Haiti must play lead role in quake rebuilding, UNDP official says

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23 January 2012

WASHINGTON—International organizations are playing a key role in rebuilding Haiti two years after a devastating earthquake, but long-term success requires ownership by citizens of the Caribbean island nation, UN Development Program (UNDP) Associate Administrator Rebeca Grynspan said.

“You cannot rebuild a country project by project,” Ms. Grynspan told a briefing hosted by the UN Foundation on Capitol Hill. “You have to create conditions so that the citizens can rebuild it themselves—the most important part of this new phase is to make that happen. The international community must be a platform, for the citizens of Haiti to own the future.”

“Now we have to shift resources to recovery and reconstruction,” Ms. Grynspan said, calling for substantial capacity-building and decentralization in government, strengthened rule of law, and investments that will help lower the country’s 45 percent jobless rate.

“That means the development of transparent procurement processes, clear land title procedures, and the creation of conditions that encourage investment,” she said, speaking along with Assistant Secretary-General for Department of Peacekeeping Operations Edmond Mulet, US Special Coordinator for Haiti Thomas Adams, and US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for International Organization Affairs Victoria Holt.

On 12 January 2010, a severe earthquake struck Haiti, killing 300,000 people and displacing 2.3 million others. Hyper-urbanization and centralization of government in the capital, Port au Prince, exacerbated both the destruction and the disruption in government functioning.

Large numbers of rural-to-urban migrants were driven back to their native provinces, Ms. Grynspan said, but international support for those people—who returned home to the same poverty and joblessness they had left behind—wasn’t immediately forthcoming.

“We were able to do more on the environment and in risk reduction in the provinces,” she said, adding the complex recovery and rebuilding work requires “that we have to do many things at the same time,” from humanitarian aid and early recovery to long-term development.

‘A turning point’

With a new government in place, Haiti—whose 10 million people were living in chronic poverty before the earthquake—is again “at a turning point.”

“In a context of ongoing political tensions and divisions, improving the functioning of institutions of democratic governance is a fundamental prerequisite for stability,” Ms. Grynspan said, along with genuine, meaningful, democratic dialogue.

International donors pledged $4.6 billion in support of the Government’s Action Plan for Recovery and Development, along with some $1 billion in debt forgiveness, of which 88 percent has been disbursed or earmarked for specific programmes.

More than half the debris from the earthquake has been removed, Ms. Grynspan said, or about five million cubic meters.

UNDP’s mission is to support and build capacities for the government, the private sector, and communities to better prepare the country’s future. Some 30 percent of the budget is implemented directly by the central government entities and 40 percent implemented by local organizations.

The recovery phase will take many years but many results have already been observed in the last 12 months: more than 50 percent of debris removed, more than 300,000 jobs created, and 2,000 meters of riverbank retaining walls erected.

UNDP systematically privileges local employment and purchasing: more than 90 percent of workers employed in the execution of UNDP projects in 2011 is Haitian and 40 percent are women.

These initiatives have allowed more than 60,000 families increased access to income as well as opportunities to receive specialized training and experience in areas such as debris management, recycling,standards-based earthquake-resistant construction, riverbank protection, and watershed rehabilitation.

Some 20 percent of removed debris has, further, been recycled, 500 severely damaged houses demolished, 2,700 Haitian professionals trained, and 70 international experts deployed to support the government.