How can Haiti ever be rebuilt?

Q: What are the challenges that will face Haiti when the dust settles?

A: It's hard to know where to begin. Even once the rubble has been cleared and the dead laid to rest, Haiti's infrastructure has been destroyed; its government has been left almost powerless; millions of people have been left homeless; and its fragile economy has been dealt a heavy blow. At the same time, though, Haiti, a country riven with economic and political crises for decades, has the attention of the world – and it is a rare opportunity for meaningful reconstruction. In Port-au-Prince, Washington and beyond, there is now a real appetite for a new beginning. The mission, Bill Clinton said on Sunday, would be a failure "if all we do is get them back to the way they were the day before the earthquake".

Q: So what should happen first?

A: The most fundamental challenge will be building new accommodation for Haitians who lost their homes. In a country with no building code, and where the vast majority of people are without insurance, that will be hugely demanding. Architects say that new regulations will be essential as a means of ensuring that the poor quality concrete structures of the past are replaced by more secure alternatives – and that fewer buildings should be placed in vulnerable spots on unstable hillsides. But with many displaced people already beginning work on their own makeshift houses in the absence of a more co-ordinated approach, that goal looks like a long shot.

Q: How can it be ensured that new buildings are safer?

A: Foreign governments and institutions like the International Monetary Fund are providing most of the money and they are already putting in place strict conditions to govern how it is spent. Mr Clinton, the UN's special envoy to Haiti, argues that donors should "condition release of their funds based on construction meeting certain standards". He said: "I think the Haitian government will welcome that. They want to build a modern country."

Q: Is the government capable of doing the job?

A: At the moment, it isn't capable of anything much. For now, the state should be circumvented, says Stuart Bowen, a veteran of reconstruction work in Iraq. "At this stage the delivery of aid should be direct and not through the government," he told the Washington Post. "And that process should be maintained for a while, until there is a sense of stability."

In the long run, though, building a viable state will be essential to getting the country back on its feet. Indeed, before the earthquake struck Haiti was enjoying a rare period of good news. The economy grew by 2.5 per cent last year despite the global recession. If foreign donors are to try to kick-start that progress once more, many development experts believe that a string of anti-corruption conditions will be necessary; others, though, are angry that a country in crisis should be faced with harsh conditions to get desperately needed money. An emergency IMF loan of $100m (£61.5m) last week, for instance, was only given on condition of a public sector pay freeze.

Q: Are there better ways to boost the country's development?

A: One critical millstone has hung around Haiti's neck for years: huge payments on servicing its foreign debt, of more than $50m a year. While the IMF has already cancelled $1.2bn of the $1.9bn Haiti owed, France has started moves to speed up relief of debt to other rich countries. So long as Haiti is hobbled with that hefty obligation, broader economic improvements look almost impossible.

And for all the money that the US has spent in Haiti – some $800m during the past five years – there are reasons to believe that its actions have not always improved things. Subsidies paid to American farmers mean 75 per cent of rice eaten in Haiti is from the US – in a country that grew all its own until the 1980s. The result is unemployment for farmers, and mass urban migration – to the very areas that were devastated last week. If nothing else, that history has galvanised a sense that the moment has to be seized.

"It's terrible to look at it this way, but out of crisis often comes real change," said C Ross Anthony, global health director of the Rand Corporation think-tank. "The people and the institutions take on the crisis and bring forth things they weren't able to do in the past."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Installation and Service / Security Engineer

£22000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is part of a Group...

Recruitment Genius: Service Charge Accounts Assistant

£16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you a a young, dynamic pers...

Cancer Research UK: Corporate Partnerships Volunteer Events Coordinator – London

Voluntary: Cancer Research UK: We’re looking for someone to support our award ...

Ashdown Group: Head of IT - Hertfordshire - £90,000

£70000 - £90000 per annum + bonus + car allowance + benefits: Ashdown Group: H...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence
Public relations as 'art'? Surely not

Confessions of a former PR man

The 'art' of public relations is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef succumbs to his sugar cravings with super-luxurious sweet treats

Bill Granger's luxurious sweet treats

Our chef loves to stop for 30 minutes to catch up on the day's gossip, while nibbling on something sweet
London Marathon 2015: Paula Radcliffe and the mother of all goodbyes

The mother of all goodbyes

Paula Radcliffe's farewell to the London Marathon will be a family affair
Everton vs Manchester United: Steven Naismith demands 'better' if Toffees are to upset the odds against United

Steven Naismith: 'We know we must do better'

The Everton forward explains the reasons behind club's decline this season
Arsenal vs Chelsea: Praise to Arsene Wenger for having the courage of his convictions

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Praise to Wenger for having the courage of his convictions