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Haiti- Reconstruction : Discovery

By Cenor Lundi*

Transmitted to AlterPresse on March 30, 2010

In the aftermath of the earthquake and its continuing devastation, crippling the heart and soul of the residents of Haiti and the millions of Haitian abroad, Haiti needs a “Master Plan” to reconstruction our country in order to reach the splendor all Haitians have always envisioned. With the events of January 12th 2010, things have become complicated with respect to health issues, mass migration, and anything related from surviving the crisis to a dysfunctional government. In addition, the great quake of February 27, 2010 in Chile teaches us all what it is to be as prepared as a nation for such tragic event.

Alain Peyrefitte, confident of General De Gaulle and Member of French Academic, former French Minister (7 times), wrote in 1973: “Quand la Chine s’eveillera… le monde tremblera”. It took time, but, nevertheless China is the economical story within the global economy of the 21st century. For us, the time is right now, it is our reality pulse, and it is our discovery.

Gain the trust of the people and get to work

Discovering our strength and weakness remains our advantage. As a result, we can prepare and achieve a better tomorrow. We have seen the courage and dignity when it comes to the mental state of the Haitian people. This is a testament to the energy and strength of human despair, the will and determination to survive. The good news is the people are ready to take guidance and directions. The international community is plugging the leadership vacuum created by the major shock suffered by the Haitian government. As time goes by, we are seeing signs of them taking back control of the country. Day after day, night after night, we have discovered us, we have seen us and we are completely dependent on people. We need to grow out of that third world routine and only when we achieve this we will discover what we are capable of doing. We have a lot of work ahead of us. However, the biggest task of the existing government is to gain the trust of the Haitian people and foreign counties in order to rebuild; because foreign solutions will not solve Haitian problems. We need rational persuasion at best from our leaders. Their task is a larger scale than Louis Borno’s time. We want them to succeed more than anything. The leadership of Haiti (present and future) will be rewarded by the Haitian people forever if they overcome the challenges of our generation.

Decentralization, reconstruction and reforestation are the norms of any real development for our land. From an engineering point of view, we need feasibility studies to determine what level of recycling we should apply to places like the Port-au-Prince metropolitan areas and other localities affected by the seismic event. We hope the proper planning is done with respect to the demolition aspects of the Reconstruction and it is an important subject. We expect many decisions to be made concerning locations, with respect to misguided positioning of certain structures and landmarks, now it is the time to make the right call and save those lands to beautify our cities.

Many elements, which have previously been foreign to our country and its urban settings, must become priority. The most crucial factor in creating a modern and functional Haiti is implementing a sewage system. We have to work below the surface and create a real sewage system suitable for what our urbanism calls for. With that said, there can be no reconstruction without a waste/water treatment plant(s). There are so much benefits, in terms of health and economic, attached to such a project; we need to modify our way of living. Furthermore, we must also take this opportunity to become more inventive.

Design should start as we are doing demolition, we need to save precious time because time is against us. Reconstruction should begin as we continue with demolition and design, meaning these three actions shall coexist because construction is engineering in actions, simple as it is. Our suggestion: we continue to design projects for the future even that our capability is limited. Reconstruction will also include the large task to bring up to code the buildings and houses that have survived the quake.

Adopting building codes from Canada and US are a step in the right direction. However, we need to work in developing our own building code (or for the Caraibes) based on what we will be doing during the next 10 years. We will not be satisfied on reading a foreign specification that may or may not be suitable for our country, our land and our environment. We need to be quick learners. In addition, our engineers must be knowledgeable if not experts in certain fields of study and must do some graduate work in earthquake engineering at Berkeley, ceramic engineering at Rutgers University, materials engineering at MIT or civil/structure engineering at Lehigh and of course other universities as well. Yes, we need to plant seeds for future generations. We need to be fully invested in education and encourage those men and women to return home and “pay it forward.” We should develop our own fine universities and institutions in all 10 departments and make education affordable for all of those who want to be educated. We will not go that far with 1% or 2% of the national budget for education, no, not right now. Believe it or not this is a big part of rebuilding our land the right way.

Take concrete steps

We need to know how to create our territorial network. Educate our workforce inside or outside, use local materials or provide conditions to generate local materials. We need “Ciment d’Haiti” and “Acierie d’Haiti” back in business for good. Our economists should lead us toward those ventures. It is important to be competitive producer of cement and steel in comparison to the regional market. It is imperative that we stop importing those necessary components of construction if we do not have to. Remember this is how many nations discover the secrets of the underground: by curiosity of their own territory. If we do not invest in discovery the natural elements of our own land, someone will make such an investment and that someone will probably exploit it and claim ownership over it; why? Because they he has done this before and he is knowledgeable of the true value. As a result, you are left with no recourse except the empty complaints to a world that will not be listening.

Do not spend $200,000,000.00 to build a single hydropower plant of 30 megawatt. If this plaint will serve some 600,000 people, then we will need 30 megawatt, however, for the nation, we will need 500 megawatts just to start. Remember hydro plants are 60% reliable, but very economical. Our plan should include sending a group of 100 men and women overseas to China or/and India to study the process for a few years and become experts. They will comeback with the knowledge of 3 to 5 Chinese or Indian companies and would be capable to coherently bid on a single power plant. They will assist the bid winner during construction and our engineers and technicians will continue the tasks of constructing other power plants. With proper planning, construction of power plants should cost no more than $1,500.00 per kilowatt. We should use this model for other projects and must be a model to build the the backbone of future generations.

We heard a lot of rumors about oil exploration, big development projects for “La gonave” and so on.. These dreams are great and may God help us see such accomplishments. However, we need to work with what we have right now and what is available to us. Agricultural projects and Tourism should always be the main course of our menu of choices. Cap- Haitian, Jacmel and Port-Salut are ready for tourism; let us make the best out of them. We have learned that the department of Agriculture will soon begin a project in the new department of Nippes. They are accustomed to farming and Petite Riviere was part of the Canadian DRIPP project in the 70’s. Farming and Tourism are indices of development for Haiti.

Negotiate good bilateral agreements

Providing real solutions to specific problems should be a priority. For example we want goods to flow from Grand-Anse to the West side of the country. Why should we build a road from Grand-Anse to South? Why not from Jeremie- Pestel- Miragoane? To us, it is the most logical solution, a straight line solution. It will cost more by using Canada, US or European firms and certainly will cost less if we partner with Indian, Mexican companies ect… While one mile of road cost $1,000,000.00 in Canada or US, in Haiti and Dominican Republic the cost for the same distance will be almost double. Do not be surprised, with a little more money or the same amount both roads: Jeremie- Pestel- Cayes and Jeremie- Pestel- Miragoane are within reached by using alternative foreign companies like India, Mexico etc. We need to negotiate real bilateral agreements. Consequently, we will start fresh and with caution we will not mortgage the future of our grandchildren because of some debts we contract today. Therefore, a transition needs to be happening.

We should pinpoint all the projects with a budget cost attached to them as well as a priority chart. We will like to know that the money is available to execute that many projects this year or next year and so on. We would like to invite General Contractors to bid. This is the ideal practice for construction. It is not fair that we are being called the poorest country in the western hemisphere and other countries above us are trying to take advantage of our situation. This is the time for us to have the right amount of energy and the many airports dictated by our economy in order to give Haiti some wings. This country have given birth to a multitude of bright individuals, many of them continue to shine in foreign soils. We can definitely work side by side with any engineer of this planet and rebuild our country. We want to be part of the whole; an essential part of the decision making. We do not want our sole involvement to be the job of loading and unloading the trucks. We want work for our technicians, drivers, all type of engineers and most importantly we would like internships for our students. We want Haitian firms from inside and outside Haiti to seek positions as Consultants and Construction Managers for all type of project as long as they are qualified. As a result, we will not be left with structures and are unknowledgeable of how to run, modify, reproduce and maintain them efficiently.

It is acceptable to call foreign firms for building waste/water treatment plants, electric plants, industrial projects, heavy mechanical projects and other projects non common in third world countries. The Passaic Valley treatment plant in Newark, New Jersey is a great model of a waste water treatment plant. When it comes to residential projects, government buildings, airports, road construction, even some bridges etc… we should seek to be either General Contractors or Construction Managers. We will be humble enough to know when we need foreign assistance. Our Construction Managers will make sure that Haitians will work toward Haiti’s Development and we will learn the whole concept of developing a country.

Be confident, Haiti shall rise

We need to build the trust in our professionals so that future generations can operate in a better atmosphere; in the atmosphere where they will be judged by results, not by the wrongs of past generations. We should stop being prejudice but we are not going to close our eyes to our problems. We want to build in the good of the people for a better society. We have to start being optimist and that is the only available option to us right now. We need to stop our dependence on foreigners, it is time to showcase some maturity, as we are not that young as a country (nation).

It would be nice to know what initiatives we were taking to create a disaster task force of 500 men and women. This division should be trained in places like Turkey, Chile, Mexico, US (California) etc. Keep in mind, the type of January 12th earthquake (magnitude 7.0) happened once a month in average somewhere around the world. These highly trained individuals will belong to the world and as a country we should be able to help when they knock at our doors and we should appreciate the privilege to pay it forward. Now we know what we can expect from Mother Nature: frequent hurricanes and sometimes a major earthquake. There are always hurricanes in Florida, Bahamas, Cuba etc, which caused billions in damages every year. Obviously, those places never close for business and they have risen from those calamities. There are always earthquakes in California, Turkey, Japan, in Chile etc. Today San Francisco, Istanbul, Kobe shine because they quickly recuperated from monster quakes. And we can assure you Chile will rise from the debris and so should we.

The country needs several airports with 7000 feet of runways or more. Many existing small airports can easily be converted to accommodate larger planes just like we witnessed in Jacmel and sometimes mid-size UN planes landed at the Jeremie airport. Frankly, we do not need large amounts of money to expand runways and to erect control towers. We should not go for sophisticated buildings; we can operate basic and average airports as our economy allows us to do. This why a new census must take place to assure that the new wealth of the country will be distributed appropriately.

This is the time, more than ever, that we need to coordinate all our resources. We have the moral obligation to fuse the resources of the Diaspora to the ones of the mainland. The question of dual citizenship should be solved without delays giving all Haitians the rights to contribute and participate in all aspects of life of their country. We agree with the Economist, Leslie Pean, the Haitian Diaspora is a strong support for the country’s economic development. When we all stand together we get results. We will not feel intimidated by the presence of higher powers in our soil because we are up to the task. The leadership should wake up and elevate them to the task as well. It is a new reign for Haiti. We get to put ourselves in a position to redefine our place in this planet, in this new century. We appreciate everyone’s help but our destiny is in our hands. The international community is not going to stay with us forever and unfortunately there will be other catastrophes some other place in the world and they will be forced to leave us to serve those at that time more deserving of their aide.

In January 12th 2010, the country discovers itself weak, denuded, helpless. Leadership collapsed to say the least. As conditions deteriorated, people migrated from the affected areas to Jeremie, Cayes, Cap-Haitian, Port-de-Paix, Saint-Marc, and Aquin; as far into the inland part of the country as Hinche, L’Asile, and Camp-Perrin etc. They are welcomed as if it were their own home. It is evident, our towns are ready for decentralization. Real actions toward development can only boost our image. We shall develop our land to the point of attracting a strong percentage of the Haitian workforce in Dominican Republic. Indeed, they should be able to come back home to work and live free in the land that our grandfathers have died to retain. This is their heritage as well.
Let us be ready to catch the train of exploration for our own discovery.

*Eng. Cénor Lundi, MS
Columbia University, USA