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Canada's role in Haiti Add to ...

With the UN conference for Haiti netting $5.3-billion (U.S.) in new aid promises for the next two years, the international community has given its strongest statement yet that it is committed to the long-term rebuilding of Haiti. Canada, one of the leading nations in the effort, should ensure that governance and economic development are focal points in this next phase of the reconstruction.

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Canada's contribution was commendably large, given our connection to Haiti and the leadership role Canada has already assumed in humanitarian relief. And the $400-million in new money from the federal government, to be allocated over two years, follows other large sums: another $220-million in private donations, $85-million in emergency assistance immediately after the earthquake, and an existing $555-million, five-year aid program set to expire next year. Add it all up, and it is likely one of Canada's greatest aid contributions to a country at peace.

Indeed, it is substantial enough to make Canada a key player. How should Canada advocate that its share be managed?

The humanitarian emergency, especially a lack of sustainable food production and shelter, has not abated. But going in tandem with the task of keeping people alive (a role from which Canada has already started to withdraw, after a military pullout) should be the effort to rebuild institutions that Haitians themselves can run.

Take central and local governments. Canada has already contributed toward the establishment of a temporary government headquarters. But more help is needed. An astounding 17 per cent of the country's civil servants - that's one in six - was killed in the earthquake. That corps needs to be rebuilt, perhaps from Haitians currently living abroad who could be supported with Canadian aid.

Past "Marshall Plans" for Haiti have been tarnished by centralization in Port-au-Prince, corrupt Haitian authorities or unreasonable demands from donors. A new approach, signalled by a national recovery plan tabled by Haiti, is welcome, and focuses on some of the essential preconditions for economic development: land titles, electricity, access to credit. Canada should support aid investments in these areas, which increase the capacity of the Haitian population. To these, it could add support for tourism and manufacturing.

In both the economic and governance realms, many of the pieces are already there. Canada had a growing textile manufacturing presence in Haiti and banking connections to the country. Existing CIDA projects that are working to modernize Haiti's population registry and train civil servants should be enhanced, as they can help improve governance.

Canada alone will not guide how its own money is spent; new institutions, co-led by Haitians and the members of the donor community, will make many of the decisions. But to the extent that Canada can guide those decisions, it should put its focus on Haiti's economy and governance. That will ensure that our aid will not be informed by the usual aid mentality, in which foreigners try to solve another country's problems in one fell swoop. Instead, it will help build Haitians up in order that they can rebuild their own country.

 

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