Haiti can rise

Par Jessica Murphy le 11 février 2010

In 2006, Canadian-Haitian intellectual Georges Anglades penned the tongue-in-cheek novella, 'What if Haiti declared war on the USA?'
It explored a Haiti so totally destroyed in a war against imperial powers it's given a chance to climb out of three centuries of adversity by starting from scratch.
Sadly, Anglades and his wife Mireille died in the January earthquake that ravaged the country they loved and worked throughout their lives to improve.
Along with so many thousands of their countrymen, they suffered a claustrophobic death under the rubble of Port-au-Prince.
But now his story of a razed Haiti has come partially true and the country is finally offered an opportunity to rebuild itself as something more than a failed state.
The world wants Haiti to succeed.
By mid--February, Canadians gave $113 million to Haiti for earthquake relief.  All told, donations worldwide totaled over $525 million.
And G7 finance ministers agreed to forgive Haiti debts in the meeting in Iqaluit in February.
Still, development won't be easy.
Franque Grimard, interim director of the Institute for the Study of International Development, said the challenges facing Haiti development were sobering.
"It's everything," he said. "From the short-run to the medium-run to the long-run."
-Haiti is the poorest country in the Western hemisphere with 80 per cent of the population living under the poverty line and 54 per cent on less than a dollar a day.
-Prior to the earthquake, It spent 1.4 per cent of its GDP on education and only half the population is literate.
-Widespread deforestation -- just two per cent remains -- has left the two-thirds of the population living on subsistance farming, at the mercy of hurricanes that regularly sweep the country.
-Infrastructure before the latest disaster was basically nil. Haiti has suffered from a lack of investment due to insecurity and limited infrastructure.
-The government relies on international aid for fiscal sustainability.
-It has a shortage of skilled labour with an estimated  two-thirds of the work force believed to not have formal job.
-Corruption remains pervasive. At one point, the former Duvalier regime allegedly stole up to 80 per cent of aid.
Grimard noted the West excels at emergency relief but fostering longterm development offers a unique set of problems, especially considering Haiti's dysfunctional history.
"The initial condition of Haiti before the earthquake was very, very difficult," he said. "Where to start is not clear."
The earthquake killed many politicians and bureaucrats, creating a governance vacuum.
According to Grimard,  establishing a  temporary development authority is key to successfully managing the work of  the donor countries and the recipient country, the diaspora, NGOs, the UN and the Haitian people. And he contends the recent meeting in Montreal was a good start but it's unlikely there will be a united answer.
"It will be an interesting game of negotiation," he said.
Still, there is as least one example of a successful reconstruction after a disaster -- that of  Indonesia's Aceh province after the 2004 tsunami.
"In Aceh, about 140,000 houses have been rebuilt, 2,500 miles of roads have been constructed, and 200,000 small and medium-size businesses have been supported,"  Joachim von Amsberg, the World Bank's country director in Indonesia,wrote recently  in the Washington Post in late January.
The Aceh people also have a functioning governance after decades of unrest.
The successful -- though Von Amsberg noted, by no means perfect -- reconstruction was based on three key principles: local and national leadership,  empowering the people (victims, for example,  became development workers) and coordinating global aid.
"You can't compare both but there are similarities," Grimard said.
As donations continue to pour in, donors will be demanding accountability and results. Haitians as well will want to see their most persistent problems solved.
"People will start asking questions," said Grimard. "And decisions will soon have to be made."


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