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Five smart ways to rebuild Haiti

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1. Encourage real and meaningful decentralization. Close to 1 million Haitians have already fled Port-au-Prince for towns and villages from which they originally migrated since the 1960s. But if conditions in the countryside are not improved, and quickly, these people will drift back to Port-au-Prince and rebuild as before. 

The Haitian government’s proposal to provide real opportunities in 200 towns and villages equipped with “welcome centers” merits support. These centers will issue short-term relief, and bundle health, education, job-creation, and investment services to help the rural economy take off. 

2. Support the Haitian government’s efforts to establish a national civic service corps. Building on the symbolism of the magnitude-7.0 earthquake, a 700,000-strong civic service corps could harness underutilized labor in urban and rural settings. Youth can rebuild Haiti’s infrastructure. They could also support badly needed environmental rehabilitation and serve as rapid-response units for future calamities. 

This is not a new idea. Provisions for civic service exist in the Haitian Constitution and local authorities have been discussing the idea since at least 2007. The idea parallels the creation of such US New Deal programs as the Works Progress Administration and the Civilian Conservation Corps. It is also analogous in some ways to volunteer youth schemes in at least a dozen other Latin American and Caribbean countries. 

3. Support the reconstitution of Haitian state institutions through accompaniment, cooperation, and partnership. Rather than replacing or bypassing public entities, donors must focus on reinforcing them as a real and visible force in the lives of Haitian citizens. Civil servants will need to be recruited and trained, and physical facilities must be literally rebuilt from the ashes.

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