With US$5.3 billion pledged over the next two years to Haiti - far exceeding expectations - and a further $9 billion for longer-term needs, the means exist for what UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon hopes will be a “sweeping exercise in nation-building on a scale and scope not seen in generations”.
The “Action Plan for National Recovery and Development of Haiti”, presented at the International Donors’ Conference in New York on 31 March, to plot the rebuilding of the country after the 12 January earthquake, has powerful backers.
In addition to Ban, they include US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, World Bank president Robert Zoellick, the International Monetary Fund's managing director Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Luis Alberto Moreno, president of the Inter-American Development Bank, and UN Special Envoy to Haiti Bill Clinton. More than 100 countries participated in the conference.
Some observers had worried, in the words of Haiti analyst Mark Schuller, that the conference would turn out to be “the same ritual of rubber stamping a rushed, foreign-led, top-down process”.
Myra de Bruijn of ActionAid in Haiti said the creation of the Haitian government plan “was not transparent and did not involve consultation with ordinary people. ActionAid is concerned about the sustainability of such a long-term strategy that is not carried out by and for the Haitian people.”
Yet throughout the day speakers emphasized the importance of working with the Haitian government and the Haitian people in achieving the plan’s goals. Haitians, according to Helen Clark, administrator of the UN Development Programme, “must be in the driver’s seat” of the recovery effort. Michele Montas, a former UN spokeswoman, presented the assembly with the results of 156 discussion groups held throughout Haiti to gauge the feelings of the people. “[They] demand a say in the development of their regions,” she said.
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Leading the plan
Catherine Ashton, the EU’s foreign affairs chief, announced to President René Preval that he would lead the undertaking. “Mr President,” she said, “it is your country.”
As presented, the plan has two phases - an 18-month period that focuses on emergency needs and a 10-year period of “genuine renewal”.
After the basic needs of the country are met, improvements in infrastructure, education, water and land management, economic development, and medical care can then be attempted. For example, the blueprint not only calls for the rehabilitation and extension of the Port-au-Prince airport but also the creation of two more international airports in Cap-Haïtien and Les Cayes. This is part of its emphasis on “decentralization”.
“There is a consensus on the relevance of spreading the population more evenly throughout the country,” the plan states. “Towns to become development centres must benefit from major urban renovation work to fulfil their new vocations and provide opportunities for economic development, job creation and quality of life for the population to keep them in the region.”
A newly formed Interim Haiti Recovery Commission, to be headed by former President Bill Clinton and Haitian Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive, will have broad powers to coordinate and implement the plan. In his comments, Clinton emphasized the importance of having a centralizing structure to organize the actions of the many aid organizations working in the country, although this feature has raised some opposition in the aid community. After Sam Worthington of InterAction, speaking on behalf of American NGOs, voiced support for the idea, Clinton noted that it was a “historic day because for decades NGOs have worked independently in Haiti”. Now they would be working together on a cohesive strategy.
Conference participants emphasised the pressing needs of the Haitian people. The rainy season would be starting soon and a million or so Haitians living in tents or shacks could be further threatened. Many also noted that the Haitian story had faded from the headlines and donations had thus begun to slow. “The sense of urgency must be maintained,” said Percival James Patterson, former prime minister of Jamaica, who was representing the Caribbean Community, known as CARICOM.
Haitian President Rene Preval, however, allowed himself a degree of hope. “Let us dream,” he said, “of a new Haiti.”