Four Things You Should Know About the Haiti Donor Conference

Post by Penelope Chester

Officials are gathering today for a Haiti donor conference at the United Nations headquarters in New York City. This conference is a high-level international effort to coordinate and secure the funding necessary for recovery and rebuilding in Haiti, and is expected to generate at least $3.8 billion in funding commitments. The conference is an important step toward devising a concerted international strategy on how best to assist Haiti in tackling the difficult tasks that lie ahead.

Here are four things you should know about today’s conference: 

1. Reconstruction will cost the international community at least $11.5 billion

The government of Haiti, slated to present a reconstruction plan during the conference today, released a Preliminary Damage and Needs Assessment (PDNA) document last week that put the total cost of the earthquake at $7.9 billion. In the PDNA, Haitian officials suggest that reconstruction will require investments across a variety of sectors, with a particular focus on strengthening public institutions and administration. The cost of these efforts has been estimated at $11.5 billion.

As of March 2010, about 45% of the $1.5 billion in emergency funding requested immediately after the earthquake hasbeen disbursed by donors.

2. President Obama has requested $2.8 billion in funding for Haiti

Since 1990, the U.S. has provided $4 billion in aid to Haiti, and, according to the Washington Post, President Obama’s recent request to Congress for $2.8 billion represents a shift in the American approach to helping Haiti. Instead of “working around” government institutions and awarding projects to big contractors, the U.S. will seek to work directly with government agencies and ministries, with an emphasis on the following areas: health; agriculture; governance and security; and infrastructure, with a particular focus on energy.

While it’s still unclear exactly how this aid package will be implemented, this represents a welcome strategic shift that allows for government responsibility and accountability.

3. Including Haitian stakeholders in the reconstruction process is key to success

While the government of Haiti is being engaged by donors and implementing organizations — who are creating plans to collaborate directly with the government on reconstruction efforts — a recent survey by Oxfam found that a majority of Haitians lack confidence in their government. As such, it’s critical that Haiti reconstruction plans benefit from the input and active participation of Haitian civil society.

In a press release, Refugees International senior advocate Patrick Duplat urged conference attendees to ensure that local stakeholders are not sidelined in the reconstruction process: “Haiti has an extremely vibrant and competent civil society with solid community networks […] Haitian voices must not be left out of reconstruction and development activities. This should be an opportunity to reinforce local capacity and local ownership of the rebuilding process.”

4. Donors need to strike a balance between long-term reconstruction and current emergency needs

In the immediate aftermath of the earthquake, all the attention and funding was focused on acute emergency needs: medical care for survivors, search and rescue, food, water, shelter. Now that the acute emergency phase has passed, the focus is understandably shifting toward long-term reconstruction plans. UNDP’s chief officer, Helen Clark, noted that “obviously th[e] medium/long term reconstruction recovery is incredibly important but … if we don’t get the humanitarian relief side right as well you don’t have the foundation for the successful longer term recovery.”

As many as one million Haitians lost their homes during the earthquake and now live in makeshift camps. Medical care and follow up is still critical for many survivors, as is the continued provision of basic living supplies for the internally displaced. With the arrival of the rainy season, hundreds of thousands of Haitians still live in dangerously precarious conditions. The need to rebuild a stronger Haiti cannot overshadow their pressing needs.