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Lessons from Aceh Inform Haiti Recovery Plan

February 3, 2010

  • Bank staff involved in Indonesia’s tsunami recovery say government-led plan, community-based reconstruction are critical in natural disaster response
  • Bank approves US$65 million grant for infrastructure reconstruction in Haiti
  • Preliminary assessment sets Haiti earthquake damage at US$7.8 billion

February 3, 2010 —Like the devastating Indian Ocean tsunami of 2004, Haiti’s January 12 earthquake claimed more than 200,000 lives and wreaked billions of dollars in damage. As Haiti prepares to rebuild, experts including World Bank specialists say the lessons learned from tsunami-damaged Aceh, Indonesia, may help Haiti recover.

 “Our experience from the tsunami in Aceh and from the work that we’ve done so far in Haiti shows us that involving the communities, with strong leadership from the government, has proven to be more cost-efficient and efficient in the long-term,” says Doekle Geert Wielinga, a World Bank disaster management expert and a member of the multi-agency Post Disaster Needs Assessment (PDNA) team for Haiti.

A just-completed preliminary assessment released March 18 puts Haiti’s damages and losses at $7.8 billion – equal to about 120 percent of its annual GDP.

With hurricane season around the corner, temporary shelter and land for people are priorities, along with restoring jobs, public services and economic activity, says the PDNA report.

The situation was similar in Aceh, which yielded three major lessons for Haiti, according to Country Director for Indonesia, Joachim von Amsberg: 1) local and national leadership count, 2) empowering people and communities is key to success, and 3) coordinating global aid is critical.

World Bank experts who have responded to eight large natural disasters in the last 12 years offer additional insight into strategies that might work in Haiti.

Their advice:

  • Move quickly to develop a government-led plan for recovery and reconstruction that is also flexible enough to adjust to changes on the ground. Keep things simple.
  • Don’t give organizations responsibilities that they cannot handle.
  • Think about sequencing reconstruction from the beginning.
  • Restore livelihoods, education, economic activity, and a sense of normalcy as soon as possible.
  • Be as transparent as possible and invest in communicating information to local stakeholders.
  • Closely monitor reconstruction funding and activities.

Speed Is Important 

Just days after the tsunami hit Aceh, World Bank Development Specialist Scott Guggenheim found people eager to start rebuilding their communities. A grass-roots reconstruction effort spread from village to village and helped restore normal lives, he says.

 “In conflict and disasters, one of the best ways to get started with rebuilding is to get communities involved in reconstruction first of all, because we need their help to rebuild—but also because they’re disoriented, shocked and traumatized,” says Guggenheim.

Community-based reconstruction—as opposed to using contractors to rebuild disaster-stricken areas—is one of several approaches World Bank disaster experts say may work in Haiti as it faces the daunting task of recovering from the earthquake.

When Aceh’s government was decimated after the tsunami, a group of World Bank specialists including Guggenheim, Aniruddha Dasgupta, Jehan Arulpragasam, Joel Hellman, Susan Wong, and Wolfgang Fengler worked with the Bank’s full country team and regional management to develop a strategy that could move reconstruction forward without large-scale government action at the outset.

The strategy valued speed over detailed planning. It asked villages to assess roughly what had been destroyed and identify their boundaries. Grants were provided to communities in phases, the first for basic needs, and subsequent grants for reconstruction. The program was up and running three months after the tsunami, says Guggenheim.

“Bank aid can be quick—and it was quick in Aceh—if you have local networks you can plug your systems into,” adds Wolfgang Fengler, a Bank economist who helped the government of Indonesia establish a new agency in 2004 to manage the reconstruction of Aceh.

That network was provided by a large, community-driven development program run by the government, which the Bank had supported since 1998. It was one of the few development programs operating in isolated Aceh prior to the tsunami.

Haiti has similar community-based programs financed by the World Bank: PRODEP in 59 rural municipalities, and PRODEPUR in urban areas, including six of the poorest and most severely affected disenfranchised neighborhoods near Port-au-Prince.

Bank staff in Haiti and Washington are working on an urgent action plan that is responding to the needs of the communities in the affected areas. Some 4,000 community-based organizations (CBOs) on the ground will play a key role in delivering supplies as well as in clean-up and reconstruction, says Ayat Soliman, the Bank’s lead on the two projects. More than 600 CBOs have already been inventoried and are poised to participate actively in the relief, recovery and reconstruction efforts.

“Speed in a post-disaster situation is as important as planning, and to some extent even as important as quality,” says Fengler.

“Don’t get hung up on detailed planning exercises. Help the government come up with a reconstruction strategy, but don’t make it too long an exercise or a detailed one. Make it a living document.”

In Aceh, adds Guggenheim, “I think that it mattered a lot that right from the beginning the Bank had a fairly substantial field office up and running. Opening an office and staffing it with core staff sent a really clear signal to the government that we were rolling up our sleeves and getting to work with them, not just sending in teams of fly-in, fly-out consultants. They said this to us over and over again.”

Restoring Livelihoods, Creating Jobs a High Priority 

Past experience also shows that restoring livelihoods and creating jobs for the victims of disaster is a high priority and has become “automatically part of an early recovery period,” says Fengler.

The importance of empowering local people and communities is one of the key lessons the World Bank has learned, according to Pamela Cox, the Bank’s Vice President for Latin America and the Caribbean.

“Victims can become development workers, aid recipients can turn into community facilitators, and displaced people can rebuild their own future,” Cox said at the January 25 Montreal Ministerial Conference on Haiti.

Cash grants, often referred to as cash transfers, can also help in the first months after a disaster, not only to help victims buy the things they need, but to regenerate economic activity and “help people return to some level of normalcy in the midst of all this chaos,” says Bank economist Tara Vishwanath.

Vishwanath designed cash transfer programs for Sri Lanka after the 2004 tsunami and for Pakistan after a 2005 earthquake that killed 73,000 people and left 2.8 million without shelter and more than a million without jobs as winter approached.

Coordination and Monitoring Are Critical 

With aid from multiple sources expected to flow into Haiti (including $100 million in grants from the World Bank, as well as another $200 million redirected from existing projects), it’s critical that recovery and reconstruction efforts be well-coordinated.

“Haiti needs the talents, resources and energy of all: bilaterals, multilaterals, NGOs, and the private sector, among others,” Cox said in Montreal. “To be effective, they must not waste the scarce resources of the government of Haiti and of local institutions.”

In Aceh, the Bank’s office and on-site presence became a “de facto multi-stakeholder coordination mechanism on some of the non-humanitarian development issues that would later matter a lot for the development part of reconstruction,” says Guggenheim.

The Bank team communicated a constant stream of real-time, field-based information to senior management that allowed them to make quick decisions on how to deal with problems on the ground in the beginning of the recovery effort, he adds.

Such close monitoring and communication are key to successful reconstruction, says Fengler. The effort requires on-the-ground tracking and skillful aggregation of data, he adds.

“If you have the thousands of projects that Haiti will have, you need to have somebody who tracks them and makes sense of them. Keeping track of them is not through an IT system, it’s through people who know how to deal with data. And that is very important, because as you go forward, the government and partners will take many big decisions, especially on where to allocate the money and how to channel it. You need some basis to make these big decisions, and credible data proved crucial in the case of Aceh.”

The world’s response to the 2004 tsunami resulted in billions in pledges, prompting the establishment of a special $7 billion trust fund for the damaged regions. The fund pooled contributions from 15 countries and organizations, increasing efficiency and saving affected governments transaction fees.

But the trust fund also served as a strong forum for policy dialogue, says Fengler.

“The Multi-Donor Fund had two major achievements. First, it pooled funds and thus reduced the transaction costs for government markedly. Second, it provided a high-level forum for the government and development partners to discuss policy issues and take stock of the overall reconstruction program on a monthly basis.”

In Haiti, “the government does not have the time to attend multiple meetings to allocate resources. One coherent information system would help them dramatically,” emphasizes Disaster Management Specialist Francis Ghesquiere, who is leading the post-disaster assessment mission in Port-au-Prince.

Update March 30, 2010: This story has been revised from an earlier version to include new information from the Post Disaster Needs Assessment released March 18, 2010