Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Don't look back

Just when it seemed that things couldn't possibly get worse in Haiti, Jean-Claude Duvalier, the dictator known as Baby Doc who was overthrown in 1986, arrived unexpectedly in the capital from exile in France. His arrival will no doubt trigger a political tsunami that could unfortunately overshadow any natural disaster.

Haiti needs to move forward. As the Times editorial points out, it faces a formidable list of challenges. It was written before Duvalier's surprise return.

He is the embodiment of all that Haiti must resist as it searches for a road to recovery. (GW)

Haiti, Going Forward

New York Times
January 14, 2011

It has been an agonizing year since Haiti’s earthquake. Despite all of the pledges of help, and vows to do things differently, there are more than a million displaced people still living in camps and a cholera epidemic rages. An immense relief effort has saved tens of thousands of lives, but reconstruction is only just beginning.

This year must be better. Looking resolutely forward to the next 12 months, here are some of the things Haiti needs to achieve, with the world’s help. Some are difficult, but all are possible:

A CREDIBLE NEW GOVERNMENT President René Préval has failed to provide desperately needed leadership. Many basic policy questions, such as where to build new housing, have still not been made. That leadership crisis was made even worse by November’s chaotic presidential election and charges that an electoral council, handpicked by Mr. Préval, may have cooked the results.

Observers led by the Organization of American States have just re-examined vote tallies and reported that the second-place finisher, Mr. Préval’s protégé Jude Célestin, was, in fact, out of the running, as many Haitians and observers believed. Mr. Préval and Mr. Célestin should accept that result and urge the country forward to a swift, better organized, runoff between the top two candidates: Mirlande Manigat and Michel Martelly.

ENERGIZE THE RECOVERY COMMISSION The Interim Haiti Recovery Commission, set up to unite donors and Haiti’s leaders, was also very slow off the mark. It has now approved $3 billion in projects, $1.6 billion of them financed. It needs to develop and implement more comprehensive strategies for housing, health care, government reform and agriculture. Former President Bill Clinton and Haiti’s prime minister, Jean-Max Bellerive, have provided important direction but need to push harder.

CONTAIN CHOLERA The epidemic is a horrifying reminder of why Haiti so urgently needs clean water and access to medical care — two of the yet-to-be-delivered-on promises. More than 3,000 people have been killed and thousands more are threatened.

Aid has been slow to arrive and the response — despite valiant relief efforts — has been hobbled by poor coordination and overconcentration in the capital, Port-au-Prince. The epidemic must be contained, and relief organizations need to learn from this flawed effort.

CLEAR MORE RUBBLE AND HOUSE THE DISPLACED These are inextricably linked. The country is drowning in its own rubble, and needs space to rebuild. Many main roads in the capital are now clear, and every day the government removes debris that residents gather from local streets. Even with the best coordination, this task may take another year or more.

Building homes for more than one million displaced people could take two or three years. The next president must quickly make important land-use decisions and employ all of his or her legal and persuasive powers against entrenched landowners and the bureaucratic status quo to get construction moving.

PROMOTE JOBS AND INVESTMENT Here, too, there are glimmers of progress. The Haitian government, the United States and Inter-American Development Bank have signed a deal on an industrial park in northern Haiti. A South Korean textile company will be an anchor tenant and expects to hire 20,000 people. The project includes improvements in the port of Cap Haitien and in water supply, sewage treatment and electrification.

Haiti obviously needs more than one showcase project. But this is the kind of sensible planning and long-term commitment that will help build stability and bring more investment. It recognizes that new industrial development also needs houses, roads, schools and services, so that factories do not become surrounded by shantytowns. And that as the economy is rebuilt, it must also be relocated out of badly crowded Port-au-Prince.

While Haiti remains traumatized by the worst urban disaster in history, it has a lot going for it: new structures to promote sustainable development and investment, large pledges of money and the enduring patience and energy of its people. This is no time to give up. Haiti’s political leaders, and the world, promised this time would be different. They must deliver.


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