It is well-known that Haiti is plagued by egregious poverty, lack of access to basic education, infrastructure, healthcare, and to a functioning judicial system. It also has a dire need for good governance. The 2010 devastating earthquake coupled with hurricane Thomas and the outbreak of the cholera epidemic added more pressure to an already overwhelmed and wholly inadequate socio-economic safety net. The question is how to best take on the challenge of transforming this impoverished country into a more vibrant economy and a desirable quality of life. The answer is complex as proven by the content of numerous national development plans that the Haitian government co-authored with organizations such as the Inter-American Development Bank, the World Bank, and the US Agency for International Development. Since the quake, more plans, articles and books have been added to this subject's long list.
Creating a comprehensive and practical national development plan is no easy task. Most of the plans address similar problems for there seems to be a general agreement about what ails the country. Two subjects, however, deserve more attention than given in any of these plans: (1) the need for creating distinctly regional development plans and concurrently establishing a related policy to empower regional governments, and (2) the need to seize the opportunity to "build better" by focusing on renewable energies.
Notwithstanding the facts mentioned in the introduction, Haiti has had in the past and continues to have many business success stories. To name a few current examples: the fish farm of 2.5 million fish capacity in Croix-des-Bouquets; the "Giant" food store in Petionville; and the Gama Consulting, Inc., an electronics company in Port-au-Prince. Haitians are very entrepreneurial and hard working. The business knowledge and skills exist and enterprises, despite many difficulties, do thrive. Most experts agree that business creation is one of the most powerful tools for fighting poverty.
Another important tool to fight poverty is the inclusion of rural regions when strategizing about national development. Indeed, Haiti is still top heavy in terms of concentrating most business opportunities and services in the capital, Port-au-Prince. This tendency is the main factor why, prior to the earthquake, an estimated three million Haitians lived in the capital, a city made for 600,000.
One way to stem this continuous population influx and help "decentralize" the capital is to establish a national policy of creating regional development plans. Such plans would have several advantages: they would meld national priorities with regional needs, assets, culture, challenges and strengths. They would be a perfect complement to a national plan because they would root development in a site-specific context, building upon regional advantages. It would also encourage competition among regions as to who would create better employment and business opportunities as well as provide a superior quality of life.
But to be successful, this initiative must be accompanied by a transformation of regional governments from simple executors of central government directives into mature partners with their own decision-making power and ability to create regional sources of revenues of which a pre-determined amount would remain in local coffers for regional initiatives. Empowering regional governments actually strengthens the central government as it increases the latter's ability and capacity to create viable economic hubs throughout the country, and thus attract urban dwellers ready to move where employment opportunities and a better quality of life exist. Many would prefer to live in their provincial places of origin if only they could feed their families, have access to basic services and live in decent dwellings.
The second area of needed attention is energy independence. Current dependence on Cuba and Venezuela for most oil imports is economically unsustainable. Haiti, which has abundant sunshine, powerful and, in some areas, constant winds, access to ocean wave power, and the presence of hot springs that could indicate geothermal possibilities is the perfect candidate for a bold renewable energy program. As the Digicel Company proved through its tremendously successful business model of providing cellular phone communication to the whole country, Haiti is ready and able to develop an equally successful and comprehensive renewable energy program. Large solar or wind power plants could provide electricity to major cities with easy access to a pre-existing grid, and smaller, self-contained energy production units could serve isolated communities with nonexistent energy distribution networks.
A recent urban master plan for the reconstruction of the downtown historical Port-au-Prince promotes another idea: "pods" that would be installed at the center of the internal courtyard of each downtown mixed use residential / commercial block. The pod would contain all the utilities such as water, sewage and power to serve that block and thus offer a practical and immediate solution to the prevailing lack of urban infrastructure. The power source in those pods can be easily converted from a diesel generator into a renewable energy source.
The combination of the Internet and globalization gave us unprecedented communication power without borders and opened windows onto a multitude of cultures and different ways of thinking. It ushered in the era of fusion - the mixing of heretofore separate tastes, trends and ways of approaching challenges - and created a culture of non-hierarchical collaborations in all aspects of our lives, from open source software to borderless teamwork, political activism, new food combinations, new music genre and exotic fashion. International development, the field of partnering and working with developing and emerging economy countries is no exception. These new 'fusion' tendencies are reflected in collaborations between corporations and nonprofits; in the rise of triple bottom line investment firms that mix social good with investment savvy, and in the military openly recognizing the power of community development as a tool for alleviating international conflicts. This dynamism and wealth of possibilities bodes well for countries like Haiti, if those in charge can open up, share power with regional governments and seize opportunities such as renewable energies to leapfrog into the 21st century.
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