Haiti Rebuilding Efforts Look To 2004 Tsunami

Ideas are beginning to form on how Haiti would be rebuilt, and who would do it. It won't be easy or cheap. But the response after the 2004 tsunami that struck southeast Asia shows it is possible.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

In this part of the program, we're going to look at what Haiti can learn about rebuilding from earlier disasters, and what those dealing with future disasters can learn from relief efforts in Haiti.

First, a look back, because while the destruction from Haiti's earthquake is stunning, it is not unprecedented. In some ways, it's similar to what was seen in December 2004, when an earthquake caused a tsunami that devastated several countries in southeast Asia. NPR's Greg Allen reports that the international response to that disaster provides some idea about what's ahead for Haiti as it begins to rebuild.

GREG ALLEN: For anyone thinking about rebuilding, the pictures and descriptions from Port-au-Prince are daunting. The earthquake heavily damaged or destroyed nearly three-quarters of the city's buildings. Ninety percent of the schools are gone, as are most of the banks, commercial offices and government buildings.

Columbia University economist Jeffrey Sachs, an advisor to U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, has estimated that rebuilding Haiti will cost at least $10 billion over the next 10 years. On NPR's TALK OF THE NATION, he said to that figure, you have to add in the cost of emergency aid and economic development for Haiti.

Mr. JEFFREY SACHS (Economist, Columbia University): We're looking at something on the order, I believe, of about $3 billion per year for the next few years, of which the U.S. part might be $1 billion of that.

ALLEN: After the 2004 tsunami, more than $13 billion in aid was spent in several countries, but the bulk of the rebuilding was focused in Indonesia, on Ache. Seven-and-a-half billion dollars went there, much of it in rebuilding Banda Ache, a city that, like Port-au-Prince, was largely destroyed.

Homi Kharas of the Brookings Institution says in that disaster and others in recent years, local communities and aid groups have concentrated on rebuilding housing.

Mr. HOMI KHARAS (Brookings Institution): And then the official donors really do have to focus on getting the airport reconstructed, getting the ports reconstructed, some of the roads and bridges. They can take on what one might call the larger infrastructure.

ALLEN: The World Bank is just beginning its post-disaster needs assessment in Haiti, but in the meantime, has pledged $100 million in emergency assistance. World Bank Vice President Pamela Cox says her group is also redirecting some $200 million in aid already allocated there to reopen schools and create feeding programs, also to rebuild critical infrastructure and government buildings. In recent disasters, she says, that's become a focus for the World Bank.

Ms. PAMELA COX (Vice President, World Bank): Get the government up and running, including the payment systems, a very important issue, get the banks open, the financial systems working.

ALLEN: More details about Haiti reconstruction will be worked out at a U.N. donor's meeting next month. Also likely to be on the agenda will be debt relief. A movement is growing to forgive Haiti an estimated $1 billion in foreign debt. In addition, Cox is pushing for the creation of a Haiti reconstruction fund similar to the one that oversaw rebuilding in Ache. Cox says the fund would coordinate all rebuilding efforts, and ultimately be controlled by Haitians.

Ms. COX: This is a way to put in accountable management. You can hire that management from outside. But what we must stress is is that this agency must be accountable first and foremost to the people of Haiti.

ALLEN: Mike Delaney, director of humanitarian response for Oxfam, says there are practical reasons why it's important that Haitians oversee the reconstruction plans, including specifics, such as the design of houses.

Mr. MIKE DELANEY (Director of Humanitarian Response, Oxfam): I've seen housing projects in many places where, in the end, houses are built for people after an emergency, and then they don't end up living in it. They end up putting some of their farm animals in it just because it wasn't the type of housing that they needed.

ALLEN: U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton picked up on that theme recently, saying international donors would be, quote, "partners with Haiti, not patrons." There's another phrase often invoked now in talks about Haiti reconstruction, one that's attributed to former president Bill Clinton. It's build back better. That means supplying Port-au-Prince with basic infrastructure it never had before. That was done in Banda Ache. And five years after the tsunami, rebuilding there is almost complete.

But new information suggests Port-au-Prince may not have that much time to build infrastructure that's better and stronger. A team of seismologists measuring tectonic activity in Haiti is warning that another damaging earthquake is possible in the weeks, months or years ahead.

Greg Allen, NPR News, Miami.

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