By Allyn Gaestel
Over 150 countries and international institutions convened at the UN Headquarters in New York on 31 March to pledge contributions to Haiti’s reconstruction and development. Contributions surpassed the goal set by the Haitian government of $3.8 billion. Pledges totaled $5.3 billion for the initial 18-month period of reconstruction and $9.9 billion for the first three years and beyond.
The conference and the promise of funding is a first step for the reconstruction process. As Haitian President Rene Garcia Preval said at the conference “The international community has done its part, now we Haitians need to do our part.”
The follow through of the funding and the implementation of the reconstruction programs requires extensive additional steps. The first step will be assuring that the pledges are fulfilled. Before the earthquake, only 30 percent of funding promised to Haiti was dispersed. UN special envoy for Haiti Bill Clinton described his role as being “to harass all the donors to see that they honor their commitments.”
The action plan presented by the Haitian government was primarily a statement of priorities and goals. Concrete programs must still be developed to begin to address the specified needs.
Haiti’s needs are broad ranging. Priorities include education for all, improved water quality and sanitation, health services, housing for the estimated 1.3 million Haitians displaced by the earthquake, functional infrastructure and roads, a reinvigorated agricultural sector, and food security. It is a long list, and programs will need to be designed to address all of the pressing needs.
One of the central themes of the conference was the imperative to empower and strengthen governance and state capacity and decentralize state institutions so that local communities across Haiti and outside the capital of Port-au-Prince have access to state services. Before the earthquake the vast majority of state resources remained in the capitol, up to 90 percent, and several speakers spoke of moving beyond the historical “republic of Port-au-Prince” to a development that includes all Haitians in all regions of the country.
Strengthening and decentralizing government capacity is seen as the first step to ensuring the continual delivery of services. Marie Saint Cyr, a Haitian human rights advocate, said: “A country cannot be run by projects. A country has to be run with a state that develops services that sustain and are durable for all its people.”
In addition to developing concrete plans, there are numerous sectors that hope to be involved in the process that require special attention and planning. Haiti has a large and skilled diaspora. Historically 30 percent of GDP has come from remittances from the diaspora, and over 80 percent of Haitians with advanced degrees live outside the country. Diaspora members have asserted their desire and willingness to integrate their skills into the reconstruction process, but the mechanisms do not exist. Cyr told MediaGlobal: “We have a lot of expertise without a clearinghouse where we can link to the expertise. And so [there is a need for] creating a clearinghouse where people can actually enroll their experience and their capacities and for us to talk to those people, and for the willingness of the Haitian government to use the expertise not as a threat but as complimentary.” The importance of the role of the diaspora was emphasized throughout the conference, yet mechanisms to integrate the diaspora still need to be developed.
Women’s particular needs and involvement is another priority that has yet to be implemented. Hilary Clinton said, “investing in women is the best investment we can make in any country and investing in Haitian women will fuel the long term economic recovery and progress not only for them but for their families.” This sentiment was repeated by many conference participants. However a side event was organized by MADRE, an international women’s rights organization, to highlight the lack of women’s participation and voices in the development program. Winnie Biyanyima, director of the gender team at the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), expressed her worry that the promotion of women’s rights will be lost in the urgency of the development process. “The enemy of equality is urgency. Urgency is what prevents serious analysis and consideration of how to bridge inequalities in this case, and that is how many who are voiceless, who have been denied rights, continue to remain in that situation even after rehabilitation and humanitarian assistance.”
Haiti and the international community have reinvigorated the reconstruction process with the added funds. But implementation of the funding in programs that build Haiti into a sustainable and self-sufficient state will take continuing precision, care, and attention as the diverse actors and priorities integrate into concrete actions.
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