As the world strives to avert a larger humanitarian catastrophe in earthquake-stricken Haiti, all resources and immediate attention first must be dedicated to saving as many lives as possible. But the earthquake that cruelly struck this poorest of nations also can and should serve as a catalyst for the international community to make Haiti a nation where its people finally have decent, safer, modern living conditions, a thriving economy and a future filled with hope.By enacting a sort of mini Marshall Plan, a la Europe, post-World War II, but this time with a large corporate presence, Haiti could become a land of opportunity and hope that contributes value-added goods and services to the global economy.
Three 'Rs' for Haiti: Relief, Reform, Rebuild
Haiti has remained among the poorest nations in the world due to corruption, mismanagement, thuggery and ill-conceived and/or short-sighted projects, among other factors. Before the earthquake, Haiti needed a great many things. Now it needs nearly everything: homes/housing, schools, an entire infrastructure (water systems, separate sewers and sewage treatment, an electric grid, roads, public transportation, telecommunications), reforestation and land support.
After the initial rescue stage is complete, the attentions of the U.S. and the broader international community must turn to the development of a new Haiti. The U.S., working with its allies, including the United Nations, the World Bank, and the International Monetary Fund, can put the basics in place to reform the government and rebuild on a massive scale. Some may charge the U.S. and Europe with cultural imperialism, but if a humane, modern society ensues in Haiti, then as my Peace Corps veteran friend frequently says, "Then here's to more cultural imperialism!"
Unemployed Workers Could Bring Their Skills to Haiti
A rebuilding effort of this magnitude will require the help of 20,000 to 50,000 skilled professionals and craftsman -- above and beyond the police/security force/health care force required during the rescue period. It would be essential for these skilled workers to commit one or two years (with pay) to train Haitians to do everything a modern, developed society and nation does: teach in schools, build roads, manage public utility systems and, above all, to run businesses. In other words, to train a new generation of Haitians to build the foundations for a developing economy.
In a more-robust economic time it might be hard to get U.S. workers to uproot their lives, but during this time of high unemployment, it may be a perfect time to recruit thousands of Americans whose skills aren't currently being used to teach and help rebuild Haiti. Think about it: there are thousands of unemployed engineers, teachers, construction workers, public administrators, and business executives who are looking for work. My sense is some would be more than willing to move to Haiti for one or two years to do this. Then, a second round of teachers/mentors could replace the initial volunteers after the first two-year period.
The International Community Will Need to Split the Tab
The rescue/relief stage alone will likely exceed $2 billion, most of that born by the U.S. government and private donations. For a five-year rebuilding program, the cost may run as high $10 billion to $15 billion, perhaps as high as $20 billion, in both macro and micro aid. A lot depends on the cost of energy and raw materials, cost estimates for which, as investors and business executives know, are difficult to project.
Of course, the U.S. can't do it alone, nor should it. The World Bank has committed $100 million, as has the International Monetary Fund. In my estimation, each will likely commit more. Sister Latin American states will likely get involved in a big way, perhaps contributing as much as $2 billion. The European Union should also be able to contribute $2 billion to $3 billion. Then there is the participation of large corporations and the private sector -- already off to a good start -- which will be intrinsic in the process.
To lead the effort, President Barack Obama has already tapped two very capable chief administrators: former Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush. The two are already leading the earthquake relief fund-raising effort and I think they should be asked to lead the reconstruction effort, as well, in conjunction with U.S. Agency for International Development, our allies, and the aforementioned international organizations.
Haiti can become almost anything it wants to become. Ireland, among other nations, has demonstrated that a people in a small nation can achieve a remarkable rebirth via training, hard work, the correct incentives, perseverance and the will to do what is virtuous.
Financial Editor Joseph Lazzaro is writing a book on the U.S. presidency and the U.S. economy.
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