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World Bank head holds out hope for Haiti

  • Article by: TRENTON DANIEL
  • Associated Press
  • November 7, 2012 - 6:38 PM

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti - It was a whirlwind tour for World Bank President Jim Yong Kim, who helicoptered from the grounds of the demolished National Palace to his old stomping grounds in central Haiti where he once treated the rural poor as a doctor.

Then he flew off to visit a power plant north of Port-au-Prince and then spoke at a conference on poverty at a hotel that like the presidential palace down the hill is being rebuilt following its implosion in the 2010 earthquake.

Kim's two-day trip to Haiti was no routine drop-in for the head of an international organization. This one carried special significance for Kim, a physician and anthropologist who is regarded for his pioneering work in development because of his ties to the Boston-based Partners in Health.

Disaster-prone Haiti and unbridled optimism are unlikely bedfellows, but Kim saw reasons to be sunny.

"Despite the earthquake, despite the hurricanes, despite the enormous obstacles that Haiti always seems to face, I think there's more hope today than I have seen in a very long time," Kim told The Associated Press as a Toyota Land Cruiser hurried him to his next appointment.

This was Kim's first trip to Latin America and the Caribbean since he became president of the World Bank in July, and he came to figure out how the international institution can help Haiti rebuild from the earthquake that displaced more than a million people and destroyed thousands of buildings. One of his stops was at a new, state-of-the-art public hospital built in the Central Plateau by Partners in Health.

Kim and President Michel Martelly signed agreements for $125 million for two projects. The first one, for $90 million, aims to increase the power supply for 600,000 people in urban and rural areas. The second, for $35 million, seeks to finance a debris management site along with an air safety navigation system at the international airport.

The World Bank will also be offering a year's rent for 60,000 people displaced by the quake for the next 15 months along with vocational training, Kim announced.

His visit came as Haiti stumbles from yet another, though smaller, set back.

The country took a drubbing last month from Hurricane Sandy as the storm passed to the west and caused widespread flooding. Officials said up to 54 people died and 70 percent of the country's crops in the south were lost.

The Haitian government and the U.N.'s Food and Agriculture Organization said Tuesday that they need $74 million over the next year to help rehabilitate crops in Haiti.

Kim first came to Haiti as a Harvard medical student in 1987 and co-founded the community-focused Partners in Health with Paul Farmer. Kim left the group in 2003 to join the World Health Organization, where he was named director of the agency's HIV/AIDS department.

He was president of Dartmouth University when he was named president of the World Bank.

In a speech Tuesday night, Kim laid out two scenarios for Haiti's future.

The first, he said, was a relatively sluggish "status quo" path for which GDP growth hews to the 2 to 3 percent rate of the 2000s, with reconstruction muddling along. The second is a "transformational scenario" that brings together the government, business leaders, international agencies and others to accelerate economic growth.

Haiti is one of the most unequal countries in the world, with much of the wealth concentrated in the hands of a select few, the World Bank says. As much as 60 percent of the population is unemployed or underemployed.

"Haiti's economy cannot be built by and benefit just a privileged few," Kim told a crowd of diplomats, business leaders and development experts. "It must be built by and benefit all Haitians."

On Wednesday, Kim met with members of Haiti's private sector at a hotel. Then he and his entourage climbed into a waiting caravan, which passed through the grid-like streets once clogged with rubble.

"I expected the streets to still be full of debris," Kim said as the vehicle neared the World Bank office. "My goodness, things have happened here. I thought it would be a lot worse."

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