Are We Reconstructing Yet?

  • Posted on: 15 July 2010
  • By: Bryan Schaaf

This week marked six months since the earthquake.  According to President Preval, it also marked the week that the emergency phase ended and reconstruction began.  Yet at the same time residents of the Corrail Cesselesse camp were struggling with the consequences of a rain storm that destroyed up to 300 tents and caused 1,700 to seek emergency shelter.  With the rainy season underway, the situation is precarious for the displaced.  Security, especially for women and children, is still a major concern.  Is this an emergency operation, a reconstruction effort, or both?


When I think of reconstruction, I imagine an effort that is led by the Haitian government with the support of the international community, not the other way around.  I see a government that sets priorities, develops plans, and does not shy away from challenging issues such as land reform.  Needless to say, this is not the present situation.  In hindsight, it would have been useful for partner governments and international organizations to provide staff to support key Haitian Ministries.  The Interim Haiti Reconstruction Commission (IHRC), which the Haitian Prime Minister co-chairs, is intended to be a primary coordination mechanism.  It is modeled after the Reconstruction and Rehabilitation Agency established in Indonesia after the Tusnami.  While it is hoped that the IHRC will be a similar success, it is important to keep in mind that Haiti is not Indonesia – capacity and resources are much lower. The IHRC, which is  still staffing up, will approve projects over $500,000.


However, Haiti has tended to be a country awash in small projects, not projects that cost half a million dollars.  To be fair, donors could do much more to help the IHRC succeed.  Clinton and Bellerive have noted they need a schedule of disbursements in order to plan, finance, and track projects.  Only a fraction of funds pledged by governments has been made available.  One hopes though that increased funding will become available to the IHRC so it has a fighting chance going forward.


Reconstruction in Haiti would also involve a comprehensive plan both for assisting the displaced and setting in place not just projects but systems – health, education, and so on.  Services could be transitioned to the communities around the camps as a first step.  It will be a sign of progress when the camps get smaller instead of growing, which is what is happening now.  This is going to require transitional shelter and that means allocating more land and removing more rubble.  Systems also need to be strengthened throughout the country and one of the best ways to do that would be to devolve decision making to local authorities.  It would help to establish Ministries soutside of Port au Prince.  Haitians should not need to travel to Port au Prince to receive identification cards or important documents.


The sector I am most familiar with is health.  Paul Farmer, in his role as U.N Deputy Coordinator, has been tasked to work with the Haitian Ministry of Health to develop the nation’s health care system.  It has often been said  that access to health care is better in Port au Prince that it was before the earthquake.  While true that is not saying much.  The Ministry must help revive the private sector (which has shut down due to availability of free services), coordinate the governmental, non governmental, and international organizations, and enforce standards throughout.


Provincial authorities need to be trusted to manage their own clinics with some financial and political support being provided to them on a regular basis.  The World Health Organization will be the primary international organization in this effort.  Brazil, Cuba, and United States will be important partners as well. Given that most health services are provided by NGOs, they play an important role as well.  Partners in Health has announced they will build a 320-bed, seven-building hospital in Mirebalais.  It will become a national referral hospital.  It helps that the road from Port au Prince to Mirebalais is now paved.


For those tracking the educational sector, I would be very interested to hear what plans have been developed for building/rebuilding schools and universities.  This is critical for protecting kids, developing local capacity, and restoring (to the extent possible) a sense of normalcy.  I would also be interested in hearing more about agriculture planning.  Most Haitians live in rural areas and depend upon agriculture for their livelihoods.  Making agriculture viable wil prevent urban migration, improve food security, and build the national economy.


Another visible sign of reconstruction would be redeveloping the main port in Port au Prince, the construction of a secondary airport in the north, and improving Haiti’s road network.  Without electricity and roads in the provinces, few (legal) enterprises will establish themselves there.  Some companies have indicated they will still invest – but most will invest in Port au Prince.  A smaller more manageable Port au Prince would be a good thing for the entire country.  Removing, and where possible recycling rubble, will be another visible sign of progress.  Removing the 25 million cubic meters of debris will take years and it will be a long term process.  More trucks and dump sites would help.


Security is key to maintaining an environment where reconstruction can take place.  With their leaders having escaped from jail during the earthquake, gangs are trying to reassert themselves.  MINUSTAH will not be in Haiti forever.  Increasing the number, capacity and accountability of the the Haitain National Police will help maintain stability.  Police need to be paid on time every time to reduce corruption.


In short, steps have been taken to set the stage for reconstruction.  We are not there yet.  But with the right leadership, coordination, and resources, we could be.  I welcome your thoughts on what reconstruction means for Haiti.




* Photo Courtesy of Jonathan Katz (Associated Press)

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