In the wake of the devastating January 12, 2010, earthquake, after the emergency life-saving work was done, the government of Haiti and international donors focused on the need for long-term recovery and development planning. They established the Interim Haiti Recovery Commission (IHRC) to do just such planning. The commission does not just represent the Haitian government and international partners, but also includes voting members from Haiti's labor community, business community, local governments, and even the judiciary and non-voting members from local and international non-governmental organizations.
With all the pressure to enact a lightning-fast recovery and reconstruction of Haiti, the commission could easily have focused on speed at the expense of doing things right, doing the hard work of planning a recovery that will build Haiti back better than it was before.
I joined the Office of the Haiti Special Coordinator in September 2010 precisely because it represented a chance to learn about a new, highly-coordinated, and sustainable way of providing assistance, and I wanted to do my part to make that happen. My job in this office is to work on the Department of State's role in the IHRC, so I've had the chance to see this new approach to post-disaster assistance firsthand.
On December 14, I joined Haiti Special Coordinator Tom Adams and the Secretary of State's Counselor Cheryl Mills as they participated in the board of directors meeting for Haiti's recovery commission. At that December 14 board of directors meeting, the staff of the recovery commission made three excellent presentations to the board members, to address the ongoing issues of housing, health, and the removal of debris. The IHRC staff explained their top recommendations for how to solve the most complex problems -- and submitted a refined and very specific set of options for the recovery commission to vote on.
On housing, for example, the IHRC coordinators explained that a Western-style legalistic approach to land reform in Haiti simply does not fit the current situation on the ground. Instead, the IHRC has brought the government, local communities, and donors together to do community-based land tenure research -- sorting out who owns what in the earthquake-affected area using a creative, collaborative, and cost-effective community approach. The recovery commission experts proposed using an approach that provides land owners with the funds they need to rebuild, but under the condition that they provide a fair rental rate to their former tenants, who lost everything in the earthquake. As a student of international relations, I have closely followed reconstruction efforts everywhere from Cambodia to Bosnia. In 2003, I had the opportunity to work for the World Bank-managed trust fund for the postwar reconstruction of Timor-Leste (East Timor).
Seven years later, and half a world away, the IHRC board of directors' inclusivity and its coordinated approach to reconstruction efforts set a new standard for post-disaster collaboration among governments, NGOs, the private sector and donors. In past examples, civil society members may have had representation, but in Haiti, they have much more than that -- they have voices and votes. In the board meetings, especially the December 14 meeting that I attended, Haitian board members and representatives from the Caribbean were by far the most active and vocal and provided the most accurate and invaluable assessment of what was feasible in Haiti, and what simply wasn't. I am honored to participate in the U.S. government effort to support the recovery commission, and to make a contribution to Haiti's reconstruction.