World Bank: We Are in Haiti for the Long Haul

Today's announcement that we're waiving all payments from Haiti for the next 5 years while we continue to work to forgive its debt of US $38 million -- less than 4% of the country's external debt -- is only a small sliver of our much larger commitment to Haiti.

Since 2005, we have provided US $363 million in grants that have been used to further the country's reform agenda and improve its overall economic prospects. Additionally, in June of 2009 Haiti received US $1.2 billion in debt relief after reaching the completion point under the Enhanced Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC), which allows creditors, including multilateral institutions, to provide debt relief to the world's poorest and most heavily indebted countries.

Haiti was already showing encouraging signs of improvement when the earthquake struck. It had posted three successive years of economic growth since 2004 -- when the economy contracted by 3.5% -- and the government was making headway in improving governance and transparency, especially in the area of public financial management systems. In spite of the global financial crisis and the fall of remittances, Haiti's economy grew more than 2% last year.

The earthquake has put the brakes on all that, but at the Bank we look to redouble our support to Haiti and its people by building back better and putting the reins of development in the hands of the Haitian communities.

A team of World Bank experts is on the ground in Haiti, to assess how our current projects can be best redeployed to support recovery and to prepare for an emergency operation in response to the earthquake. Bank specialists will join a multilateral team -- including staff from the UN, the European Union and the Inter American Development Bank -- that will be working in Haiti for the next few weeks to conduct damage and reconstruction assessments in every major sector, including health, education, water, sanitation, electricity, and roads.

Going forward, we would like to put special emphasis on the capacity generated by community-driven development projects, where people at the local level decide their priorities. We have supported a number of such initiatives going on in Haiti at the moment that have proven to be particularly successful on the basis of community involvement. This will be critical in the reconstruction.

Just to give an example, by May 2009 our community-driven initiative had completed 549 projects, primarily for agricultural support and other infrastructure -- including grain mills, water pumps, and local roads -- as well as income-generating activities. It provided technical support to 4,032 community-based organizations in rural areas, benefiting around 763,000 people in poor rural areas (or 57 percent of the population of the rural communities covered by the program).

We also want to build back better, making housing and infrastructure more resilient to natural hazards, such as earthquakes and hurricanes. We want to work with the Haitian authorities to strengthen code enforcement and the institutions that supervise this, while continue building the government's capacity to ensure that this happens. In a joint effort with the Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery (GFDRR) we have recently produced a Reconstruction handbook that I'd like to share here with anyone interested.

In sum, we will be focusing on ongoing projects that work quickly, effectively, and with the people.

The recent tragic events in Haiti have proven the resilience and determination of the Haitian people -- who have not given up on their country or their future or even their hope to still find survivors in the wreckage of their battered capital. We want to join their determination to build a better future based on their own priorities and the help of the international community.