‘Port au Prince’s problem is Port au Prince?’ D’accord, say French
Some have expressed surprise at Haiti’s finance minister, Wilson Laleau’s frank lament in my Guardian piece on rebuilding Port au Prince. “Port au Prince’s problem is Port au Prince. It swallows everything,” I quote him to say.
Those 11 words are the merest fragment of Mr Laleau’s view of Port au Prince’s multiple problems four years after the massive earthquake that practically flattened the city. It doesn’t look like it, but a great deal of money and effort has been invested in re-building the city. But as Mr Laleau tells me, this is not apparent and can never be, as long as Port au Prince is crammed with 3.5 million people in a country of 10 million. Teaming with more than one-third of Haiti’s population, Port au Prince is manifestly unable to progress as fast as it could or would. Instead, Haitians outside Port au Prince should have a reason to stay where they are, or head to other cities.
It is an astute and clear-eyed diagnosis. And Mr Laleau is not alone in his opinion. The French recognize this too, as I found out when I researched the piece. A mere 10 per cent of their post-quake efforts are focused on Port au Prince and they explain this as “a deliberate and strategic choice” that tries to spread the fruits of development more widely and generally. They have important reconstruction projects in Les Cayes, Jacmel, Les Nippes, Hinche, Arcahaie, Cap Haïtien, Gros Morne.
It’s always a challenge to maintain a city as a hub and a magnet without straining land, resources …and crucially, tempers?