Helping Haiti

Private estimates say the reconstruction of Haiti could cost $10 billion

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The Gazette, Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Before the Montreal Conference on Haiti the other morning, Lawrence Cannon was recounting a story he'd been told the previous evening by Jean-Max Bellerive, the Haitian prime minister.

"He lost 10 members of his own staff in the earthquake," the foreign affairs minister was saying. Previously minister of planning, Bellerive had brought staff with him when he became prime minister last fall. At a moment when Haiti is in desperate need of planners for its reconstruction, 10 senior officials in the PM's own office were among the 200,000 dead or missing. Another 200,000 are injured. One million people are homeless - the equivalent of Ottawa-Gatineau being flattened, and everything in the government along with it.

Most of Haiti's records and archives were also destroyed in the earthquake. So complete is the devastation that there is serious talk of evacuating Port-au-Prince and building a new capital from scratch - one whose buildings would resist earthquakes and tropical storms.

"It will take four or five years just to get back to point zero," Bellerive told the Friend of Haiti, a gathering of a dozen foreign ministers, NGOs, and financial institutions, as well as the UN, Organization of American States ,and Caricom.

Haiti, Bellerive added: "is battered, martyred and ruined. But still standing."

Help for Haiti is on the way. Hope will be provided by the Haitian people themselves, whose resilience apparently knows no limits.

How much help? The whisper number is $10 billion over the next 10 years.

"It's premature to speak of the amount of money required," Cannon said.

Ten billion dollars might be just the ante for the international community's efforts in helping Haiti rebuild a broken country. It seems like a small number beside the $60 billion put up by the Canadian and U.S. governments to bail out GM, to say nothing of Washington's $800 billion rescue of Wall St.

The Montreal Conference wasn't about relief in 10 days but rebuilding over 10 years.

"Soon we must move from short-term humanitarian response to reconstruction," Cannon said in his opening remarks.

Montreal wasn't a donors' conference but a preparatory one. There was no money on the table, but there was a job jar. There needs to be a consensus on who does what, where and when, and under whose supervision.

For example, the Canadians are in Jacmel, once a lovely seaside town on the south coast. Among other things that need to be rebuilt is the road over the mountains to Port-au-Prince. The port needs to be re-opened. The town itself was levelled. There are medical needs that can be met by a field hospital. This is a role, taking responsibility for a region, that Canadians and their NGOs can play without tripping over the Americans.

So Monday's meeting was a ministerial and agency committee on priorities and planning, leading to a donors conference at the UN in New York sometime in March.

As U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton observed at the closing news conference: "We think it's a good idea to do the needs assessment first."

Clinton was at once respectful of Haitian sovereignty and sensitive to concerns of France and others about the Americans big-footing the meeting. However, there's no doubt that the talks didn't get down to cases until her arrival, amid what can only be called a frenzied photo-op, at mid-day. No international meeting really begins until the Americans arrive. It's just the way it is.

Shortly after Clinton's arrival, Stephen Harper enunciated three priorities for re-construction - sustainability, effectiveness, and accountability.

In other words, in for the long haul, getting it right this time, and peer review from the top.

As Harper put it: "It is not an exaggeration to say that 10 years of hard work awaits the world in Haiti."

As for Canada's contribution, in money, material, and human resources, hundreds of millions of dollars will be raised in relief alone, with private donations matched by the government, which last weekend wisely lifted its $50- million cap. When the financial instruments are turned on, hundreds of millions more will flow. Two thousand troops have already been deployed, and they will be there long after we have left Afghanistan.

At the closing news conference, the CBC's Terry Milewski insistently asked twice "who's driving this bus?"

Cannon, normally imperturbable, bristled.

"I'm quite astonished by the question," he replied. "The person sitting to my right is driving this bus."

Other foreign ministers jumped all over the question, but the Haitian PM, the person to Cannon's right, refused to take offence and turned the moment to his advantage.

"Maybe," he said, "you don't like the bus driver." Grace under pressure.

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