Disaster in Haiti: Attention Turns to the Economy?

rebuilding haitiDominique Strauss-Kahn, the managing director of the International Monetary Fund, on Wednesday called for a multilateral aid plan for earthquake-devastated Haiti on the scale of the U.S. ?Marshall Plan? that rebuilt Europe after World War II.

?My belief is that Haiti — which has been incredibly hit by different things: the food and fuel prices crisis, then the hurricane, then the earthquake — needs something that is big,? he said. ?Not only a piecemeal approach, but something which is much bigger to deal with the reconstruction of the country — some kind of a Marshall Plan that we need now to implement for Haiti.?

Strauss-Kahn?s remarks came as rescue and recovery efforts continue in the rubble that Port-au-Prince has become following a 7.0-magnitude earthquake nine days ago. Meanwhile, senior officials at the fund?s Washington, D.C., headquarters said they were working to get cash circulating again in Haiti so that people can buy food and civil servants can get paid.

Haitian banks are expected to reopen shortly, but some money-transfer agencies are already functioning so that remittances sent by Haitians living abroad can get to desperate family members who survived the January 12 quake, Nicolas Eyzaguirre, director of the IMF’s western hemisphere department, said in a statement published on the IMF?s Web site.

?We need to urgently help Haiti to get its economy functioning again,? Eyzaguirre said.

He said the IMF had only very preliminary numbers on the extent of the damage caused by the quake, which has killed more than 200,000 people and injured a million more.

By way of comparison, the cost to the economy of devastating hurricanes in Haiti in 2008 was about 15 percent of gross domestic product, or $900 million. Damage from the earthquake would probably be more, although there was still a lot of uncertainty.

The IMF has already extended an interest-free $100 million emergency loan to Haiti, while senior European officials are now calling for Haitian debt relief. Haiti had received a $167 million loan from the IMF loan prior to the earthquake.

Haiti?s neighbors in the Caribbean have promised to move fast with measures to revive the country’s economy and infrastructure. On Monday, the Caribbean Community (Caricom) met in Santa Domingo, capital of the Dominican Republic, which shares the island of Hispaniola with Haiti, to plan how best to help. Haiti is a member of the regional group, which is working toward establishing a single market and economy.

No final decision was taken at the meeting on Monday, Caricom spokesman Leonard Robertson said in a telephone interview from Georgetown, Guyana, Caricom?s headquarters. In the meantime, the group has pledged a combined $5 million toward relief efforts.

?We have our personnel on the ground doing relief work there,? Robertson told The Network Journal. ?Our response has up to this point focused on health. But Jamaica, a member of Caricom, has a defense force there.?

Caricom designated Jamaica to co-ordinate all regional relief assistance. Haitian President Ren? Pr?val met with Jamaican Prime Minister Bruce Golding on Friday to discuss priority needs, including doctors, medicine, food and water.

Trinidad and Tobago, Barbados and Antigua have also agreed to deploy troops to Haiti to help maintain law and order. Jamaica, meanwhile, has offered its Reynolds Pier in Ocho Rios for all humanitarian vessels en route to and from Haiti to restock with potable water.