Sunday, January 17, 2010

Rebuilding Haiti

George Packer writes:

Yet Haitian political culture has a long history of insularity, corruption, and violence, which partly explains why Port-au-Prince lies in ruins. If, after an earthquake that devastated rich and poor neighborhoods alike, Haiti’s political and business élites resurrect the old way of fratricidal self-seeking, they will find nothing but debris for spoils. Disasters on this scale reveal something about the character of the societies in which they occur. The aftermath of the 2008 cyclone in Burma not only betrayed the callous indifference of the ruling junta but demonstrated the vibrancy of civil society there. Haiti’s earthquake shows that, whatever the communal spirit of its people at the moment of crisis, the government was not functioning, unable even to bury the dead, much less rescue the living. This vacuum, which had been temporarily filled by the U.N., now poses the threat of chaos.

But if Haiti is to change, the involvement of outside countries must also change. Rather than administering aid almost entirely through the slow drip of private organizations, international agencies and foreign powers should put their money and their effort into the more ambitious project of building a functional Haitian state. It would be the work of years, and billions of dollars. If this isn’t a burden that nations want to take on, so be it. But to patch up a dying country and call it a rescue would leave Haiti forsaken indeed, and not by God.

Jeff Sachs proposes Haiti Recovery Fund for rebuilding Haiti.

How would a Haiti Recovery Fund be organized? It should receive emergency outlays from the United States and other donors; organize a board that includes members appointed by Haitian President René Préval, the U.N. secretary general and donors; and empower a management team to formulate and execute plans agreed to by the Haitian government.

Very soon, the first phase of recovery operations in Haiti will end. Tragically, tens or hundreds of thousands will have died under the rubble, with relief and equipment arriving too late. Now the race is on to save Haiti itself. Its capital, a city without reserves of food, water, power, shelter, hospitals, medicine and other vital supplies, faces the real possibilities of hunger, epidemics and civil unrest. And the rest of the country is like a body without a head. The port is shut, the government is overwhelmed, many U.N. peacekeepers have transferred to Port-au-Prince, and the normal operations of government, skimpy as they once were, have broken down entirely.

The recovery fund would focus first on restoring basic services needed for survival. For months to come, medical supplies from abroad should be stockpiled and then distributed in the capital and beyond. Makeshift surgical units and clinical facilities will be essential. Power plants on offshore barges will be needed for electricity until new plants can be constructed. The salaries of public workers -- especially teachers, police officers, nurses, reconstruction workers and engineers -- must be assured, despite an utter collapse of revenues. Haiti's currency will need to be backed by international reserves so that the demand for public spending does not create harrowing inflation. The Haiti Recovery Fund, together with a quick-disbursing grant from the International Monetary Fund, should provide the needed reserves and budget financing.