Re­cov­ery is slow, but we’re work­ing to re­new and re­build

The Washington Post Sunday - - NEWS - BY KEN­NETH MERTEN Ken­neth Merten is the U.S. am­bas­sador to Haiti.

When I ar­rived in Haiti as am­bas­sador, un­em­ploy­ment was ram­pant, the govern­ment could not pro­vide ba­sic ser­vices such as ed­u­ca­tion and health care, and only 12 per­cent of the pop­u­la­tion had ac­cess to elec­tric­ity. And that was in Au­gust 2009 — months be­fore the dev­as­tat­ing earth­quake that struck the coun­try al­most one year ago.

The 35 sec­onds of ter­ror that Haiti suf­fered on Tues­day, Jan. 12, re­sulted in 230,000 deaths and hun­dreds of thou­sands of in­juries, left al­most 2 mil­lion peo­ple home­less, dec­i­mated the econ­omy and ex­ac­er­bated many of the prob­lems the nation al­ready faced. Haiti also lost up to 30 per­cent of its civil ser­vice and all but one of its main govern­ment build­ings.

As Pres­i­dent Obama put it, it was as if the United States, “in a ter­ri­ble in­stant, lost nearly 8 mil­lion peo­ple; or it’s as if one-third of our coun­try— 100 mil­lion Amer­i­cans— sud­denly had no home, no food or wa­ter.”

To­day, the United States re­mains com­mit­ted to help­ing build a more pros­per­ous and sta­ble Haiti. Like many of Haiti’s in­ter­na­tional part­ners, we are pro­vid­ing more than $400 mil­lion in hu­man­i­tar­ian re­lief fund­ing to lay the foun­da­tion for

Progress — though not as much as we need or as fast as we want — is here.

long-term devel­op­ment, along with $1.15 bil­lion, pledged at the March 2010 donors con­fer­ence, to help re­build. Our ef­forts are part of an in­ter­na­tion­ally co­or­di­nated re­con­struc­tion pro­gram that em­braces in­no­va­tion to re­store Haiti’s econ­omy, which be­fore the earth­quake had ex­pe­ri­enced sev­eral con­sec­u­tive years of growth.

The In­terim Haiti Re­cov­ery Com­mis­sion, cochaired by PrimeMin­is­ter Jean-Max Bel­lerive and Bill Clin­ton, en­sures that re­lief and devel­op­ment projects are co­or­di­nated and se­quenced, so we don’t build any “ bridges to nowhere.” Mem­ber coun­tries from Canada and Brazil to France and Venezuela, as well as mem­ber in­sti­tu­tions such as theUnit­edNa­tions and the In­ter-Amer­i­can Devel­op­ment Bank, are all com­mit­ted to help­ing Haiti re­al­ize a bet­ter to­mor­row. Un­like pre­vi­ous ef­forts to re­build the coun­try, the IHRC also in­cludes rep­re­sen­ta­tives from Haiti’s govern­ment, pri­vate sec­tor and civil so­ci­ety.

The U.S. govern­ment is also bring­ing to bear the ex­per­tise of mul­ti­ple agen­cies as we make tar­geted in­vest­ments in agri­cul­ture and food se­cu­rity, in­fra­struc­ture and en­ergy projects, health care, and gov­er­nance and se­cu­rity pro­grams.

We have also em­braced in­no­va­tion. Mo­bile phones al­lowed Amer­i­cans to do­nate to Haitian re­lief and re­cov­ery ef­forts — more than $35 mil­lion, given in $10 in­cre­ments — and they will em­power Haitians. Work­ing with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foun­da­tion, we are of­fer­ing cash in­cen­tives to en­cour­age com­pe­ti­tion in Haiti’s pri­vate sec­tor to bring bank­ing ser­vices to res­i­dents through their mo­bile phones. This week we will award a $2.5 mil­lion prize to the first com­pany to launch a mo­bile bank­ing ser­vice.

Haitians are very en­tre­pre­neur­ial. Just days af­ter the earth­quake, I saw lot­tery booths, beauty shops and even movie the­aters in the camps. And in the months since, busi­nesses have been re­open­ing and new ones tak­ing shape. But most of these en­trepreneurs have no means to track their money or put it some­where safe. Mo­bile bank­ing is just the be­gin­ning of in­no­va­tions that could im­prove the lives of mil­lions in Haiti.

We know progress is not al­ways vis­i­ble, and we un­der­stand peo­ple’s frus­tra­tion with the pace of re­con­struc­tion. But progress — though not as much as we need or as fast as we want — is here. The Haitian govern­ment un­der­took a proac­tive com­mu­ni­ca­tion and flood-mit­i­ga­tion ef­fort be­fore the rainy sea­son last year, and it led the in­ter­na­tional re­sponse to Hur­ri­cane To­mas in Novem­ber. Haitian sci­en­tists in the Min­istry of Pub­lic Health and Pop­u­la­tion iden­ti­fied cholera as soon as it ap­peared, and the min­istry has co­or­di­nated the in­ter­na­tional re­sponse to the out­break. An im­por­tant com­po­nent of this re­sponse is pub­lic health and hy­giene in­for­ma­tion, and the min­istry’s pub­lic ser­vice an­nounce­ments — of­ten di­rected at chil­dren who re­cite them ver­ba­tim with pride when­ever some­one passes by — are ubiq­ui­tous on the ra­dio.

For our part, the United States has em­ployed 350,000 peo­ple in cash-for-work pro­grams, which have boosted the econ­omy. We have also in­vested in agri­cul­tural ini­tia­tives, help­ing in­crease crop yields by about 75 per­cent over the pre­vi­ous year’s har­vest in some ar­eas. And we have been a crit­i­cal player in the ef­fort to re­move rub­ble. The progress is in­cre­men­tal, but like many at the U.S. Em­bassy, I have seen progress each day on my way to work — ru­ined build­ings de­mol­ished, then the ar­eas cleared of rub­ble and con­verted into con­struc­tion sites. The work con­tin­ues.

Gov­ern­ments, mul­ti­lat­eral or­ga­ni­za­tions and the pri­vate sec­tor are col­lab­o­rat­ing to marry devel­op­ment dol­lars and pri­vate in­vest­ment to cre­ate per­ma­nent jobs. The State Depart­ment has signed two agree­ments with the govern­ment of Haiti, the In­ter-Amer­i­can Devel­op­ment Bank and two of the world’s largest gar­ment man­u­fac­tur­ers, from Korea, to ex­plore the pos­si­bil­ity of build­ing an in­dus­trial park that would pro­duce tens of thou­sands of per­ma­nent jobs and per­ma­nent hous­ing for thou­sands of Haitians. Dur­ing my three diplo­matic as­sign­ments here, I have seen the im­por­tance of job cre­ation for Haiti, and these kinds of agree­ments make me op­ti­mistic.

We face a long and dif­fi­cult jour­ney, and now we pause to mourn the dead. But we re­new our com­mit­ment to the liv­ing by help­ing build a more pros­per­ous and sta­ble Haiti, and a fu­ture that its peo­ple want.

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