Six months ago, when the earthquake hit Haiti, approximately 2 million people were living in the metropolitan area of the capital city of Port-au-Prince. (The country's total population is almost 10 million.) The capital city was overcrowded. Haitians have always moved from the outlying departments to Port-au-Prince because it's the only place in the country with jobs and most basic services.
The biggest employer in Haiti, the Haitian government, has most of its offices in Port-au-Prince. All of the main universities, including schools of agriculture, medicine, engineering and economics, are there. Let's say, for example, you need a passport or an internationally recognized birth certificate, you need to go to Port-au-Prince. In Haiti, if you want your child to be somebody, you have to move to Port-au-Prince.
Hence when Port-au-Prince broke, the whole country was broken, and that's what happened on January 12.
In the quake's aftermath, my older brother and his family had to leave Port-au-Prince, and they moved back to our hometown of Gros-Morne, Département de l' Artibonite. Like them, thousands of families are moving out of Port-au-Prince and migrating to other smaller cities and towns across Haiti. The towns are trying to handle the influx of people, but there are almost no existing services there. Gros-Morne never had electricity, except for a very short time when electric power was provided intermittently to less than half of the population for a few hours at night.
In many towns, there is no system for providing clean water for drinking, and many people get their drinking water from muddy streams. Needless to say, there are very few municipal sewage systems. And the roads are bare dirt.
With so many moving from Port-au-Prince back to the small cities and towns, the time would seem right for their redevelopment, but such an effort faces obstacles that are deeply rooted in the political-economic structure of the country. There is a fundamental flaw in the way the system operates. With nearly non-existent local budgets, the towns find themselves at the mercy of the federal government, international organizations and NGOs. Because all taxes and fees are collected and controlled by the federal government, local governments depend on it for their daily operations, and ultimately for their survival.
Within any town, "local" workers such as teachers and police officers are actually employees of the federal government, yet the federal government depends on foreign aid to cover its expenses. With this system in place, how could towns or cities provide basic services to their residents?
We should not rush into just rebuilding Port-au-Prince. Instead, let's build up the towns across the nation. Let's build roads. Right now, everything is extremely expensive in Haiti because the roads are so bad. We need a rail system. Let's build airports somewhere other than Port-au-Prince. Let's bring electricity and water to the towns across the entire country.
Let's build and rebuild with a plan. After World War II, when Europe was in ruins, we had the Marshall Plan. Haiti needs a reconstruction plan — but not one that strives to return Haiti to its pre-Jan. 12 condition.
If there's no electricity and no water in a town, people won't open businesses there. People will go where there's work and services. This is not the Republic of Port-au-Prince; this is the Republic of Haiti. Let's build homes and infrastructure in every department. Let's break the vicious cycle that puts so much pressure on one city, and let's build a nation.
Pierre Kébreau Alexandre is an economist and associate professor in the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health with a background in agriculture, economics, public health and environmental sciences. His e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org.