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Haiti: Bank Team Prepares for Damage Assessment, Recovery Plan

January 15, 2010

  • Initial Bank funds support emergency relief efforts--longer-term focus is on rebuilding infrastructure, economy.
  • Team taps expertise drawn from disaster risk operations.
  • Preliminary Bank estimates suggest cost of disaster will surpass losses caused by 2008 hurricanes, estimated at 15% of Haiti’s gross domestic product.

WASHINGTON DC, January 15, 2010 -A team of World Bank experts is starting to prepare for the arduous task of rebuilding Haiti’s economy and infrastructure in the wake of the recent earthquake.

Bank specialists will join a multilateral team—including staff from the UN and the InterAmerican Development Bank—that will go to Haiti in the next few weeks to conduct damage and reconstruction assessments in every major sector, including health, education, water, sanitation, electricity, and roads.

The group of specialists will likely arrive in Haiti shortly after the relief efforts are completed.

Heading the Bank team is natural disaster expert Francis Ghesquiere. Once on site, “the assessments are done as fast as possible so the recovery operation can start and relief can be provided to the population as fast as possible,” says Ghesquiere. “Hopefully, within a month there will be a full assessment of the situation.”

Such damage and reconstruction needs assessments are used by the government and donors to determine the amount of financial assistance needed and how it will be targeted.

“As we go about the reconstruction of Haiti, we will have to make sure the infrastructure that is rebuilt is resistant to earthquakes, but also to hurricanes and other hazards,” said Ghesquiere.

Lessons learned from past disasters will help guide the Bank’s work. Recent catastrophes around the world—such as the Indian Ocean tsunami of 2004 and subsequent earthquakes in Kashmir and China—have made the international community more aware of the need to “build back better,” according to the expert.

Damage to Haiti’s capital after the quake has been “catastrophic,” according to government officials and relief agencies. With its epicenter close to the surface, the 7.0-magnitude earthquake resulted in massive shaking that toppled every building taller than two or three stories.

In addition to the presidential palace and the United Nations headquarters, the earthquake toppled or seriously damaged many of the major buildings of Port-au-Prince, including the Parliament, the Cathedral, the Ministries of Economy and Finance and Public Works, the Tax Office, as well as a large number of schools and homes.

Casualty figures are still unknown, but the Haitian Red Cross in Port-au-Prince estimated the dead at 45,000 to 50,000, with as many as three million—one-third of Haiti’s population—impacted by the quake in one form or another.

Preliminary World Bank estimates suggest that the cost of the disaster will certainly surpass the losses caused by hurricanes in 2008, estimated at 15% of Haiti’s gross domestic product. The Bank has pledged $100 million in grant money to help with the reconstruction and recovery of the Caribbean nation. Haiti received $1.2 billion in debt relief from the World Bank in June 2009.

The reconstruction team will focus on schools “because it’s important to get kids back to schools, but in the case of earthquakes, housing and basic services are also a big problem,” said Ghesquiere, while noting that it is crucial to involve the locals in rebuilding efforts. “We will support the Haitians themselves to take charge of the reconstruction and get back on their feet.”

The World Bank-managed Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery currently finances a project in Haiti to strengthen the capacity of the Ministry of Planning to mainstream risk management activities in all sectors.

“This tragedy comes as a reminder that many developing countries are exposed to adverse natural events and that we need to integrate this dimension in all development programs,” said Ghesquiere.

Mobilizing Post-Disaster Help

The World Bank Group’s help for earthquake-stricken Haiti will draw on extensive experience with response-and-recovery efforts throughout the world, including recent disasters in Indonesia, China and Pakistan.

Since 1998, the Bank has taken a more strategic approach to disaster response, combining disaster preparedness with reconstruction, and developing a cadre of specially trained staff. It also amended its emergency lending policy to allow funds to be used for relief or humanitarian aid under certain circumstances.

Because economic losses due to natural disasters are 20 times greater (as a percentage of gross domestic product) in developing countries than in developed ones, Bank assistance to developing countries recovering from such events is critical.

Examples of recent disaster assistance packages include the following:

China: Losses from the Wenchuan earthquake in 2008 were assessed at $120 billion. The Bank provided a $710 million emergency loan to reconstruct infrastructure such as roads, bridges, water supply, wastewater and solid waste, health facilities and education facilities.

Pakistan: Pakistan needed an estimated $5.2 billion to recover from a 2005 earthquake. The Bank responded with a package that included “livelihood support” in the form of cash payments, $448 million for reconstruction, and training for 100,000 people in earthquake-resistant building techniques.

Indonesia: A December 2004 tsunami caused nearly $3 billion in damage to Indonesia. A Multi-Donor Fund for Reconstruction of Aceh and Nias, set up by the World Bank, quickly raised $650 million in grants from 15 donors, including a $25 million World Bank grant.