Representatives from a dozen countries are meeting in Montreal today to start the discussion about how to rebuild Haiti. Oxfam released its recommendations in a briefing paper called “Reconstructing Haiti.” The main points are pretty similar to those made following other major disasters:
Let the UN play the main coordinating role, put the people of Haiti at the center of the process, and make certain the poor people of Haiti have a clear role, so their needs are prioritized.
A pro-poor reconstruction program in Haiti could help the country improve its environment, help farmers earn a decent living, build earthquake resistant homes and schools, and change millions of lives for the better. To succeed, these efforts must prioritize poor communities.
Just a few days after the earthquake Tracy Kidder had an op-ed in the New York Times that recommended “The ultimate goal of all aid to Haiti ought to be the strengthening of Haitian institutions, infrastructure and expertise.” It is pretty good advice coming from the author of the excellent book “Mountains Beyond Mountains” about Dr. Paul Farmer and his Partners in Health organization. I would only add that strengthening institutions that represent the needs of poor people will help the reconstruction process deliver for all of Haiti.
Oxfam spends a lot of time and resources working to promote strong institutions. This is an essential part of our approach: Poverty will not end until an empowered citizenry can change power relations. In Haiti, however, many institutions and organizations were badly damaged or even destroyed, so the human institutions, infrastructure and expertise Kidder cites as essential may be the hardest to find right when they are needed the most.