A lack of clarity concerning land tenure, limited enforcement of architectural standards, and haphazard urban planning made Port au Prince a city that was both difficult to manage and highly vulnerable to natural disasters. The Haitian government has reached out to an architectural planning charity, the Prince's Foundation for the Built Environment, founded by Britain's Prince Charles, for assistance in reconstructing the historic center of Port au Prince. The Reuters article below provides further details about this new partnership.
As we get closer to May, the rains will become more frequent and intense. Even brief rainfall to date gives an indication of how vulnerable the displaced in Port au Prince are to flooding and mud-slides. Some, such as the displaced at the Petionville Golf Club are being relocated to the hastily prepared Corail-Cesselesse site 15 km north of Port au Prince. Six other sites require urgent evacuation before the rainy season. Other sites can be made safer with engineering interventions. Disturbingly, hundreds sheltering at the National Stadium were reported to have been forcibly removed. Close coordination and rapid action are urgently needed to protect the displaced from the upcoming rains.
Haiti is forever changed. At least 150,000 people, equivalent to the population of Tallahassee, have died. At least 600,000, more than the population of Seattle, are without homes. Over 130,000, approximately the population of Syracuse, have left Port au Prince for the countryside. After a disaster of this magnitude, life does not go back to normal. Still, even in the face of great uncertainty, life goes on. Telecommunications are mostly up and running, some banks are opening, more gas stations are functional, markets and factories are re-openening. Neighborhood committees are meeting and people are attending church services. All agree it will take many years to rebuild. The question is how Haiti can recover and be built back better than it was before?
Strong arguments can be made that sacking Prime Minister Pierre-Louis was a mistake. Still, she served Haiti well prior to becoming Prime Minister and will no doubt continue to do so. Jean Max Bellerive has since been confirmed as the new Prime Minister. He has stated the increasing foreign investment and reducing poverty will be amongst his highest priorities. He has a much different style than Pierre-Louis, but faces the same challenges. This includes promoting food security thoughout Haiti.
Delegates from 28 countries and multilateral organizations participated in the 2009 Haiti Donors Conference. Given the global economic downturn , now is a tough time to hold such an event. Donors pledged to provide $324 million in additional aid to Haiti over the next two years, of which $41 million is for budget support in 2009. Not as much as hoped for, but if the Haitian government can spend it well, this may open doors for increased support from donors later on.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and former U.S. President Bill Clinton will visit Haiti March 9-10 to promote international aid for Haiti. According to UN Peacekeeping Chief Alain Le Roy, ''Clearly it's a fragile situation in Haiti. There are still lots of difficulties but we think Haiti is winnable." Also noteworthy is that a long awaited donor conference has been set for April 13-14 and will be chaired by the Inter American Development Bank. Expect food security to be an important part of these discussions.
Security and food security go hand in hand in countries like Haiti that are dependent on importation for survival. President Rene Preval announced a 15 percent cut in rice prices and a series of measures to uphold national food production namely by providing subsidies, credit and technical assistance to farmers. Rice exports are banned. However, Haitians cannot survive on rice alone. Corn, beans, oil, etc. all remain expensive. The President has yet to appoint a Prime Minister who can assemble a new Cabinet. We hope, whoever he or she is, the new Prime Minister will take food security seriously and communicate often with the public about what is doing to reduce food costs and improve national production. This should have been a priority long ago.