By Luis Alberto Moreno
A month after the earthquake, Haiti is a testament to human tenacity. In Port-au-Prince the other day, I saw people making bricks, cooking food on the street, retrieving usable planks from the rubble and using newly restored cell phone service to place calls to the outside world.
Haitians have begun to rebuild, using whatever they can find. All of us who care about this proud country’s people must rally around them and turn this tragedy into an opportunity to help Haiti rethink and reconfigure.
Many have questioned whether the government in Port au Prince is up to the task of building a new nation that lifts people out of poverty and ends the negative cycle that has made Haiti the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere.
I do not share that view. The international community must do a better job this time in supporting the people of Haiti build a better tomorrow. First, we must first recognize that Haiti is a sovereign, democratic country that must take ownership of plans to construct a stronger, more resilient land. Experience has repeatedly demonstrated that solutions developed from the outside do not work.
In my talks with Haitian President René Préval, he has welcomed the international community’s efforts to strengthen the government’s ability to plan and lead the enormous task ahead. We can provide technical assistance and help Haiti harness the world’s best talent in areas such as job creation, green energy and sustainable agriculture.
Some prominent voices have also called for the establishment of a multi-donor trust fund for Haiti. I support such a mechanism. But we need to be much more ambitious and go beyond just providing money; we need to partner with Haitians on new ideas of how to build the new Haiti. Reconstructing what was there before the earthquake is neither desirable nor sustainable. As President Preval told me, we need to help reconfigure Haiti for the 21st Century.
The Inter-American Development Bank is working with the World Bank, the United Nations, the European Union and bilateral donors on a post-disaster needs assessment for Haiti, which we expect to complete by mid-March. This assessment must be complemented by government leaders’ strategic vision of what kind of country they want Haiti to be.
As donors prepare for our next conference, we are considering how best to organize a trust fund for Haiti and divide responsibilities. With 50 years of experience in Haiti and nearly $800 million in active development projects in the country at the time of the earthquake, the IDB stands ready to play a leading role in Haiti’s reconfiguration.
Any multi-donor trust fund will require unquestioned transparency, a clear delegation of responsibilities and accountability. Such a fund must facilitate internal coordination within the Haitian government and external coordination among donors. The key is to minimize duplication and maximize the impact of aid dollars.
A trust fund for Haiti must publicly track the money flowing into the country and where it is going, ensuring that we streamline disbursements for projects, establish a uniform set of procurement standards and management practices and execute all reconstruction operations effectively and in the open.
The goal must be to place rebuilding efforts within a comprehensive development strategy. One need already identified by the Haitian government is decentralization, the establishment of housing and sustainable economic activity outside the capital. This is a chance for Haiti and its partners to build a reforested, rethought and renewed Haiti.
At the IDB, we are reviewing our undisbursed portfolio of $340 million in grants and loans to Haiti in the wake of the earthquake. Many of our projects for roads, water, sanitation and sustainable economic development are outside Port au Prince, in areas where tens of thousands have fled. With the government’s agreement, we want to accelerate and expand these operations, working to attract new private investment that will be key to Haiti’s future.
We are also working with the U.S. government and our other member nations to explore ways to bring further debt relief to Haiti. The IDB, as part of an international agreement, granted $511 million in debt relief to Haiti last year. A U.S.-sponsored fund is paying the country’s debt service for Haiti’s outstanding $447 million in IDB loans over the next two years, so no funds are leaving the country. But as several South American presidents agreed this week in their Haiti aid summit in Quito, Ecuador, we need to do more on debt relief, and we will.
But for any rebuilding strategy to work over the long term, donors must commit to follow through on their pledges. Already the TV cameras are starting to avert their gaze from Haiti. But the world must be ready to stay there for however long it takes.
The list of Haiti’s needs is long and the time to move from the planning phase to execution is growing short. Let’s listen to Haiti’s leaders, coordinate our responsibilities and get to work rethinking and reconfiguring the new Haiti that its resilient people deserve.
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