Haiti economy shows signs of life after earthquake
Across Port-au-Prince, indicators of a renascent economy after the Haiti earthquake are unmistakable: bustling street markets, reopened clothing shops, and long lines at cellphone providers, remittance-receiving agencies, and banks.
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But he says there is also an economic problem. “People just don’t have any money,” he says. “How can you expect things to get moving again if people have nothing to spend?”Skip to next paragraph
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At the city’s only surviving Domino’s Pizza restaurant – there were three before the quake – owner Ronald Jaar says he figures he’ll have to depend on the thousands of doctors, relief workers, and other foreigners who have flooded into the city to keep afloat.
“Our economy was already bad, but this means unemployment will be much higher,”says Mr. Jaar, who also owned the two destroyed Domino’s – and had to let those employees go. “That’s 35 jobs lost,” he says.
Still, Jaar, a US-trained engineer, says he believes Haiti has the option to “turn this disaster into our chance. All the money that’s going to be pouring in,” he adds, “if it’s well managed, can create a lot of jobs and, maybe even more important, a lot of new entrepreneurs with a new way of thinking.’
This theme of “opportunity out of the rubble” is gaining ground with some Haitians, and among foreign officials and in international business circles as well.
This week the international business and economic elite were to discuss Haiti investment opportunities at Davos, Switzerland – with Haiti advocate Bill Clinton in attendance. One idea is to create investment zones and lower business-creation hurdles to give what had been Haiti’s nascent garment industry a second beginning.
Another idea is to focus economic-development efforts outside of a heavily-congested Port-au-Prince, so that at least some of the hundreds of thousands of the city’ residents who fled after the quake don’t feel the economic need to return.
“We have an opportunity now to re-imagine this country in a way that could have never been accomplished politically,” says economist Pharel.
Everyone agrees that Port-au-Prince was too crowded, he says, but those who have left will only stay where they are if the country’s regions have the same or better amenities – jobs, schools, an airport – as the capital.
Pharel says Haiti’s recent history of deep political divisions would suggest that a “unity of vision” won’t be easy. But he says the quake presents Haitians with an opportunity to benefit from the world’s focus and largesse – something that he says everyone knows won’t last forever. With an international donors’ conference for Haiti set for March in New York, he says Haitians have a little over a month to “come together and come up with a vision and a strategy” for their future.
“We have to treat this as something like our 9/11,” Pharel says. “This has to shock us into doing things very differently.”