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New York Times: Good news on Haiti reconstruction


Plans and Benchmarks for Haiti

The Interim Haiti Recovery Commission was set up after the Jan. 12 earthquake as a joint Haitian-international effort to effectively channel billions of dollars of donated reconstruction aid.

Like everything else about the recovery effort, the commission, led by Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive and former President Bill Clinton, has been too slow off the mark. But we were encouraged by its second meeting in Port-au-Prince this month, where it announced dozens of new projects with clear benchmarks and the commitment of more than $1 billion to complete them.

The commission finally has its executive director, a Haitian, Gabriel Verret, a former economic adviser to President René Préval. About 30 crucial staff positions are still unfilled, a troubling sign. Without a full, permanent staff, the commission will surely have a harder time showing results and pressing donors to meet pledges.

The goals outlined at the meeting include clearing a million cubic meters of rubble in Port-au-Prince and building enough short-term hurricane shelters for 400,000 to 500,000 people — both by November. The longer-term plans include a two-year, $4.3 billion reinvention of Haiti’s public school system, a $200 million program for agricultural development, and a $15 million, 320-bed teaching hospital in Mirebalais, in central Haiti.

The hospital is a project of Partners in Health, an exemplary nongovernmental organization whose founder, Paul Farmer, has spoken forcefully about the need to break bad old habits of international aid, which in half a century has never reached the goal of creating a functioning country run by Haitians for Haitians. At a Capitol Hill hearing in July, he noted that only 3 percent of earthquake aid had gone to the Haitian government.

The low figure is understandable, since the government was weak to begin with and devastated by the quake. Dr. Farmer’s larger point is valid. Rebuilding Haiti requires building a functioning, responsive Haitian state. A hospital that teaches a new generation of Haitian doctors and nurses, meeting an aching need for medical care while spurring the home-grown economy, is a fine example of how to do that.

Commission members and supporters insist that by the standards of international bureaucracies, they are moving quickly and efficiently. Perhaps. But Haiti’s urgent and unmet needs are staggering.

The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies recently announced that it was distributing new plastic tarps to 80,000 families. They are replacing old tarps that have frayed in the last seven months while people have waited, fruitlessly, for homes.

A version of this editorial appeared in print on August 30, 2010, on page A18 of the New York edition.