By Armin Rosen
UNITED NATIONS, Mar 29, 2010 (IPS) – Although the humanitarian crisis in Haiti remains dire, with over a million still homeless and hundreds of thousands in need of adequate shelter for the upcoming rainy season, the international community has started looking towards the country’s long-term reconstruction.
On Wednesday, U.N. member states will participate in a major donors’ conference at the United Nations headquarters in New York. Scheduled speakers include U.N. Secretary General Ban-Ki Moon; former U.S. President Bill Clinton, who is also the U.N.’s special envoy for Haiti; U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton; and Haitian President René Préval.
The conference will be co-hosted by the U.N. and the U.S., and chaired by Spain, Brazil, Canada and the European Union, governments that have given Haiti substantial humanitarian relief in the months after the Jan. 12 earthquake, which destroyed over 60 percent of the capital city of Port-au-Prince and killed an estimated 200,000 to 250,000 people.
According to U.N. Development Programme head Helen Clark, the goal is to raise about 3.8 billion dollars for short-term reconstruction projects, in accordance with the Haitian government’s own post-disaster needs assessment.
In a Washington Post editorial on Mar. 29, Ban wrote that the country would eventually require need about 4.0 billion dollars in the short term and 11 billion dollars in total foreign investment over the next decade.
The conference comes just a week after U.S. President Barack Obama proposed 2.8 billion dollars towards relief efforts in Haiti for next year’s federal budget, with 1.2 billion going towards USAID-coordinated recovery and reconstruction projects.
In a press conference Monday, Edmond Mulet, the secretary-general’s acting special representative for the United Nations Stabilisation Mission in Haiti, explained that money pledged at the donor conference would go towards the next 18 months of reconstruction efforts.
“Haiti will need four billion dollars to rebuild and redesign the country in a way that will put the country on the road to growth and modernisation,” he said.
He later explained that an interim reconstruction commission headed by the Haitian government and managed with the help of donor governments and international institutions would manage money from the conference.
At the same press conference, Clark said that the international community was “starting from pretty close to zero” in terms of money specifically committed to reconstruction projects. Although the humanitarian crisis continues, the donors’ conference represents the beginning of a long rebuilding process.
NGOs are approaching the conference with guarded optimism as to what that that process could look like.
Cathy McAllister of the Haitian Sustainable Development Foundation says that she hopes the conference will work towards greater involvement for the Haitian leadership in their country’s rebuilding process. But she warns that without specific job creation programmes in place, donor money could end up replicating some of the social and economic conditions that made the earthquake so severe.
“The worry is that some of the push to bring, say, large factory businesses into Haiti will only continue the practice of people leaving the countryside in search of employment and replicating the cycle Port-au-Prince was in even before the earthquake,” she said.
Bryan Concannon of the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti, a group of lawyers that works towards clean governance and rule of law in Haiti, says that it is important for the donors’ conference to put Haitians at the centre of their country’s reconstruction.
He said that the Haitian government was weakened by the U.S. government’s policy of withholding aid money from the Haitian government between 2000 and 2004, instead routing funds through the 3,000 NGOs providing government-like services in Haiti. The result is a government that was struggling to provide basic services even before the earthquake killed almost a quarter of Haiti’s 72,000 civil servants.
Concannon says that the government must remain transparent and democratic as it spearheads reconstruction efforts.
“A lot of people are talking about financial accountability for the Haitian government,” he said. “There’s a second accountability that to me is more important: political accountability.”
He said it was important for the government not to cancel the elections scheduled for the end of the year, and to formulate housing and land tenure policies that don’t exacerbate the country’s pre-earthquake social and economic problems.
Conference organisers seem well aware of the international community’s history of failed development efforts in Haiti. The conference’s unofficial slogan, “Building back better,” was repeated several times during the press conference and over the course of Ban’s opinion piece.
“The international community hasn’t worked through the government before,” Mulet said Monday. “If we don’t address this situation right now we’ll have peacekeeping missions and international intervention in Haiti for the next 200 years.”
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