Population and Environment Influence Infrastructure Investment in Haiti
The Earth Institute’s Haiti Research and Policy Program at the Center on Globalization and Sustainable Development launched the fall 2013 Haiti Dialogue Series by welcoming the first guest speaker—Frantz Verella—the former minister of public works, transportation and communication of the government of Haiti. The fall 2013 series of public discussions hosted by the Haiti Research and Policy Program focused on the multi-dimensional aspects of implementing Haiti’s National Strategic Development Plan after the 2010 earthquake. Verella shared his perspective on his many years in Haiti as an academic and a key policy maker and one of the authors of the development plan.
Verella discussed many factors that influence how the government of Haiti plans infrastructure investment in Haiti. Specifically, students, faculty and Veralla discussed the numerous conditions Haiti faces that complicate the nation’s rapid population growth in the past half century and growing number of environmental risks, including the challenges posed after the 2010 earthquake. The questions on infrastructure development have challenged Haitian academics and policy makers faced with implementing Haiti’s National Strategic Development Plan (Plan Stratégique de Developpement d’Haiti).
Verella is one of the lead authors of the plan, having managed a team of policy makers, planners, and researchers to formulate the four pillars—economic, social, territorial, and institutional—of core development strategy for Haiti. In the plan document, the team identified and organized 3,017 priority development projects needed across the country within the four pillars, each of which needed more accurate data for better design and articulation among them.
Verella launched the conversation with students and researchers by identifying key inhibitors of sustainable development and smart infrastructure investment: environmental challenges, socio-demographic challenges, regional and urban planning inadequacies, and weak governance.
Within this framework, Verella illustrated the complexities of these challenges through a sequence of inter-related examples. He started by showing the impacts of deforestation, driven by charcoal consumption, on hillside agriculture and watershed-scale erosion.
He made a link between deforestation and the increased risk of flooding. He noted that environmental degradation is a major challenge to infrastructure investment, arguing that the lack of economic opportunities and energy solutions were driving environmental deterioration. The flooding and erosion are also connected to deteriorating and shrinking agricultural breadbaskets of the river flood plains.
The third pillar of his analysis focused on the pressures from rural settings, combined with rapid population growth, that inhibit sustainable urban growth. To illustrate this point, Verella showed aerial and satellite imagery of Cap Haitien’s growth since 1925 to demonstrate the expansion of housing and rapid increase in densely inhabited urban zones in high-risk flood zones. This rapid urban expansion and increased population pressured has, he says, undermined effective governance. He shared photographs of government offices in 1920 that illustrate a golden age of Haitian government services, depicting well-staffed and well-supplied new offices, and contrasted these with photos of government offices from 2008, showing decrepit conditions.
These complexities and interrelated pressures create barriers to achieving sustainable development within the framework of the strategic development plan. Verella noted that these complexities are further aggravated by lack of coordination and planning in interventions that address immediate and ongoing crises.
In identifying this problem, Verella shared his perspective on the urgent need for a national plan. He articulated several priorities ranging from transport to telecoms and Internet, to energy, potable water, sanitation and solid waste management.
He also argued that Haiti should develop tools for analyzing the complex processes that underlie innovative and entrepreneurial responses. This includes supporting research institutions and the sciences that support agent-based modeling. He also identified the need in Haiti to collect accurate facility and infrastructure inventory data, creating a registry or tracking of what services are being provided. Without core data and monitoring, Verella argues, his work and that of the ministries is greatly inhibited.
The fall 2013 Haiti Dialogue Series brought together Haitian policy makers, private sector entrepreneurs, scholars and practitioners with researchers and students at Columbia University to discuss the process of designing and implementing Haiti’s National Strategic Development Plan (Plan Stratégique de Developpement d’Haiti). Through the dialogues series, we support critical analysis and reflection around a range of topics that underpin Haiti’s development objectives.
For more information, visit the Haiti Research and Policy Program.
For more information about previous reports and spatial data, visit the Haiti Geo-Portal.