Look closely for progress in post-earthquake Haiti, and some
evidence of it may pop up here and there. The road from the
airport to the capital is no longer an obstacle course of
debris. The Interim Haiti Recovery Commission (IHRC) has been
established as the overarching reconstruction organization. It
has even found an executive director and held two meetings.
Donor funds, long awaited, have started flowing in.
But beyond that, there is little to show for the initial
push to rebuild the battered country.
The outpouring of support and human interest that followed
the early post-earthquake months has fizzled out, and with that
some of the donor eagerness to make good on early pledges. Most
of those displaced are still living in makeshift camps, with
little immediate prospects of the situation changing. Only a
fraction of the temporary housing has been built. Corruption is
rampant, especially in the area of customs.
Not nearly enough has happened in the eight months since the
disaster. But there are some positive signs, says Corinne
Delechat, mission chief of the IMF in Haiti. While progress so
far has been slow, she tells Emerging Markets,
[reconstruction plans are] finally taking shape, and
things are slowly getting off the ground.
But if anything, says Paul Weisenfeld, head of USAIDs
Haiti Task Force, the little progress underscores the
tremendous amount of work that lies ahead. To top it off, a
looming election necessary as it is is
distracting many players from the reconstruction task at
Even if reconstruction were to be achieved swiftly, it still
wouldnt be enough. Unlike Chile an admittedly
unfair comparison Haiti is a country that cannot just go
back to where it was the day before the earthquake. It is a
country that requires a complete redesign.
You cannot simply talk about recovery, or rebuilding,
or building back, says Nigel Fisher, deputy special
representative of the UN secretary-general in Haiti. This
natural disaster happened to a country that was structurally
totally dysfunctional, where most people lived in poverty,
where governance was poor, where the economy was puttering
Haitis poor shape before the earthquake compounds its
limited ability to rebuild and grow. The rebuilding and
redeveloping process itself, says Joe Leitman, programme
director of the Haiti Reconstruction Fund, suffers from the
fact that Haitis government was not very strong to
Haitis issues are not limited to the possible slow
start over the first few months. The timeline for the
redevelopment of Haiti has to be measured in decades, according
to international observers. In this sense, a slower start could
mean advantages down the road: more care has certainly been
placed in trying to strike a balance between international
assistance and the self-determination of the Haitian
Still, this has been bought at a cost. Everyone wants
to see this opportunity being used to help create a modern
state in Haiti one that is properly governed, that is
responsive to its citizens and that has the capacity to provide
services. However, people want to see progress in the short
term, and that implies investing in the existing capacity to
deliver, and often that is outside the government, says
Its a challenge to walk that tightrope and to
figure out how to move forward in a way that builds national
capacity, but that also ensures that children are in school,
farmers can plant their crops, jobs are generated, roads are
rebuilt and debris is cleared.
The slow trickle of donor funds has been one of the factors
in the slowness of the reconstruction. While the IMF itself has
fulfilled its commitments, Delechat agrees that overall
what the donors have delivered, is still very much below
what was expected.
The World Bank and the IDB are also on schedule with their
commitments, while the HRF the multi-donor fund
has seen only a fraction of the expected funding. As Leitman,
the HRF director, tells Emerging Markets,
billions of dollars were talked about, but only 10% to
maybe 20% of that has actually materialized. So there are fewer
resources to get the reconstruction job done as well.
It is always a challenge, says Fisher, for pledges to
materialize, because commitments are made and new crises come
up and potentially divert the money. I dont want to
be pessimistic at this stage, he says, but he believes
that full financing will require quality projects and
programmes with a global management of finances, and where
results can be assessed and there is transparency.
NO RESPITE FROM CORRUPTION
Other challenges face Haiti. Corruption and lack of
transparency, despite being addressed by the authorities, are
still rampant. We have seen people attempt to continue
business as usual with corrupt practices, says Leitman.
Anyone who says that theres going to be a
corruption-free recovery is kidding themselves. Corruption has
been there for a long time and continues to be part of the
Land tenure is another long-standing problem that has turned
into an obstacle to humanitarian relief and to economic
investment. Haiti lacks effective land legislation, and until
issues of ownership are clarified, it will be hard to see
progress in the resettlement of people or the establishment of
This, in turn, is unlikely to happen given the looming
presidential elections, scheduled for November. While the
timing of the elections might be a challenge for the
reconstruction effort, there is a broad consensus that they are
necessary and must be helped along. With no effective
parliament, it is difficult for some people to see that
legitimate decisions are being made, says Leitman.
The election is likely to affect the rebuilding momentum in
several ways. One problem is the inherent political
destabilization. We do know from past experience that the
run-up to the elections could be an unstable period, as
different groups try to manipulate the situation, says
The elections are detracting already from the focus on what
needs to be happening. So, says Leitman, as
we get closer to the elections, many issues, many decisions get
politicized, and theres a tendency to look around, to
find people to blame for why things havent gone as well
or as quickly as was expected. Energy is expended in finding
scapegoats instead of in solving problems.
But because the IHRC is not technically a government entity,
the overall reconstruction effort should not grind to a halt,
and the commission, says Delechat, should provide some
continuity irrespective of the change in government.
The IHRC, on which so many hopes rest, is a target for
widespread criticism. Yet, while it has been slow in deploying,
as most officials on the ground agree, it does provide
coordination among the various major players. It also plays a
role in promoting mutual transparency and accountability
between Haiti and the international community, as Fisher
That said, the IHRC is a mystery to most. Its phones
dont work. Nor do its email accounts. And its website is
only infrequently updated.
This situation runs the risk of the main NGOs yet
again bypassing governmental and official channels, in
the kind of uncoordinated activity that typified the
structurally unsound Haiti that existed before the earthquake.
This new wave of foreign cooperation must be accountable in a
way it was not before, and for that to happen, the
international community must find a credible interlocutor at
some level among the Haitian institutions.
AID VERSUS INVESTMENT
Much as the international communitys contribution will
be vital for years to come, there is no question that the only
way to ensure Haitis sustained growth is through a high
level of investment. The key to our success in this
strategy will depend on how much they will be able to attract
the private sector and private investment, says Delechat.
That attraction will depend, in turn, on the creation of a
suitable business environment, a civil registry, a land
registry, and a workable justice system.
Of course there are some difficulties, says
Alexandre Abrantes, special envoy for the World Bank and a
member of the IHRC board of directors. The country has
problems in transport infrastructure. Roads, electricity,
harbours, the airport all of that needs a lot of
investment for the full opportunities to materialize.
Investment is starting to flow. Some foreign entities have
already started to take advantage of the Haitian Economic Lift
Program (HELP) Act, which provides favourable US market access
for Haitian apparel exports.
The Inter-American Development Bank is working to boost
private capital. Agustín Aguerre, IDB Haiti response
group manager, says there is tremendous interest in
textile investment. This September an agreement was signed with
a South Korean clothing manufacturer to build garment factories
that will employ 10,000 people.
One of the IMFs chief contributions is setting up a
partial credit guarantee fund to restart credit. This should
also help the small entrepreneurs, who are widely regarded as
being the most directly affected by the earthquake and who had
already had difficulty accessing credit.