The Long Road to Recovery (1/25/2010)

  • Posted on: 25 January 2010
  • By: Bryan Schaaf

NegHaiti is forever changed.  At least 150,000 people, equivalent to the population of Tallahassee, have died.  At least 600,000, more than the population of Seattle, are without homes.  Over 130,000, approximately the population of Syracuse, have left Port au Prince for the countryside. After a disaster of this magnitude, life does not go back to normal.  Still, even in the face of great uncertainty, life goes on. Telecommunications are mostly up and running, some banks are opening, more gas stations are functional, markets and factories are re-openening.  Neighborhood committees are meeting and people are attending church services.  All agree it will take many years to rebuild.  The question is how Haiti can recover and be built back better than it was before?


According to Mark Danner, “Haiti is everybody's cherished tragedy. Long before the great earthquake struck the country like a vengeful god, the outside world, and Americans especially, described, defined, marked Haiti most of all by its suffering. Epithets of misery clatter after its name like a ball and chain: Poorest country in the Western Hemisphere.  For decades Haiti's formidable immiseration has made it among outsiders an object of fascination, wonder and awe. Sometimes the pity that is attached to the land - and we see this increasingly in the news coverage this past week - attains a tone almost sacred, as if Haiti has taken its place as a kind of sacrificial victim among nations…”


We have to change this narrative.  Haitians are a proud, tough, and strong people with a long tradition of resistance against racism, exploitation, and oppression.  Most know that Haiti was the only country in the world to lead a successful slave rebellion to win independence, becoming the first free black republic during a time when the great powers continued to build their economies on slavery.  Haitians were forced to pay a steep human and financial cost for its audacity, still being paid by the descendents of idealists and revolutionaries.


This is the country that took in Simon Bolivar, after an attempted assassination in Jamaica.  Haiti provided financial and military assistance to him, under the condition that he free enslaved peoples in Latin America.  Haiti’s support was critical in enabling Bolivar to liberate Venezuela.  Thousands of freed American blacks migrated to Haiti.  Haitians themselves fought in the American Revolution.  Haiti’s has long been isolated, but its history and fate are entertwined with the United States and the other countries of the Americas.  For Haiti to have suffered so diminishes us as well.  We feel it and know it should not be this way, we know things should be different.


While architecture, art, and institutions have been destroyed, history cannot be taken away. Haitians will need to draw from the past in order to build a better future.  To be Haitian is to resist, to be Haitian is to survive.  They have made it through embargos, dictatorships, both man-made and natural disasters.  Through it all, Haitians have never stopped fighting for justice.  There are echoes of resistance in Kreyol, which is and will always be the common language of Haiti, as well as in the drumming of the Vodoun ceremonies, which have not been (and never will be) erased by outsiders.


A quick overview of emergency operations before we discuss recovery. The overall security situation is tense, with some looting, but with few serious incidents.  MINUSTAH reports that 70% of the Haitian National Police are reporting for duty.  As mentioned, over 609,000 people are without shelter in the wider Port-au-Prince area. Haitian Interior Minister Paul Antoine Bien-Aime reported that as many as 400,000 people would be relocated outside the capital. Meanwhile, a battalion of Brazilian troops deployed by MINUSTAH are leveling land in Croix des Bouquets, where the Inter-American Development Bank plans to build permanent housing for 30,000 people. Around 8,700 people are living in eight camps in Jacmel, to whom MINUSTAH and World Food Programme (WFP) are providing food and water


Buses have been taking residents from the encampments to relatively untouched cities, including St. Marc, Gonaïve and Les Cayes. More than 130,000 people have taken advantage of the Government's offer of free transportation.  The Port au Prince airport is still only open to military and humanitarian flights while the port itself has been rehabilitated to the point where ships that have their own cranes can unload cargo.


The Dominican Government is working with the Haitian government and American military to establish a humanitarian air/land corridor for the ongoing transportation of humanitarian cargo and staff.  Discussions are underway to resume flights from Cap Haitian to Port au Prince.  The scale of the response has been huge.  Responders include communities, the Haitian Red Cross, partners governments, international organizations, non governmental organizations, regional organizations, and many, many individuals who are supporting them with their donations even during these difficult economic times.  Thank you!


What will it take for Haiti to recover? That was a major topic of discussion today as officials from 20 countries, including U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, met to discuss long term reconstruction and arrangements for a donor conference that will be held in Match.  The task at hand, as one official put it, is to reconstruct Haiti not to the state it was in before, but into a more just and equal county where the government can meet the basic needs of its citizens.  Prime Minister Bellerive stated that he was hoping for a long term, five to ten year commitment from the international donor community.  Donors want to develop a better coordinated and more accountable mechanism to support Haiti over the long term.


The battered Haitian government, which showed improvement over the past year, must now step up and demonstrate leadership.  In the short-term, Preval needs to do a better job of communicating with the Haitian people and letting them know that he will work tirelessly on their behalf and expects the same from everyone in his administration.  As far as the international community is concerned, the government will need to identify and communicate priorities while coordinating the many, many diffeent actors. Some of the groundwork for doing so has been laid already.  The Haitian government had already created and achieved consensus on the first ever Haitian National Poverty Reduction Strategy.  Needless to say, it need an update but must of it still stands, including the emphasis on rapid job creation.


Still, the government faces serious challenges.  First, the physical infrastructure of the Haitian state has collapsed.  The National Palace is severely damaged, all but two ministries have fallen, the tax administration building is no more, and the prison is destroyed.  The government is currently being run from a police station. The Port au Prince airport is functional with U.S. military assistance, but not to commercial flights.  The Port itself has been horribly damaged, but has been rehabilitated to the point where it can receive some ships.  Physical infrastructure can be rebuilt. The more difficult task will be to continue building the human infrastructure and capacity of the Haitian state.


While the Prime Minister and the heads of Ministries have survived, many senior staff were lost.  The Government requires space to lead, and this includes the ability to plan and execute budgets (under close scrutiny, of course).  Doing so will require talented and accountable managers.  Now is the time to fully tap the skills and the resources of the Haitian Diaspora in the reconstruction effort.  Allowing the Diaspora to compete for government positions, or at a minimum making consultancies available to them, is one way in which to replenish and reinvigorate the ranks of the Haitian government.


Another way is to tap an internal but all too often undervalued resource – women.  Numerous studies have demonstrated a correlation between the number of women in parliaments and accountability.  Let's face it - men dont have a great track record of working for the common good in Haiti.  Women should be given a chance.  Rwanda is an excellent example of a country that has dramatically improved governance by empowering women to be politicians, managers, and leaders.  Haiti could do the same by putting women at the very center of the long term recovery process.


The head of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), Dominique Strauss-Kahn, has called for a Haitian Marshall Plan, noting “there must be ownership by the Haitians themselves and especially by the Haitian authorities.”  The IMF has said a proposed loan of $100 million would be interest free until late 2011 and the World Bank announced it will waive payments on Haiti’s debts for five years. Currently Haiti's debt to the World Bank is about $38 million.  If both the IMF and World Bank agree that the Haitian authorities need to own this response, they can help by forgiving Haiti's debt, much of which was acquired by dictators the Haitian people did not vote into office.  To expect Haitians to spend funds on debt payments rather than reconstruction would be cruel.


There is hope that this could happen.  Debt reduction will be discussed at the March Donors’ Conference.  IMF spokeswoman Caroline Atkinson indicated donors may be willing to consider another round of debt cancellation for Haiti. The IMF and World Bank canceled $1.2 billion of Haiti's debt last year, rewarding it for efforts to stabilize its fragile economy.  World Bank President Robert Zoellick told Reuters in an interview on Tuesday that for Haiti to rebuild, donor aid needs to be in the form of grants, and not loans. The World Bank has already announced  it would provide $100 million in grant funding for Haiti to help the rebuilding effort, and would send a team to evaluate the damage and cost of the earthquake.


While the economy has been crippled, there is no shortage of work to do given the extensive damage caused by the earthquake.  The UN Development Programme (UNDP) has already launched a cash-for-work program, which will involve some 1,100 young Haitians this week to carry out tasks in cleaning up destroyed areas in Port-au-Prince at five dollars a day.  This is a start, but it is not good enough.  These cash for work programs need to be expanded dramatically, not just in Port au Prince, but throughout the countryside to which many have returned.


If they are unable to find livelihoods to support themselves, displaced Haitians may try to migrate to the Dominican Republic, the Bahamas, or even Florida.  This is not in anyone's interests.  Now is the time for a robust, nationwide Haitian Civilian Conservation Corps, with an emphasis on rehabilitating both infrastructure and the environment, two areas on which Haiti’s future depends.  In the short term, debris must be cleared.  Over the long term, Haiti needs earthquake proof buildings, nationwide reforestation initiatives, and alternative fuel sources to reduce deforestation from happening in the first place.


A great deal of money will pour into Haiti in order to support recovery operations, particularly reconstruction and infrastructure.  The scale of the damage provides the government with an opportunity to undertake radical urban redesign in Port au Prince – re-routing and widening roads, rezoning buildings, establishing covered markets under which vendors can sell their wares instead of on the roads. The Iron Market, a favorite place to buy Haitian art despite its location in a volatile neighborhood, has collapsed.  There is now an opportunity to reconstruct it bigger and better in a more accessible neighborhood, increasing the customer base.


The more that this funding is used to grow the Haitian economy the better. Haiti will need to be able to build low cost, energy efficient buildings that can withstand earthquakes. It would be far better for Haiti to develop its own construction industry than to depend on construction companies in neighboring countries.    In order to do so, it will also be far better to hire Haitian mechanics, engineers, and other professionals in Haiti or in the Diaspora.  Relating to that, International Organization for Migration (IOM) officials intend to hire workers to build homes under a food-for-work arrangement.


Prior to the earthquake, investment in Haiti was on the upswing.  Hotels announced their intent to open in Haiti and major business endeavors were being planned.  There was also growing interest in promoting tourism.  I sincerely hope that business and tourism opportunities will rebound.  Still, Haiti’s economy remains largely agricultural.  For that reason, the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) notes a need to begin to support food production, agricultural recovery, and reconstruction prior to the March to May planting season.


According to FAO, the spring season accounts for approximately 60 percent of Haiti’s national agricultural production. Earthquake damages to agricultural infrastructure, such as storage facilities and irrigation canals, could have nation-wide implications.  Due to food and fuel shortages and damage to the supply chain, warehouses, and the port, FAO reports increased food prices in Port-au-Prince and surrounding areas.  In the coming days, FAO plans to deploy experts to conduct assessments on the impact of the earthquake on the agricultural sector.


In addition to growing the agricultural economy, the infrastructure of Haiti’s secondary cities such as Les Cayes, Jacmel, and Cap Haitian needs to be developed. Each of these cities should have a good regional airport capable of accepting  cargo flights, if needed.  If even one such other airport existed when the quake struck, aid could have arrived much more rapidly.  The same goes for ports – the Haitian government sshould consider whether it makes sense for the vast majority of commercial cargo to be imported/exported via Port au Prince when other ports could be developed.  Roads between secondary cities are needed as well in order to encourage the development of regional markets.  A passable road between Cap Haitian and Port au Prince would make a world of difference for Hinche and other towns and cities along Route Nationale 3.


Now is the time to work toward access to basic education and health care for all.  Right now, Haiti doesn’t have a health care system or an education system – it has systems that are private, public, community, and faith based.  Education and health care are very important to Haitians and are two key indicators by which the public will judge whether the government has the will and the capacity to meet the needs of its own people.  Getting kids back into school will help recreate a sense of normalcy by providing a safe, secure place for learning and social interaction with caregivers and other students.  Ensuring access to health services will help people get back on their feet – many have been hurt, many are still seeking treatment. The government must begin thinking about how to reconstruct and staff the educational and health systems.


As far as the educational system is concerned, one opportunity which exists is to create a national service learning program in which schools, regardless of whether they are public or private, can participate.  Students could learn about social and environmental problems while taking part in activities to address them.  For example, students may learn about deforestation and take part in a national day of planting, perhaps encouraging a new and more environmentally conscious generation.


Concerning the actual physical structure of schools, it will also be up to the government to set, monitor, and enforce standards.  Even prior to this earthquake, schools were collapsing.  The responsibility for keeping schools, which can also serve as community centers and emergency shelters, ultimately rests with the government.


The Haitian Ministry of Health will need increased capacity and resources in order to staff, improve, and manage the Haitian health care system in partnership with the local and international NGOs.  Certain health issues such as HIV/AIDS are well financed while others such as water/sanitation lag behind.


Parliamentary elections were scheduled for February 28th.  They are very likely to be postponed now.  Haiti was scheduled to assume chairmanship of CARICOM on June 30th.  This likely won’t happen either.  Now is the time to focus on recovery.  This was the worst kind of disaster – unpredictable as there is no earthquake season, happening in a very dense urban environment with shoddy construction practices, and occuring in a country wherte the government lacks disaster response capacity.  It hurts to see the damage - lost lives, lost homes, lost livelihoods, lost institutions, lost architecture, lost art - after a year of respectable progress.  We’ve been here before, usually with hurricanes and subsequent flooding.  Now the challenge is to make sure we are never in this situation again.


It is difficult to think about long term recovery given all the present suffering. Yet if we are to build a better Haiti, we must.  These are a few ideas that I hope will be enough to start a conversation about how we can reimagine, reconstruct, and renew Haiti.  Please post your ideas in the comments section below so we can discuss them.





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