How to Help Haiti Rebuild

Five experts on nation-building, economic development, and emergency aid weigh in on how best to help devastated Port-au-Prince.


Endow a Multibillion-Dollar Haiti Fund

By Paul Collier and Jean-Louis Warnholz

In Haiti, neither relief nor reconstruction will be enough: Restoration should not be the goal. The earthquake is not the first natural catastrophe that Haiti has faced. In 2008, four hurricanes wreaked devastation. Since 1994, five major natural catastrophes, an average of one every three years, have hit Haiti’s population centers. Worse, these spikes of disaster have punctuated a long-term downward drift. To exit from this spiral, relief is not enough: A coordinated and targeted multibillion dollar Haiti fund now has to bring real hope of change to the country’s youth.

The recovery effort after the 2008 disasters revealed all the fault lines. It was stalled by political deadlock, allegations of electoral fraud and corruption, infighting among wealthy elites, limited resources, and a lack of coordinated results-based management by Haiti’s aid partners. Haiti’s people cannot afford to lose out once again to narrow interests and the slow pace of bureaucracy.

Structures which force joint decisions have to replace lip service to coordination. The management of the Haiti Fund will require joint leadership by the Haitian government and its major partners — most notably, the United States,  Canada, and the Inter-American Development Bank — while providing a set of executive rights to swiftly grant land titles for large-scale housing projects and licenses for new ports and power stations. Such temporary rights would enable fast action until conventional processes of governance are back online.

Crucially, the fund’s mission would not be reconstruction, but paving the way for lasting change. This means spreading opportunity and generating jobs in urban centers less vulnerable to storms, floods, and seismic activity. It means communicating clear targets and progress daily to a public in need of good news. It means modernizing agriculture so farmers can earn a decent living. The promise of food and shelter in Port-au-Prince might otherwise perversely attract rural migrants from the impoverished Central Plateau, adding to a drain on resources and further diminishing local food production at a time when it is most needed. Meanwhile, existing development plans must be scaled up to the new realities and swiftly set into motion.

Over the past year, Haiti has emerged as a country that holds real economic potential in areas as diverse as tourism, light manufacturing, biodiesel, and agriculture. Strategic investments in these sectors will ensure that Haitians can better help themselves once the humanitarian relief has moved on.

Paul Collier is a professor of economics at Oxford University and former special advisor on Haiti to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. Jean-Louis Warnholz is managing director of ­fastafrica and a former economic advisor to Haiti’s prime minister.


Let Haitians Take the Lead

By Michele Wucker

Amid the rubble, Haitians trying to find reasons for hope can look to the chance to rebuild. Although there are as yet no reliable estimates of what it will cost, it’s clear that Haiti will need a long-standing commitment of amounts far beyond what has been committed to past rebuilding programs — and any new development schemes should look to past attempts to avoid repeating their mistakes.

One of the clearest mistakes of past development efforts in Haiti was that there was never enough money available to meet Haiti’s needs. Much of the money that Haiti did receive went to repaying debt and shoring up the currency, and too little was left over to invest in education, health care, and other essential infrastructure. Bosnia and Kosovo, to cite just two examples, received five times more aid per capita to rebuild after their conflicts than Haiti did after the Jean-Bertrand Aristide’s government was returned to power in 1994. Haiti needs a significant long-term commitment from international donors, which should include debt forgiveness to maximize the amount of funds being invested.

To avoid other past mistakes, plans for recovery must actively involve Haitians and use the rebuilding as a chance to engage Haitian civil society. The most successful aid organizations combine strong contingents of Haitian staff with training and support provided by a smaller core of international staff — rather than relying heavily on highly paid international consultants. Food and other aid programs should more actively incorporate Haitian communities in aid distribution plans, rather than relying mainly on militarized deliveries.

Haitians have a long-standing gripe with international governments, donors, and some aid organizations for swooping in and deciding what’s best for Haiti, with too little input from Haitians themselves and too little regard for unintended consequences. Haitian governments have repeatedly fallen when lawmakers tried and failed to pass unpopular economic policies that international donors required as a condition for aid.

This time, Haiti needs far more coordination among the more than 10,000 NGOs working in Haiti. The Haitian government needs financial support and technical assistance to build its own capacity to partner with private groups.

Michele Wucker is executive director of the World Policy Institute and author of Why the Cocks Fight: Dominicans, Haitians, and the Struggle for Hispaniola.

Chris Hondros/Getty Images

Focus on the Structure of Aid

By Clare Lockhart

The catastrophe in Haiti presents the world community with the immense responsibility of a wise response. In the immediate time frame, the priorities are clearly to provide the emergency relief that will save as many lives as possible, stem outbreaks of disease, and comfort the bereaved and wounded. Lessons from other humanitarian disasters reveal the pitfalls to avoid. As well-wishers send in assistance and thousands of organizations turn up to help, one key challenge is providing appropriate direction, enabling the right decisions to be made.

This requires the careful design of a management system that combines the discipline of command and control — and maintenance of order — with flexibility to respond to continuously evolving circumstances. This task will fall to U.S. leadership under the ambassador, with the military under Lt.-Gen. Ken Keen providing the backbone of transport and logistical response. Although money, people, and supplies might be plentiful, the greatest challenges will be information gathering, sense-making, and careful logistical planning to match those resources to the greatest needs.

Although some inefficiency can be expected, much waste and corruption in the aid effort can be avoided. First, donors must insist on full transparency in tracking funding. These systems can be set up from the start, and donors must understand some mistakes will be made. Second, the multiple contracting layers and duplication can be minimized through smarter design of programs that put as much trust as possible in communities to manage their own affairs. Simple and fair rules will overcome the sense of random allocation that can breed resentment and distrust. Afghanistan’s National Solidarity Program is one example of a program that reaches communities directly and empowers them to make their own decisions about how to use resources.

Once the immediate concerns are addressed, attention must turn to the task of helping Haitians recover from the crisis and return to the path of creating their nation. Reconstruction often focuses mainly on physical infrastructure, but must also take account of the psychological toll and trauma of bereavement and dislocation. The terrible tragedy will present an opportunity for a renewed partnership between Haitians and the global community. Action must be taken to avoid the pitfalls of previous efforts in Haiti — for these a frank account can be found in the National Academy of Public Administration’s 2006 report, “Why Foreign Aid to Haiti Failed” — and elsewhere.

First, no amount of external coordination can ever match a national policy framework led by a country’s legitimate authorities. Allowing the space for the country’s leaders in consultation with their citizens to define their own needs and future is imperative. Second, accountability systems must be in place both for the use of the country’s own resources — which will allow greater trust in direct support — and in aid provided by public and private donations. The use of multidonor trust funds with strict rules for disbursement can help, if they have the flexibility in the short run for rapid disbursement against programs that are well designed. Third, neither the state, nor civil society, nor private enterprise alone can solve the political instability and poverty. The key is finding the right balance between the three. Attention to institution-building, as well as market-building and civil society engagement, must be carefully balanced. Fourth, instead of always looking to what is not there and needs to be brought in from the outside — whether human or financial capital — the international community must look for the assets that already lie within Haiti’s natural, human, and institutional capability. For example, instead of bringing in outside experts, the emphasis should be on vocational training within Haiti. Instead of looking to a perpetual flow of donor funding, the medium-term goal should be a Haiti that grows its own economy and moves toward fiscal independence. Fifth, this might present the time for imaginative solutions to some of Haiti’s persistent problems, including the opportunity to create smaller towns and ports in different parts of the country that would open up the country to new opportunities. Haiti could look not only to government aid, but to private foundations, universities, cities, and other sources of knowledge for new types of partnership.

Clare Lockhart is co-founder and chief executive officer of the Institute for State Effectiveness and co-author with Ashraf Ghani of Fixing Failed States: A Framework for Rebuilding a Fractured World.


Avoid the Old Poverty Traps

By Dan Schnitzer

Before too long, the world’s attention to Haiti will inevitably decline, and the contracts that ultimately decide Haiti’s fate will be doled out to the usual suspects involved in reconstruction. But Haiti is in need of more than conventional reconstruction: It needs a rebirth, with fresh ideas and soaring vision. And clean energy technology could provide a way to build a new Haiti that avoids some of the poverty traps of the old system.

Although it may not seem significant, a concerted effort to provide a “subsistence level” of power for a large fraction of the population, rather than an abundant amount for a select few, will have a profound impact on Haiti’s renewal. This is because the Human Development Index, a quantitative indicator of well-being, has diminishing marginal returns on per capita electricity consumption. In other words, the first few kilowatt-hours of electricity consumed by an individual have the biggest impact on his quality of life, and they are also the most valuable to a Haitian consumer. Thus, for Haiti, a small solar light or system can improve lives drastically — far more cost-effectively and reliably than a centralized electricity grid plagued by unreliability and high costs.

Even before the earthquake, there was little hope that the government-owned utility Electricite d’Haiti (EDH) had the capacity to provide reliable electricity to most citizens; like nearly one-fourth of the world’s population, 70 percent of Haiti lacked access to electricity. The 2006 Haiti Energy Sector Development Plan captured the gravity of the situation then: “The lack of electricity contributes to further increases in non-technical losses and it affects the economic growth, which result in lack of revenues for people and in the impossibility to pay the electricity bill and also in lack of revenues for the budget of the Government, which is not able to give direct subsidies to very poor.”

By living in energy poverty, defined by a lack of access to productive energy technologies, rural Haitians are forced to spend a whopping 6.5 percent of their annual income on kerosene and candles for household lighting. According to figures available from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Energy Star program, the average American family spends just 0.5 percent of its annual income on lighting its home. That 13-fold difference gives a clear understanding of why Haiti’s energy intensity, the energy expenditure per unit of GDP, is so staggeringly high.

Why didn’t anyone foresee how inefficient and ineffective this approach would be? The grid-based approach to electricity taken by EDH was dictated by the few choices available for generation technology — coal and diesel thermal power, and hydropower — during much of the 20th century. These technologies benefit from economies of scale, and their inability to respond quickly to changes in demand means that they also benefit from serving a large number of customers, which smoothes out fluctuations in load. But if nothing remains connected to the Port-au-Prince area grid, which itself is in shambles, why bother reconstructing a system that was ill-suited for Haiti and hardly functional to begin with?

Had the earthquake occurred just 10 years ago, there would have been few alternatives to deploying a new electricity grid. However, the recent convergence of the benefits of energy innovation R&D, globalization, and the mainstream recognition of social enterprises as a “best practice” for development have inspired innumerable suppliers to produce clean, efficient energy and end-use technologies around the world. Those suppliers, like SunNight Solar, Barefoot Power, and D.Light Design, have become recognized for integrating high-quality solar photovoltaic modules, LEDs, and batteries into products designed specifically for low-income consumers with little access to trained energy technicians.

Right now, efforts are being made to distribute highly portable solar-LED lanterns, which cost less than $20 each, along with emergency food, water, and medical supplies in Haiti. As those displaced resettle into semi-permanent or permanent living quarters in the coming months and small businesses open their doors, plug-and-play solar home systems and compact, innovative solar units like those made by ZeroBase Energy can provide power on the order of 10 watts to 2 kilowatts without using up scarce, expensive diesel fuel. On a slightly larger scale — a city block or community — we can hope to see the proliferation of hybrid solar PV-diesel microgrids with battery storage serving on the order of 10 to 100 kilowatts or more.

Of course, these grid alternatives come with their own set of challenges to implementation, but the solutions are more direct and cost-effective than building a fully functional centralized electricity grid. Electricity and equipment theft can be overcome by reforming the Haitian government’s regulation of electricity sales to allow private entities, be they co-ops or enterprises, to distribute electricity through microgrids to end-users. Prepay meters offer a solution to the collection woes suffered by EDH, whose billing guesswork would infuriate customers and make revenue collection even less likely.

Addressing the problem of energy poverty through access to electricity is just one of the many technological challenges before us, and Haiti’s state on Jan. 11 is hardly anyone’s goal. The reconstruction effort as a whole must be framed in such a way that it builds a more resilient Haiti and provides for the Haitian people a sense of opportunity and equality never felt before.

Dan Schnitzer is co-founder of EarthSpark International and a Ph.D. candidate in the department of engineering and public policy at Carnegie Mellon University.         

Jewel Samad/AFP/Getty Images               

Annie Lowrey is assistant editor at FP.
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