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Task of rebuilding Haiti expected to be ambitious, arduous

From Jessica Desvarieux, CNN
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Scenes from a disaster
  • Engineers, architects begin to map long-term strategy for Haiti reconstruction
  • Plan to resettle homeless earthquake victims has drawn mixed reactions
  • More than $1 billion in international aid has been pledged for Haiti

Port-au-Prince, Haiti (CNN) -- In a modest office in the neighborhood of Petionville, Haiti, engineers, architects, aid workers and government officials are working on the earthquake-ravaged country's future. They call it Haiti 2.0.

They gathered Friday to discuss logistics and planning of the reconstruction operation, which will likely to take years.

The first step is to reduce the population of the congested capital, said Leslie Voltaire, special envoy for the United Nation's Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) and head of the government's reconstruction commission.

Voltaire said the population of Port-au-Prince, which is about 3 million people, should ideally be reduced to 1.5 million to 2 million people in order to facilitate reconstruction.

The government has already proposed a plan to resettle about 400,000 homeless earthquake victims, which has drawn mixed reactions. Some Haitians have voiced objections to moving to a place that is unknown to them.

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  • Port-au-Prince

Voltaire said he is confident that Haitians will move to where there are economic opportunities.

"They will go because there will be jobs -- the watershed project, housing construction, reforestation, green jobs," he said.

The most vulnerable people -- amputees, orphans and pregnant women -- will be resettled first, said Charles Clemont, head of the temporary settlements for the reconstruction commission.

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When the resettlements will take place remains uncertain. In recent days, workmen have leveled out the ground for what is to be the first transitional camp at Croix des Bouquets, about 9 miles east of Port-au-Prince.

In addition, the Ministry of Finance is working out plans to buy property in downtown Port-au-Prince and convert part of it into a maritime park, Voltaire said. International aid money will not be used to buy land.

"This whole area will be bulldozed," Voltaire said unfolding a map of the city and pointing to a downtown area shaded red to show the most significant damage.

"Then we will assign a function to each area like a football field because people tend to respect stadiums and they won't invade it," he said.

More than $1 billion in international aid has been pledged for Haiti and major aid organizations like USAID and International Organization for Migration are putting more than their two cents into the reconstruction plans.

"We're here to help them," says Mark Merritt, project manager for USAID. "We don't want to build the Haiti of yesterday." Are you there?

But coordination between aid organizations and the reconstruction commission has often been difficult. Vitally needed information is unavailable or nonexistent, including proper zoning and maps.

"We need to be able to map the demand and track the response, but we can't," Clemont said.

A partner of one of the leading construction companies in Haiti, GDC, Julio Bateau came from Florida to volunteer his time to help with the effort as a structural engineer. He blamed the lack of leadership for slowing down the process.

"You need one person in charge to call the shots," Bateau said. "If we don't connect the dots, all hell is going to break loose because the rain is coming."

Voltaire said the first stage of the reconstruction will be cleaning up the debris of the thousands of collapsed buildings. The United Nations has proposed a "cash for debris" program, which will compensate citizens for collecting recyclable items like iron sheets and wood.

The preliminary plan must be finalized and approved by the Haitian Council of Ministers, which includes President Rene Preval. It is scheduled to go before the council the week of February 7.

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