Top UN Official says remedying Haitiís structural weakness is key to sustainable development
7 April 2010
With US$5.3 billion pledged over the next two years to Haiti - far exceeding expectations - and a further $9 billion for longer-term needs, a top United Nations official on Tuesday said the outpouring of support was indeed an encouraging display of international solidarity with Haiti and its people.
More than 130 nations gathered at United Nations Headquarters for the meeting on March 31 aimed at securing the financial resources necessary to help Haiti recover and rebuild after January’s devastating earthquake. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon at the opening of the conference urged donors to provide $11.5 billion over the next 10 years for the reconstruction of the Caribbean nation.
“The level of support from the global community is heartening. We now have the means to push forward with both the renewal and rebuilding of the country,” UN High Representative for Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Countries and Small Island Developing States, Cheick Sidi Diarra, said.
Diarra added that the scale of the devastation resulting from the massive earthquake was enormous and that the already dire situation in Haiti is likely to get worse as the rainy season is fast approaching. “Assessments from humanitarian workers on the ground have warned that some camps for displaced persons are at risk of flooding.
This means that there are now serious health and sanitation concerns. Also, because of the concentration of displaced people in Port-au-Prince, it is likely that some inhabitants will travel to areas outside the capital in search for shelter, food and medical care. This would undoubtedly add demographic pressure on rural areas and other urban centers,” he said.
The High Representative drew attention to the fact that even prior to the natural calamity, Haiti already occupied a precarious situation as part of the world’s 49 least developed countries (LDCs). The Caribbean country ranked 149th out of 182 countries on the U.N.’s Human Development Index
Haiti’s socio-economic indicators lag well behind those of the rest of Latin America and the Caribbean. Even before the earthquake, more than half of the population did not have adequate access to electricity, running water and/or sanitation. Life expectancy was already by far the lowest in the Americas and child malnutrition and mortality rates were alarming.
Its heavy dependence on rain-fed agriculture and low productivity services make the economy highly vulnerable to weather and macroeconomic shocks. Agriculture provides about half of total employment, represents a quarter of overall gross domestic product (GDP) and sustains a primary commodity export trade. Service activities represent about 55 per cent of GDP and provide 40 per cent of employment. Most jobs are insecure and informal.
The Under Secretary General stressed that as the international community should remain cognizant of the structural weaknesses which mitigate against a speedy recovery.
“As an LDC and a Small Island Developing State, Haiti is extremely vulnerable to external shocks. Countries which fall into either category suffer the concomitance of structural weakness and economic vulnerability. Thus, the consequences of external shocks whether they be natural or man-made are catastrophic,” he underscored.
Diarra pointed out that the current situation provides an opportunity to develop a long-term sustainable development strategy and that a cornerstone of the rebuilding effort should be the bolstering of the country’s economic resilience. “There are some key areas which should be addressed as we embark on this exercise. These include: developing investment and trade policy-related capacities, the removal of supply constraints, additional support on technology transfers and the building of human resource development,” the High Representative said.
“Concretely, measures would need to be introduced to provide stronger incentives for labour-intensive economic activities, such as by providing access to credits and technical assistance for productive activities on a small and medium scale. Duty- and quota free access of the garment industry to the United States that is currently granted to Haiti can help diversify the economy. In the medium term, Haiti should further consider expanding its nascent tourism industry. It would reduce Haiti’s dependence on low-productivity services and agriculture and volatile commodity exports,” he explained.
The Under-Secretary however cautioned that much of the work should be undertaken in consultation with local communities.
“The challenge to rebuild Haiti is indeed an enormous undertaking not only for the United Nations, but for the entire globe. But this challenge is not insurmountable, however, as long as the international community is willing to sustain its support and commitment to Haiti’s development on a long-term basis,” Diarra said.
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