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(Anthony Jenkins/The Globe and Mail)
(Anthony Jenkins/The Globe and Mail)

Robert Zoellick

Hand in hand in Haiti Add to ...

In the wake of the devastating earthquake in Haiti, there has been an outpouring of international support. The first priority has been saving lives. That means getting water, food, shelter, medicine and other basic supplies to victims. The first rush will have to be backed up by a logistics chain that will need to function for months.

But even as we stabilize the humanitarian response, we need to turn to the delivery of basic services and reconstruction. As we do so, we must learn the lessons of the past.

After five peacekeeping missions, and billions of dollars in aid, Haiti remains a country with some of the worst human development indicators in the world.

Yet, we know that progress is possible.

Before the hurricanes in 2008 and again before this month's earthquake, Haiti had been moving forward - with successful and peaceful elections, stabilization of chronic insecurity, increased revenue collection and investment.

Building on these successes, Haiti's reconstruction and recovery require long-term commitment. When the cameras depart - as they are already beginning to do - donors must not depart with them. In the past, "Haiti fatigue" has been as great a challenge to development as natural disaster.

The four hurricanes and tropical storms of 2008 did damage equivalent to some 15 per cent of GDP. This will almost certainly be larger, and will require a more sustained and co-ordinated effort.

What are the lessons we need to learn?

Haiti can't be reconstructed by well-meaning outsiders. Donors must work hand in hand with the Haitian government and people. And the government and Parliament must show leadership and a commitment to work together.

Donor support for reconstruction should be in the form of grants. More money must go through the budget, so it can be linked to Haitian goals and building Haitian capacity, even if the early stages of work depend on actions by regional and international partners. We must remove Haiti's debt burden.

Last year, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund cancelled $1.2-billion of debt. But almost $1-billion remains. Less than 4 per cent of this - some $38-million - is owed to the World Bank. We immediately announced that no debt repayments are due for the next five years, and we are working to cancel all remaining debt owed to us. Others should follow suit.

We need better co-ordinated aid, fewer feel-good donor projects and less flag-planting, and strong oversight, transparency and accountability to instill confidence that the money will be used effectively.

Rebuilding Haiti requires common sense and strategy. We can support the transition from humanitarian aid to reconstruction through food- or cash-for-work programs, so Haitians can be paid for clearing and rebuilding infrastructure and planting trees. Community projects can improve conditions for small-scale farming, which, over time, can supply, then replace food-assistance programs. With modest investments in supplies and equipment, Haiti can build labour-intensive construction businesses.

Geography has been Haiti's curse. But geography could be its strategic opportunity. Six hundred miles from the United States, Haiti has enormous potential. With access to the U.S. market through the Haitian Hemispheric Opportunity through Partnership Encouragement (HOPE II) Act, Haiti can create jobs in its apparel and agriculture sectors. It can promote its private sector by creating an enabling environment for investment and building the infrastructure of power grids, ports and roads.

We've already seen successes. Our private-sector arm, the International Finance Corp., has invested in Digicel, transforming cellphone coverage. A free-trade zone near the border with the Dominican Republic has attracted U.S. apparel companies, creating thousands of jobs. There are opportunities to scale up other zones.

For Haiti to prosper, legitimacy, security and development must go hand in hand.

Television viewers now understand how weak the Haitian state has been. This extends not just to the lack of heavy equipment to move rubble, but to a small police force, a thin judiciary and a state with little capacity or revenue to protect its people or deliver basic services.

We need to "secure development" with roots deep enough to break the cycle of fragility, poverty and violence. With political stability, security and effective government, investments and development can grow.

We have the example of Aceh, Indonesia, to guide us. Five years after the tsunami, Aceh reconstruction is recognized as a success story. Nearly 150,000 houses have been rebuilt, 2,500 miles of roads constructed and 200,000 small and medium enterprises supported.

In Aceh, international partners supported reconstruction through co-ordinated approaches that were aligned behind government leadership and local priorities. Fifteen donor countries and organizations pooled $700-million in a fund that was administered by the World Bank. Instead of 15 separate housing and road projects with different procedures and criteria, which would have overwhelmed the limited capacity of local institutions, one well-co-ordinated program was implemented by communities, government agencies, NGOs and international agencies.

Haitians don't want to be victims, any more than we would. With strong Haitian leadership, and co-ordinated, consistent and efficient regional and international support, we can transform days of news stories into a decade of success stories.

Robert Zoellick is president of the World Bank.

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