Crises and opportunities: Setting Haiti on a more prosperous and resilient path


There’s a famous Haitian proverb, Se lè ou nan bezwen, ou konn ki moun ki zanmi ou, that means a true friend will always be ready to support you in the most difficult times. While it’s true Haitians have suffered terrible misfortunes in recent years, and enormous challenges remain, there are many good reasons for hope – and I’m grateful for the recent opportunity to travel to Haiti and pledge our continued support to the country’s resilient recovery.

This was the message I carried during my recent visit, my first since becoming the World Bank’s Vice President for Latin America and the Caribbean. Over the course of my trip, I was struck by how much can be achieved even in the most daunting circumstances.

The 2021 earthquake is a case in point. Haiti was struck by a massive earthquake, with a huge humanitarian and economic toll. Since then, the World Bank has been working hard with the Government of Haiti in three key areas to ensure a prompt and targeted response. First, in gathering intelligence. Within two weeks, by leveraging remote imaging and techniques, we identified, analyzed, and prepared a Global Rapid Damage Estimation Report highlighting the main recovery needs. In addition, and together with the United Nations and European Union, we produced a Post Disaster Needs Assessments that estimated the earthquake caused approximately $2 billion in damage and losses, or rather 11 percent of Haiti’s 2019-2020 GDP.

Second, we helped Haiti mobilize the necessary resources for action. We leveraged an additional $200m for the earthquake response and are working with donors and partners to provide a total of $2bn over the next three years. This contribution to the recovery effort puts us on track to provide record funding to Haiti this fiscal year, close to $500m in total, far more than originally allocated.

Third, we are now putting all of our energy into the implementation of the recovery effort. This includes ensuring that the necessary funding arrives as fast as possible, and to the right places. Together with the government, we are focusing our efforts in Haiti over the next year on this single, hugely important program.

We recognize past concerns – particularly with regard to the 2010 earthquake – that the international community can at times promise more than they deliver. We are firmly committed to make sure that, even under the current difficult circumstances, we find swift and pragmatic solutions to delivering assistance to those that most need it, including the most vulnerable and in the most remote areas.

The recovery of Haiti is regrettably challenged by two on-the-ground realities. First, the recovery is within the context of a deteriorating security situation. Even more than the uncertain political scenario, restoring security is of the utmost importance for the World Bank’s program in Haiti to be effective. On this agenda, strong collaboration among our development partners – including the United Nations, the United States, and Canada – would be needed. Second, the country continues to struggle with the socioeconomic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. Like in other Caribbean countries, unemployment, poverty, and inequality have risen in 2020 and 2021 as a result of lockdowns and containment measures. To help bring Haiti out of the pandemic’s shadow and to lessen the 60 percent of Haitians who are vaccine hesitant, there is ongoing efforts to raise its vaccination rate, the lowest in the region.

Despite these challenges, I remain hopeful about Haiti’s future. The resilience that Haitians have shown when confronted with chronic fragility and recurrent shocks has been truly inspiring. Haiti has a vibrant civil society, a dynamic youthful population and a prosperous diaspora that retains close links with its home country, as remittances continue to provide a key pillar of economic support. 

In fact, the response to the 2021 earthquake shows just how much Haiti has advanced in what has nevertheless been a turbulent decade since the catastrophic earthquake of 2010.

I was particularly heartened to see and learn about the new temporary bridge outside Jeremie that is being built in record time next to the one that was damaged in last year’s earthquake. Clearly, much has been learned from previous experiences about how best to confront the aftermath of natural disasters. 

Investments in strengthening disaster risk management and civil protection have had an impact, not least when considering that the disaster struck in profoundly complex political circumstances, scarcely one month after the tragic assassination of President Jovenel Moïse.

This can be added a host of other improvements in recent years: in the management of health-related shocks; in education; in infrastructure, including roads, water, and renewable energy; and in local governance, especially in the area of public finance.

Together, we have a long road ahead. We must continue working to address recent and long-standing challenges to eliminate poverty and drive prosperity in Haiti.

Even so, out of every crisis comes opportunity. There is every reason to believe that the situation today could be an inflection point. Taken together, Haitians’ resilience as well as progress in the areas mentioned and in other spheres – including how the international community can contribute to Haiti’s development – can make an invaluable contribution to setting the country on a new, more prosperous path.

First published in the Miami Herald, via World Bank


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