Rebuilding Haiti one concrete block at a time
“You can’t build a country without concrete.”
The statement has particular relevance in Haiti, where, more than three years since a 7.0 magnitude earthquake resulted in extensive death and destruction, the country is still working to repair and rebuild and assume a path of sustained economic vitality.
Luis Garcia (pictured), spoke about the importance of basic building materials like concrete when he described his work in Haiti to an OPIC delegation in February. As Vice President for Planning at Haiti 360, Garcia oversees projects that not only produce badly-needed concrete, but also highlight the critical role of the private sector in addressing urgent developing world needs such as modern infrastructure.
Haiti 360 – one of multiple OPIC-supported projects that were initiated after the 2010 earthquake – has used a $6 million OPIC loan to support startup costs of two plants producing high-quality concrete used to rebuild homes, roads and even an airport runway. In 2012, more than 500 homes were built with concrete from the new plants. Some of the homes, like those pictured below at the Cabaret housing settlement, were built to tap into the country’s sunny climate. They have solar panels on the windows and come with ATM-like machines, where residents can swipe cards to keep track of the power they use. Haiti 360 is now one of Haiti’s largest concrete producers, and is establishing a series of micro-mixing sites around the country so it can better meet the demands of local builders in different regions. The company is also planning to donate a percentage of its profits to local charities.
My work in international development has led me to Haiti several times but when I visited the country in February with an OPIC delegation led by OPIC President and CEO Elizabeth Littlefield, it was my first visit since the earthquake three years earlier. Today there are about 300,000 Haitians living in tents, down from almost three million who were left homeless after the earthquake. Long a poor country facing multiple development challenges, Haiti today faces the immediate challenge of housing and feeding a large displaced population, and is hoping to do so in a sustainable manner. Construction underway throughout the country is aimed not just at repairing damage, but extending roads, bolstering infrastructure and fostering new industrial development beyond the capital city of Port au Prince, which is overcrowded with displaced people and job seekers.
The work I witnessed during my visit in February also underscored how governments, private businesses and NGOs all have an important role in this country, which U.S. Ambassador Pamela White has described as “too rich to be poor.” Indeed, Haiti is rich in talent, youth, innovative spirit and land. All of these resources were on display when our delegation visited the Cabaret Housing Settlement, where about 156 houses will be built with the support of Development Innovation Group (DIG). A Maryland finance and development firm, DIG is using a $17 million OPIC loan, together with grants from USAID and the Clinton-Bush Haiti Fund, to support lending in amounts as small as $1,000 for mortgages and home repairs for low-income borrowers. Builders at the Cabaret site are sensitive to the urgency to construct more housing and have organized a friendly-yet-fierce competition between two construction teams to see who can complete the most homes.
Development Innovations Group offers a good illustration of OPIC’s ability to form partnerships to achieve a greater developmental impact. As the U.S. Government’s development finance institution, OPIC helps private businesses invest in frontier markets and often collaborates with other agencies or NGOs to channel additional investment into projects addressing major social and environmental needs. As the builders’ contest illustrates, DIG and other OPIC-supported projects have responded quickly to the need in Haiti .
Our delegation also visited the site of Les Moulins d’Haiti, a flour mill that was destroyed in the earthquake and rebuilt with the support of OPIC political risk insurance to Seaboard Corp., which worked through a joint venture to reconstruct and upgrade the massive plant. It was reopened in late 2011 with greater production capacity, more modern machinery and an overall design that will better withstand any future seismic activity.
While it was immensely gratifying to see the ways that OPIC investments were having positive results on the ground, one of the best endorsements of our work came from Haiti’s President, Michel Martelly, who flew by helicopter to meet with our delegation and Ambassador White to discuss the ways to further engage the private sector to advance development. Much of the business activity currently planned is focused around the Caracol Industrial Park in the North, where a power plant, water treatment facility, housing communities and others are planned and are expected to create thousands of jobs and an economic hub outside of the capital city of Port au Prince.
For me the trip helped me to understand the business of development and think about ways OPIC could work with the private sector and the NGO community to achieve more. I met with people from the Clinton Global Initiative as well as 60 NGOs to discuss ways they might expand their work beyond basic relief to support economic growth and stability, and the ways OPIC could support those efforts. Relief work is important, especially in the wake of a natural disaster, but more longstanding benefits can be gained by turning over projects to local people or scaling them into sustainable businesses with the help of critical tools such as OPIC financing and political risk insurance.