive the fees they usually charge for remittances, most of which come from Haitians living and working in the US.

Remittances made up more than 16 percent of Haitian gross domestic product in 2008, according to figures from the Inter-American Development Bank.

The chairman of Haiti’s APB banking association, Maxime Charles, said that at least some of the country’s banks plan to re-open Saturday, with an initial limit of $2,500 on withdrawals.

“There is much expectation because people have a great need for money to eat and to make basic purchases,” he said, noting that five bank branches in Port-au-Prince were destroyed by the magnitude-7.0 earthquake.

The UN Stabilization Mission for Haiti, or Minustah, plans to provide security detachments for Saturday’s re-opening, but Charles said the bankers do not expect any trouble.

He said the aim of re-opening the banks is to contribute toward restoring normalcy in the capital after the “shock” of the temblor.

Marking another step on the slow path to normalisation, the European commissioner for Development and Humanitarian Aid, Karel de Gucht, came to Port-au-Prince Thursday to express the European Union’s support for the quake-stricken country.

EU institutions have already agreed to provide the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere with 30 million euros ($42.3 million) for humanitarian aid and another 100 million euros ($141 million) for reconstruction efforts.

Part of that money will fund initiatives directed toward “not just the re-establishment of the state, as all the institutional buildings have collapsed, but rather to make it (the state) work”, de Gucht said.

The spokesperson for the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, Elisabeth Byrs, said Thursday in Geneva that the world body has received 27 percent of the $575 million it sought to finance relief and recovery efforts in Haiti.

By comparison, she noted that the UN received 85 percent of the amount it requested for the Asian tsunami of 2004 within two weeks of the disaster.

Another UN agency, the International Organization for Migration (IOM), said its personnel in Haiti have detected a massive exodus from Port-au-Prince.

“Thousands of people continue abandoning the capital to try to reach the home of family or friends in less affected regions,” the IOM’s Jean-Philippe Chauzy said in Geneva.

“Those who don’t have relatives go from one city to another in search of safety and support,” he said.