- Emergency Planning & Recovery;
- Latin America and the Caribbean;
- Poverty & Inequality
As we near the three week mark of the earthquake in Haiti several themes have emerged.
First, the international outpouring of support for the victims is unprecedented. One news outlet reports that more then 50% of US households have made some kind of contribution to the relief effort. Fundraisers in Africa, Asia and Europe have raised money from all classes of society. Private businesses are involved. Ralph Lauren, for example, has a full-page ad in this past Sunday’s New York Times that features a shirt in the colors of Haiti with the Haitian coat of arms, all proceeds going to the relief effort. Universities, high schools and grade schools have been holding “Haiti teach-ins” where the history, culture and now even the geology of Haiti are discussed and students engage with experts on how best to help Haiti.
Second, the need is also on a scale and level of complexity that has challenged even the most seasoned rescue and relief teams. Port-au-Prince was vastly overcrowded, the most densely populated slums built precisely in the most precarious zones. How to bring, literally, life’s necessities to such an already poor population with an infrastructure that was overburdened even before the quake has proven to be much more difficult than previous disasters in Asia or Africa.
Third, the huge amount of assistance pouring into Port-au-Prince severely strains not only the weak pre-existing physical infrastructure. Haiti’s government had limited capacity before the quake and has much less now. Some key officials were killed and many official buildings, including the Presidential Palace, the Parliament and the Supreme Court – all three branches of government – have been damaged or destroyed.
Fourth, there has been a massive flight from Port-au-Prince to the countryside. While this will help relieve the congestion of the capital, the capacity of the rural countryside and provincial towns to support a sudden increase in desperately needy people is nearly non-existent. For example, the city of Hinche in the Central Plateau of Haiti received approximately 30,000 people and food was virtually running out. It took an emergency convoy led by the World Food Program accompanied by the French Ambassador on Friday, Jan. 29 to temporarily relieve the crisis.
As we look forward beyond the immediate emergency phase, the list of priorities is staggering.
- Coordination of assistance must improve. The UN cluster program is a good start with relevant agencies taking the lead, but not exclusive, role on protection, water, food, sanitation and health care.
- Aid must reach rural Haiti and provincial towns so that the host population is not driven to desperation and those arriving from the capital have an incentive to stay put and not return. This means quick impact projects in agriculture, road-building, tree planting and clearing irrigation canals that also create jobs and put cash in people’s pockets. Schools must reopen and teachers found.
- Access to credit, seeds and fertilizers must be increased; tanker loads of rich alluvium topsoil from several dredging projects in the US should be delivered to Haiti. Wind and sun, which Haiti has in abundance, should be harvested using increasingly cheaper technology. Just as Haiti jumped the” land-line” phase of telecommunications and went right to the cell phone, it could skip the fixed power-grid phase and go right to the more nimble and green emerging power generation systems, including bio-fuel.
- Haitian National Police should be deployed to Internally Displaced Person’s camps, accompanied by UN police, to provide protection and security to their residents, especially women and children.
- Seasoned managers and technocrats from Haiti’s large Diaspora should be enlisted to return for six months to one year to work alongside Haitian counterparts in key government Ministries like Finance, Planning, Agriculture, Education, Health, Interior and Justice. This will help manage the need to absorb and use effectively the massive flow of aid. Introducing a new culture of public service, accountability and oversight will take time where government all too often was either absent or preying on the population. The time to start is now.
- A Civilian Protection Corps (which is called for by Article 52 of the Haitian Constitution of 1987) should be created. The Corps would employ a large chunk of Haiti’s youth, especially those in the poorer sections of Port-au-Prince. It is crucial to give them a chance to make a positive contribution to rebuilding Haiti and to draw them away from the gangs who are reconstituting themselves after the escape from the National Penitentiary of several convicted gang leaders.
- The ports of Cap-Haitien, Miragoane, Jeremie, Port-de-Paix, Les Cayes, St. Marc, Jacmel and Gonaives should be repaired, expanded and reopened, as necessary. These were at one time viable port cities with decent jobs and commercial links with the US, Europe and the Caribbean. The need for shipping clerks, stevedores, accountants, lawyers, and export-import businesses would expand and attract talent from the capital while allowing for a better dispersion of jobs and opportunities across the country.
- Urban planners, especially from the Diaspora, should start now a plan for “Port-au-Prince: the next 250 years.” Zoning regulations, building codes, traffic engineering, new affordable housing, sewer and sanitation systems (especially the delivery of potable water), child-friendly schools (with a focus on safe latrines for girls), all need to be designed and construction started once the rubble is cleared. Again, this is also a job-creation tool.
- The Haitian justice system should establish an emergency panel to resolve any property disputes/claims.
The list could undoubtedly double, but an already overwhelmed population, government and international donor community should not try to do everything at once. Rebuilding Haiti out of the ashes and debris of Port-au-Prince will be a marathon, not a sprint; Haiti will need substantial support and attention for years. Yet it is crucial that decisions made now be the best ones possible, otherwise the risk is that Haiti slides back into its former dysfunctional self with dire results for its people.
William G. O’Neill
En route to Haiti
1 Feb 2010