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Experts: Haiti Reconstruction Faces Huge Challenges

  • Robert Raffaele

Representatives of major donor countries will gather in Montreal on January 25 to discuss reconstruction efforts in Haiti, following the massive earthquake that struck the Caribbean nation January 12.

Many Haitians have been given a new lease on life, thanks to rescue workers from around the world.

In the months ahead, Haiti's future will depend to a large degree on the efforts of multinational agencies and reconstruction teams.

Roberto Vellutini is a vice president at the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) in Washington. It has provided aid to Haiti over the past 50 years. He says reconstruction efforts face serious challenges, but foremost is the cost.

"It's huge. Someone estimated that reconstruction would need anywhere between five to $10 billion, for I don't know, the next five years or something. So, someone needs to come up with this money," he said.

The IDB will allocate more than $200 million toward Haiti's reconstruction in the immediate future, but donor nations must deal with a bigger question.

"Do you want to rebuild Port-au-Prince exactly the way it was in the same place, in the same location? Shall we move the capital? Is it a vulnerable place? Will it be better off in the north? We don't know," Vellutini added.

Robert Maguire teaches international affairs at Trinity Washington University. He says Haiti's capital, when rebuilt, should be scaled back to prevent the overcrowding that existed before the earthquake and adds that Haiti needs to decentralize.

"Decentralize the functions of government, decentralize investment, the assembly plants that may come later to offer jobs," he said. "Decentralize the social services, so people don't feel they have to come into Port-au-Prince to put their kids in a decent school or find decent health care."

The United Nations special envoy to Haiti, former US President Bill Clinton, is a key asset, Maguire says.

Clinton gained valuable experience in a similar role following the 2004 Asian tsunami.

"[Bill Clinton] has a great wealth of experience in this, and his objective there, as it will be in Haiti, is to help to coordinate among donors, to make sure that not everybody is doing the same thing in the same place, that the vast array of needs are being treated," Maguire noted.

Experts agree that reconstruction in Haiti will take many years. The United Nations has appealed for more than $550 million for emergency relief over the next six months.