In Haiti, neither relief nor reconstruction will be enough: Restoration should not be the goal. The earthquake is not the first natural catastrophe that Haiti has faced. In 2008, four hurricanes wreaked devastation. Since 1994, five major natural catastrophes, an average of one every three years, have hit Haiti’s population centers.
Worse, these spikes of disaster have punctuated a long-term downward drift.
To exit from this spiral, relief is not enough: A coordinated and targeted multibillion dollar Haiti fund now has to bring real hope of change to the country’s youth.
The recovery effort after the 2008 disasters revealed all the fault lines. It was stalled by political deadlock, allegations of electoral fraud and corruption, infighting among wealthy elites, limited resources, and a lack of coordinated results-based management by Haiti’s aid partners. Haiti’s people cannot afford to lose out once again to narrow interests and the slow pace of bureaucracy.
Structures which force joint decisions have to replace lip service to coordination. The management of the Haiti Fund will require joint leadership by the Haitian government and its major partners — most notably, the United States, Canada, and the Inter-American Development Bank — while providing a set of executive rights to swiftly grant land titles for large-scale housing projects and licenses for new ports and power stations. Such temporary rights would enable fast action until conventional processes of governance are back online.
Crucially, the fund’s mission would not be reconstruction, but paving the way for lasting change. This means spreading opportunity and generating jobs in urban centers less vulnerable to storms, floods, and seismic activity. It means communicating clear targets and progress daily to a public in need of good news. It means modernizing agriculture so farmers can earn a decent living. The promise of food and shelter in Port-au-Prince might otherwise perversely attract rural migrants from the impoverished Central Plateau, adding to a drain on resources and further diminishing local food production at a time when it is most needed. Meanwhile, existing development plans must be scaled up to the new realities and swiftly set into motion.
Over the past year, Haiti has emerged as a country that holds real economic potential in areas as diverse as tourism, light manufacturing, biodiesel, and agriculture. Strategic investments in these sectors will ensure that Haitians can better help themselves once the humanitarian relief has moved on.