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Haiti to unveil $3.9 billion reconstruction plan

Haitian President René Préval on Wednesday will unveil a $3.9 billion plan to begin to radically reshape Haiti's post-earthquake economy and physical infrastructure, including hundreds of millions of dollars to erect disaster resistant buildings and redesign the country's transportation system, according to a Haitian reconstruction action plan (pdf) made public today.

The plan, which Preval will present to donors at a U.N. conference in New York, would essentially redirect much of the country's economic development outside Port-au-Prince, and create new provisional economic hubs to compete with the capital. It provides the first detailed account of how Haiti and its international backers plan to spend the money over the next 18 months.

The March 31 reconstruction conference will be hosted by the U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and include senior representatives from Brazil, France, Spain, Canada, and the European Union. The event, which will also include an appearance by the former U.S. President Bill Clinton, who is serving as the U.N.'s Haiti reconstruction czar, is designed to mobilize massive international funds for the island country after the immediate earthquake recovery phase is completed.

"Rebuilding Haiti does not mean returning to the situation that prevailed before the earthquake," according to Preval's 56 page action plan. "It means addressing all these areas of vulnerability, so that the vagaries of nature or natural disasters never again inflict such suffering or cause so much damage and loss."

Haiti's reconstruction action plan marks the first phase of highly ambitious reconstruction effort that could more than $11 billion on Haiti over the next decade. It calls for refurbishing the airport and main port, building a new airport and two new seaports, and laying 600 kilometers of road throughout the country to promote trade, tourism, and access to health-care centers.

The Haitian proposal is based on the findings of post-disaster needs assessment study that was carried out by Haitian and international reconstruction specialists. It calls for the establishment a multiple-donor fiduciary fund that would help oversee international reconstruction funds, and a temporary committee for rebuilding Haiti, later to be folded into the Agency for Development in Haiti, which would give the Haitian government a role in determining reconstruction priorities.

"The situation that the country is facing is difficult but not desperate," the action plan states. "In many ways it is an opportunity to unite Haitians of all classes and origins in a shared project to rebuild the country on new foundations."

On Jan. 12, Haiti endured its worst natural catastrophe in 200 years, a 7.0 magnitude earthquake that killed more than 300,000 people, destroyed 105,000 homes, 50 hospitals and health centers, 1,300 school and university buildings and wiped out the presidential palace, parliament, and most other government buildings in the capital.

The overall cost of the damage and losses to economic productivity amounted to more than $8 billion, according to the plan. More than 1.3 million people have been displaced by the earthquake and are living in hundreds of spontaneously built settlements and camps.

"That is our challenge in New York -- not to rebuild but to ‘build back better,' to create a new Haiti," Ban wrote Monday in a Washington Post opinion piece. "Under the plan, an Interim Haiti Reconstruction Commission would channel nearly $4 billion into specific projects and programs during the next 18 months. Over the next 10 years, reconstruction needs will total an estimated $11.5 billion."

Ban is expected to announce Wednesday that he will instruct Edmond Mulet, who is serving as his temporary envoy in Haiti, to head the U.N. mission and help support the reconstruction effort over the next year. Mulet told reporters at a press briefing in New York that the Haiti government would have to play a central role in leading the relief and reconstruction effort in Haiti.

Mulet acknowledged that the government's capacity to oversee such a massive rebuilding effort was limited, noting that about a quarter of the country's civil servants were killed in the earthquake. But he said that if the international community did not focus more attention on supporting Haiti's capacity to govern itself, the U.N. may be required to keep peacekeepers in the country "for the next 200 years."

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