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How Haiti's government and international partners handle reconstruction will determine its future.

JUAN BARRETO/The Globe and Mail

The capital of Haiti lies in ruins. Most landmark buildings have collapsed. Thousands of people are feared dead. International emergency relief is under way as countries and NGOs around the world send supplies and experts. Haiti needs a fast humanitarian response to save lives and prevent further deaths from disease, hunger and violence.

In the past, aid in Haiti has been unco-ordinated and often ineffective. So it's critical that the relief effort is followed by a co-ordinated and targeted recovery plan that provides real hope to Haiti's youth and an exit from a downward spiral of disaster. Resources needed for such a Marshall-type plan will probably amount to several billion dollars.

Haiti has recently witnessed unprecedented support from the international community and keen interest from international investors amid improving political stability. In October, 200 such investors joined their Haitian counterparts in Port-au-Prince to debate the country's trade preferences, the dedication and creativity of its work force, and opportunities in apparel assembly, high-value fruits, energy and tourism.

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Haiti received $1.2-billion in debt relief, authorities started to cut red tape, international partners lowered travel warnings, aid budgets were increased and a number of unprecedented multimillion-dollar investment projects were launched.

Last week's top story on Haiti featured the opening of two hotels by Choice Hotels International and Best Western, a decade after the global hospitality industry left Haiti in the wake of crisis. These investments are partly a story of dashed hopes. The Montana Hotel, which just opened a new state-of-the-art complex of luxury boutiques and cafés in the suburb of Petionville, collapsed during the quake, with countless deaths and dozens still missing in the ruins. Nevertheless, there's the promise of a genuine recovery and a decisive break with the past.

Humanitarian crises around the world have shown that, while disaster response is often fast, effective and well-funded, the much-needed reconstruction attracts less resources and, in many instances, fails to deliver an opportunity for a better future.

Aceh, on the tip of the Indonesian island of Sumatra and a region often taken as a model for focused development efforts after the catastrophic 2004 tsunami, now faces new challenges as aid agencies reduce cash handouts and a lack of employment opportunities threaten stability. Roughly a third of rural households continue to live in poverty. It is estimated that just 30 per cent of fighters from the separatist Free Aceh Movement have found new jobs, fuelling fears that armed struggle could re-emerge.

Haiti deserves genuine rebuilding, applied not just to bricks and mortar but to its fragile social and economic fabric. How authorities and international partners handle the reconstruction will determine the country's future. If they get it wrong, crowded makeshift shelters on vulnerable grounds and charitable initiatives with short-time horizons may mean the next crisis is right around the corner.

Since 1994, Haiti's population centres have been hit by five major natural catastrophes, an average of one every three years. Experts have repeatedly warned that millions of inhabitants of Port-au-Prince are at extreme risk from earthquakes, hurricanes and floods. Many people live in poorly constructed housing spread out along the capital's unstable hillsides.

After decades of political oppression, civil strife and natural disasters, the recovery from the latest earthquake ought to open a new chapter. This will require strong and accountable leadership by Haitian authorities and their international partners, ensuring that reconstruction creates jobs fast and opens new opportunities in areas that are not only less crowded and vulnerable to natural hazards but also hold real economic potential.

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The area around the northern city of Cap-Haïtien serves as an example. Cap-Haïtien is known for its historical sites and fertile soil, for its beautiful beaches that attract cruise ship passengers by the thousands, and its nearby garment factories that supply the world's leading brands. In the past, many have left Cap-Haïtien in search of jobs in the capital but have retained strong family ties and a desire to move back north.

A number of well-researched development plans are on the shelves for Cap-Haïtien and other regions, including industrial zones, roads, irrigated land for agribusiness, seaports and a new airport. Elaborate zoning schemes also exist for Port-au-Prince but have consistently been sidelined in favour of more pressing concerns. They deserve a closer look as the emergency response takes shape.

Paul Collier is a professor of economics at Oxford and author of The Bottom Billion: Why the Poorest Countries are Failing and What Can Be Done About It. He was the special adviser on Haiti for UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

Jean-Louis Warnholz is managing director of fastafrica ltd. and worked as an economic adviser for Haiti's prime minister.

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