New Focus at Davos: Rethink, Redesign, Rebuild in Haiti

By Lesley-Anne Knight Secretary General, Caritas Internationalis

The theme of this year's World Economic Forum annual meeting at Davos is "Rethink, Redesign and Rebuild". When the theme was chosen many months ago, it was intended to refer to the changes that need to take place in order to meet the long-term global challenges of the future, but in the wake of the Haiti earthquake it has now taken on a new relevance.

Rethinking, redesigning and rebuilding are very much the priorities for Haiti. There is a clear consensus that as Haiti is rebuilt it must be rebuilt better and stronger and should never again be placed in a position of such vulnerability.

The programme at Davos has been hastily revised to accommodate a series of new sessions focused on Haiti and how governments, NGOs and the private sector can cooperate in meeting the short-term and long-term needs of the country.

On Wednesday afternoon I joined other NGO leaders and UN representatives at a press briefing to report on latest developments and urgent requirements for the relief operations. This was followed by an open session during which this information was shared with members of the business community keen to contribute.

Today a special session has been scheduled in the main congress hall to launch a global partnership to assist Haiti's economic development. Taking part will be former US president Bill Clinton, who is the UN's special envoy to Haiti; Helen Clark, administrator of the UN Development Programme and Denis O'Brien, chairman of the Digicel Group, operator of Haiti's cell phone network.

Earlier in the day, a session on Rethinking Humanitarian Assistance will focus on how the lessons learned from previous major disasters such as the 2004 tsunami and the 2005 Pakistan earthquake can be applied in Haiti.

Listening to the reports of colleagues in the humanitarian community I have been struck by a number of comments. Firstly, the dignity and sheer determination of the Haitian people and the humanitarian workers already present in Haiti when the earthquake struck. Just about every organization working in Haiti lost staff members in the disaster and the survivors have all lost friends or family. There were numerous reports of people who had buried members of their family and then turned up for work to help with the relief operation. Josette Sheeran executive director of the UN World Food Programme (WFP) in Rome spoke of Haiti's "humanitarian heroes".

Secondly, there was general agreement that the Haitian people and their government must play a central role in the relief operations and in the long-term process of planning and implementing reconstruction work. Respect for the principle of subsidiarity will be key to the long term success of all our efforts.

The UN team at Davos stressed the priority needs at this stage. Josette Sheeran described the earthquake as the biggest urban disaster in the WFP's history and the most complex. Relief efforts had been hampered because the WFP's warehouses and staging areas had been destroyed. The WFP needed urgent supplies of prepared foods, she said.

Catherine Bragg of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said the top priority after food and water was shelter and that there was an urgent need for 200,000 family sized tents.

Ann Veneman of UNICEF highlighted the plight of Haiti's children, thousands of whom were already suffering from dire poverty before the earthquake and were now faced with hunger, the threat of disease, and lack of schooling. Many had lost their parents in the disaster or been separated from them.

Above all, cash is now required for Haiti, to kick-start the economy and restore dignity to the survivors of the earthquake who need and want to work in the reconstruction of their homes, their neighbourhoods and communities. Cash for work schemes are a priority.

As we in Caritas well know, coordination of our efforts together with all international actors including the UN, and with the Haitian government, is key to a successful relief, rehabilitation and reconstruction programme for Haiti. There is no room for national point scoring and no room for NGO rivalries. This is a unique opportunity for the international community to demonstrate that the values of love, solidarity and justice, our concern for the common good and the dignity of all human life, are our prime objective in the rebuilding of Haiti.

Read a World Economic Forum report on values for the Post Crisis Economy, which includes Lesley-Anne Knight as a contributor (page 33).