Haiti's Recovery: What Comes Next?
January 25, 2010
Almost two weeks since a 7.0 earthquake leveled Port-au-Prince, the fate of this tiny nation has captured the world’s attention. With death toll estimates over 200,000 persons, and injured reaching double that amount, it is not certain whether the government of Haiti will ever know the exact numbers given the massive destruction of buildings—not only in the capital, but also in other cities such as Jacmel or Leogane that were also near the epicenter of the quake. At the UN Peacekeeping Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH), 70 staff members perished and 146 are still unaccounted for as of this writing. Since January 12, recovery and rescue teams from the United States, Canada, Europe, Latin America, and Asia have pulled 122 people out of the rubble. Now an outpouring of international assistance has flowed into Haiti to alleviate the suffering by providing food, water, and shelter to more than 1 million Haitians who in 30 seconds lost their homes, their livelihoods, and their hope. The United Nations estimates that with almost a third of Haiti’s population of 10 million affected by the quake, the humanitarian dimensions of this disaster will require at least six months to a year of emergency food and shelter assistance, and more than a decade to rebuild a nation that has at best been a fragile state. So what will it take to rebuild Haiti?
Q1: What role will the international community play in helping the government of Haiti rebuild?
A1: On January 25 in Montreal, Canada, donors from the United States, Canada, Latin America, Europe, the United Nations, and the international financial institutions will convene an emergency summit on dealing with the immediate needs facing Haiti. Haiti will require massive humanitarian assistance in this immediate post-earthquake period. It will also need both medium- and long-term plans for ensuring that governance continues and that the socioeconomic well-being of its citizens becomes central to the reconstruction efforts. This meeting will help provide an action framework for all phases and will include the usual pledging of funds and the formal commitment of sustaining assistance. Over $1.2 billion has already been pledged, with more forthcoming.
While there is no shortage of money pledged for rebuilding, the first challenge of leadership will be to ensure that a single fund is created to manage the resources collected. The second challenge will be to require that donors do not let Haiti fall victim to donor fatigue as newer crises overtake the reconstruction needs. Haiti will need an economic reconstruction strategy that looks to short-term survival, but also to shifting the development paradigm away from a Port-au-Prince focus and reaching beyond the capital to stimulate new economic opportunities. This means decentralization away from the capital; construction of new infrastructure, roads, and distributive energy systems to end rural isolation; and a rededication to agriculture so that Haitians can grow their own food, thus creating a more secure future. Not only will this donors conference need to address economic strategy, but it will also have to consider that Haiti faces a hurricane season in less than five months, which could undermine any immediate assistance efforts currently underway. This is a tall order, but one whose framework must be created if Haiti is to recover.
Q2: Will the United States and other international players sustain the reconstruction effort in Haiti for the long term?
A2: The United States has stated that the long-term development of Haiti will be done by Haitians together with the United Nations. Events in Haiti will be a test of the policies of the Obama administration to really incorporate multilateralism into the reconstruction, bringing to the table multiple partners—nations, the private sector, international financial institutions, and nongovernmental organizations—all of whom can contribute to a unified agenda of rebuilding. The best that could happen would be a new model of development for Haiti that would allow the government, no matter how limited, to set the priorities for reconstruction. This recovery will be so large that no one nation, even the United States, will be incapable of handling it alone.
Rebuilding Haiti could also provide the United States with an opportunity to pursue a policy of partnership that President Obama set out in his discussion with leaders of Latin America at the Summit of the Americas in April 2009. By seeking to engage all countries to help Haiti in its time of need, the United States may find a way to put rhetoric into practice. Thus, a diplomatic success could also benefit our wider relationship with our neighbors and allies.
Q3: Given Haiti’s long history of corruption and misuse of international funds, what can be done to prevent this from happening this time?
A3: Oversight of funds—both public and private—will be essential and high on the list of donors. There has already been a recommendation to create a Haiti fund that is jointly managed by Haitian government leaders and members of the international community. This type of transparent and accountable funding could go a long way to ensure that every penny collected is directed to projects that can be implemented and are part of a larger strategic development plan for Haiti’s future. Precedent exists for establishing a commission to check on the aid flows, based on the experience after the earthquake in Nicaragua and subsequently with recovery funding after Hurricane Mitch.
Q4: What prospects does Haiti have to recover from this devastating natural disaster?
A4: First, it will take security to ensure that Haitians are protected from the real prospect of violence and chaos that can ensue following the scope of such a disaster. This is the role of the UN Peace Operation MINUSTAH. Haiti will also need a strategy to develop a social and economic plan that integrates a mechanism for job creation, with longer-term sustainable programs that build on principles of decentralization of the economy away from Port-au-Prince to other secondary cities.
That means the development of infrastructure that allows commerce between different cities and a plan to help support rural development through investments in sustainable renewable energy products that can provide income for communities. Education must occupy a central place in the rebuilding, especially if the next generation is to advance. Finally, a program to regenerate agriculture so that Haiti may feed its citizens and utilize capacity in its rural areas must be a priority. Jobs that were created under trade incentive legislation, known as HOPE II, that benefited the urban apparel assembly businesses should be rebuilt, but in the short to medium term other types of labor intensive programs that help clear rubble and reconstruct buildings should be the focus of attention at this time.
Q5: Who are the winners and losers in this situation?
A5: The Dominican Republic may have the most to gain in the immediate future from reconstruction efforts. Its firms are poised to help with building equipment, and it has investors who have shown an interest in helping to create infrastructure that would permit border areas to take advantage of the incentives provided for the HOPE legislation to expand the garment and other assembly businesses that had been growing until the January 12 earthquake.
Johanna Mendelson Forman is a senior associate with Americas Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C.
Critical Questions is produced by the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), a private, tax-exempt institution focusing on international public policy issues. Its research is nonpartisan and nonproprietary. CSIS does not take specific policy positions. Accordingly, all views, positions, and conclusions expressed in this publication should be understood to be solely those of the author(s).
© 2010 by the Center for Strategic and International Studies. All rights reserved.