The Road to Recovery

Article excerpt

Byline: Joshua Kurlantzick

How Haiti can learn from Indonesia.

As rescue workers frantically try to save Haiti's injured, comfort its newly orphaned children, and prevent full-scale riots over supplies of food and water, few have had time to ponder the country's long-term reconstruction. Yet it is during the very early days of relief efforts that the foundations for a successful--or disastrous--long-term recovery are laid. Fortunately, there is a recent example of reconstruction success to build upon. In December 2004 I was in southern Thailand when the tsunami hit, devastating not only Thailand but also Sri Lanka, India, and Indonesia. With bodies piling up on beaches and shellshocked survivors searching for relatives, it seemed hard to imagine a return to anything like normalcy. Yet within a year, most of southern Thailand looked as though nothing had happened, and five years after the tsunami, even Aceh, the place hit hardest, had rebuilt its infrastructure, integrated local people in the reconstruction, and ended a decades-old civil conflict that had killed at least 15,000 people.

There are lessons here for Haiti. First, the tsunami rebuilding demonstrated the importance of getting survivors involved immediately in their own recovery. Many organizations operating in Aceh tasked survivors to handle home building, basic medical care, and other jobs. This kind of strong leadership on the ground in Aceh (and by the government in Jakarta) allowed the reconstruction to be seen as an Indonesian process, and although people in Aceh might not have been thrilled by every element of the rebuilding, they did not see it as an alien process imposed upon them by outsiders. A similar process will have to occur in Haiti. Before the earthquake, there was a large coterie of NGOs there, with many of them led by Haitian senior staff. Despite pleas by some Haitians for the U.S. to save their nation, in the long run these Haitian aid professionals will have to take charge.

Equally important is that the international community moves swiftly to ensure that speculators don't move in and buy up land, as they did in some of the hardest-hit parts of Thailand after the tsunami. Like most developing nations, Thailand had a weak system of formal land title, which left survivors vulnerable to pressure from developers seeking to buy up coastal property. …