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Haiti Rebuilding Spotlighted at CGI Amid Calls for More Help

By Susan Carey Dempsey on September 23, 2010No Comment
The Haitian National Palace (Presidential Pala...
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One of the elements in CGI 2010 that has elicited the greatest interest is the recovery effort in Haiti. The destruction resulting from the earthquake has been one of the most challenging, among numerous natural disasters that have occurred in recent years. President Clinton, who had been functioning as a special envoy for Haiti before last January’s earthquake, has co-chaired a philanthropic response with former president George W. Bush. As expected, Clinton took the opportunity at CGI to showcase some of the major elements of the response, which has proceeded at a frustratingly slow pace, and to call for additional support from the private sector.

Acknowledging the difficulty faced by the Haitian government in rebuilding roads, healthcare and education facilities, Clinton called on the private sector to do more while giving credit to several individuals, corporations, NGOs and government entities who have led the forward effort. He hailed the Dominican Republic’s President, Leonel Fernandez, for ending 200 years of estrangement with Haiti, with whom the DR has uneasily shared the island of Hispaniola. Just recently, the DR announced it would share its electric power grid with Haiti. A new 240 room hotel with conference facilities directly adjacent to Port au Prince airport is to be built by Argentine businessman Rolando Gonzalez-Bunster, whose Basic Energy Ltd. company is a major player in Dominican Republic’s power sector, and the WIN Group, run by the Mevs family, which operates the biggest private cargo shipping terminal and industrial park in Haiti.

A $20 million fund for small and medium size businesses has been established by Mexican businessman and philanthropist Carlos Slim. Royal Caribbean International cruiselines, which brings the majority of tourists to Haiti, has made a commitment to developing two hotels near Cap Haitien. Boeing has made a major contribution to education, while Macy’s has introduced a line of home decor from Haiti, and is selling handmade bracelets for $5 each, of which $4 will go to assist in Haiti.

Coca-Cola, Clinton said, has produced a new drink of mango-limeade to benefit Haitian mango farmers, who used to lose an extraordinary percent of mangoes thru inadequate packaging and road networks.  Clinton said Coca-Cola had immediately responded to the earthquake by providing water from their plant in the Dominican Republic, and when asked for more long-term solutions, Coca-Cola CEO Muhtar Kent offered to sell the mango drink and dedicate all the profits to help rebuld the capabilities of 25,000 mango-farming families.

Klaus Schwab, Founder and Executive Chairman of the World Economic Forum in Davos, recounted how the global business community was mobilized rapidly in response to the earthquake. Denis O’Brien, head of Haiti Action Network, and CEO of Digicel, a major telecommunications company in the Caribbean, has committed to restoring the Iron Market and other key commercial areas of Haiti. O’Brien provided an update on the CGI Haiti Action Network formed at the last conference, intending to get all donors to CGI who’d pledged to Haiti collaborating to fulfill their commitments in a team effort.

According to O’Brien, the Network has some 120 projects under way in Haiti, focused on education, energy, enterprise, health, sanitation, shelter, and preserving the Haitian culture. O’Brien said one of the important distinctions of CGI is that it builds accountability into the financial pledges that are made:

I have huge faith in the future of Haiti. I urge all foreign direct investors around the world to have a second look at Haiti and its potential; I hope you will get on board and join us.

Introducing Haitian President Rene Preval, President Clinton spoke favorably of his work, despite criticisms of the pace of rebuilding:

It’s easy to be critical in moment like this. Just remember that 17% of his workforce was killed in the blink of an eye. He would have been killed but he stopped to play with the young grandchild of a friend when he saw the child playing on the lawn outside the Presidential Palace so he was not in the Palace when it collapsed. Let that be a lesson to you  — never pass up the chance to play with a kid.

Clinton spoke of NGOs that work in Haiti, and the important work they could accomplish:

People should be trying to amplify the efforts of NGOs, I recognize most schools are private but should be part of common strategy, to get to 100% school enrollment in a way that didn’t cost poor people money, it would take care of 99%of the problem of children being put into indentured servitude.

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