Nearly two months after the devastating 7.0 magnitude earthquake in Port-au Prince, Haiti, the country is still in need of assistance in areas such as health care, shelter and rebuilding its economy, government and institutions. As the international community and NGOs make the transition from emergency disaster relief to long-term reconstruction and capacity building efforts, donor coordination and a long-term commitment are crucial. The Wilson Center on the Hill, along with the Wilson Center's Latin American Program , hosted a panel of experts to discuss continuing problems and needs in Haiti and the challenges going forward. The discussion was moderated by Cynthia Arnson , director of the Latin American Program at the Woodrow Wilson Center.

Johanna Mendelson Forman, a Senior Associate for the Americas Program at theCenter for Strategic and International Studies , stressed that progress in Haiti is going to take a long time; perhaps 5 years to rebuild and 10 years to see positive economic growth. She noted that this will most likely be frustrating for donors, including Congress and U.S. citizens, who want to see immediate results. Mendelson Forman also emphasized the need to develop and strengthen the Haitian government, discounting the myth that "because Haiti is a weak state it is not a sovereign state."

Mendelson Forman also observed that the post-earthquake efforts in Haiti have been different from the previous United Nations' interventions in the amount of leadership and involvement coming from the Latin American community. For example, Brazil is leading the relief operations and other Latin American countries, have committed to promoting a stable and secure Haiti. Also, she noted a new partnership between the Haitian and Dominican governments. "They understand that they are doomed if Haiti is doomed," she said. "As members of the international community it is our job to foster that reconciliation."

Andrew Philip Powell, a Regional Economic Advisor in the Caribbean Country Department at the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), spoke about damages from the earthquake and the need for reconstruction. According to Powell, the IDB's intial estimate of economic damages due to the earthquake was about $8 billion, but the number could be much higher due to the complete destruction of the government and commerce centered in Port-au-Prince. Currently, the IDB and several other organizations are conducting a post disaster needs assessment which will identify the official damages as well as the cost of reconstruction.

Powell stated that Haiti is "not starting from a blank slate," citing a development strategy agreed upon in April 2009 by the Haitian government and international donors. In keeping with the strategy, Powell emphasized the need for effective coordination between donors and with the Haitian government. At the same time, he said programs to promote decentralization of the population, by moving government agencies and private sector jobs to other parts of the country, is vital. There is a need to build roads and communication networks outside of the capital area and set up export processing zones in outlying regions to increase the economic opportunities outside of Port-au-Prince. Lastly, Powell cautioned that with large amounts of aid flowing into the country, the government and donors should be on the lookout for "Dutch disease" – a decline in the manufacturing sector following a sharp increase in natural resource prices, foreign assistance or foreign direct investment -- and increased aid dependency in the future.

Sheri Fink, a Public Policy Scholar at the Woodrow Wilson Center and Senior Fellow at the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative , described Haiti's continuing health crisis based on her observations from two trips there since the earthquake. Fink noted some signs of hope, including some normalcy and commerce returning in the camps, but saw rising problems in the health sector as a whole. As field hospitals put in place after the earthquake close, "there is a fear among Haitians that attention is starting to turn elsewhere," she said.

According to Fink, "the work is far from done" in Haiti, a sentiment she said is shared by many departing health workers. A continuing major problem is the hospital system: Hospitals were among the buildings destroyed, government health workers have not been paid and existing hospitals are not prepared to deal with incoming patients from the field hospitals that are closing as the need for post-earthquake emergency care subsides. Fink also pointed out the danger of many long-term earthquake related health problems, including continued injuries from aftershocks and debris, worsening of chronic diseases, horrible conditions and lack of basic health services in the camps, and the "looming nightmare" of the spread of infectious diseases. Fink stressed the need for more international involvement to avert a widening of the health crisis. "We've made a big commitment and to follow-up on the investment, to make it mean something; let's not be satisfied with just bringing things back to where they were," she said.

By: Sarah Hutson
David Klaus, Consulting Director, Wilson Center on the Hill
Kent Hughes, Director, Program on America and the Global Economy