Saturday, February 6, 2010

Recovery in Haiti

As a natural disaster recovery professional I am following the efforts in Haiti with interest. There is no doubt the the effort will take years and will from time to time be difficult. By difficult I mean it will call for decisions that will have impact on the entire society of Haiti or the at least those in the disaster zone.

The recent report in Time: Scientists: Why Haiti Should Move its Capital is one of those decisions. As scientists and outsiders providing assistance to the Haitians it is easy to make grand recommendations. However from my own personal experience, relocating disaster victims from their "normal" is a challenge. A challenge in which no amount of money, arm twisting or common sense will influence those that chose to resist the idea that somewhere else is better than rebuilding what was lost. There are a number of issues that must be taken into account as those leading the efforts attempt to influence the reconstruction effort:

There is a societal wide rush to return to normal with little thought on how to prevent future issues. Self recovery is already well underway and unless the national recovery effort catches up, the momentum of self recovery will surpass the inertia of government decision making and the potential for a rift in the efforts increases.

To offset the rush to self recovery, there will be a segment with victim paralysis. These folks will be unable to make decisions and even when pressed to contribute to their own recovery, will find even the simplest decision beyond their grasp.

Finally, I have found that without including the local population in the major recovery issues you will only create resentment. It is very easy to foresee the Haitian people getting fed up with outsiders telling them what is best for the country and society. The best solutions are those that come from the grass roots and are adopted by the local leadership.

While it might be wise to move the capital, without a locally lead buy in for the concept it will be beyond reasonable for most. Would we be happy if someone told us to move Washington DC or Ottawa or London because our ancestors screwed up?

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