Recently the Brookings Institution hosted a panel that examined Haiti’s political and humanitarian developments since the January 2010 earthquake. A theme that came up regularly was that of competing priorities such as turbulent elections, a cholera outbreak, a lack of dependable energy supply, and gender-based violence.
As the Worldwatch Institute prepares to develop a Low-Carbon Energy Roadmap for Haiti, some have questioned whether limited donor resources should be channeled into something more pressing than assessing and improving the country’s energy infrastructure. Is an energy roadmap really needed right now, or are other matters more important?
The cholera outbreak in Haiti is an urgent matter that deserves all the attention it is currently receiving. However, we must keep in mind that a lack of proper sanitation – due to a lack of electricity – helped cause the recent outbreak. Had the country’s energy infrastructure been more robust and sustainable, basic sanitation and electricity in hospitals might not have been lost and the current epidemic might have been avoided.
To be clear, Worldwatch is not suggesting that the Low-Carbon Energy Roadmap project we are undertaking is more important than addressing the cholera outbreak. But we believe that keeping an eye focused on the long term – while simultaneously addressing immediate concerns – can start a process that will help prevent such outbreaks in the future.
The bottom line is that without an effective energy infrastructure, basic services essential to public health will fail. The earthquake’s devastation worsened an already-dilapidated infrastructure leaving Haiti with no choice but to use diesel generators for its electricity. Given the recent run up in oil prices and the over-stretched Haitian budget, the diesel solution is tenuous at best. And though this seems like the only choice Haiti has, it’s not. Considering the high amounts of attention and financial aid Haiti is receiving these days, decision makers can exercise the choice to put into place something more sustainable.
This is where Worldwatch comes in. As we wrote previously, Haiti’s recent crisis is also a great opportunity for the country to reinvent itself with more sustainable solutions and to invest in projects that serve the long-term. While addressing the cholera outbreak is of utmost importance, the international community must simultaneously recognize that now is the time for Haiti to start putting into place a more sustainable energy system.
René Jean-Jumeau, the coordinator of the Energy Unit within Haiti’s Department of Public Works states that Haiti needs a plan to, “[finance] the development of a new framework to be able to essentially modernize the Haitian energy sector to put the sector into a more sustainable state.”
The Low-Carbon Energy Roadmap Worldwatch is designing for Haiti will do just that. It is a sustainable framework that will help reduce oil imports and save the country significant amounts of money in the long run. That money can be invested in other areas of development to ensure basic services like sanitation and hospitals never falter again.
Incredible amounts of capital are being spent on the pressing epidemic of Haiti but as we highlighted previously, a significant share of global aid money goes toward projects lasting eight years or more. So while the cholera outbreak is being taken seriously, it is equally important to channel some of the donations now flowing into Haiti towards building an energy portfolio that capitalizes on the island’s indigenous energy sources beginning with solar and wind.
Funds invested in energy infrastructure now will mean lower government expenditure on oil later – and more money to be invested in the country’s development. Otherwise Haiti risks being locked into dependence it can’t afford and will be caught unprepared for future crises – both natural and man-made. Worldwatch’s project is not in competition with the effort to stamp out cholera – it is a piece of the larger puzzle working with efforts like this to move Haiti forward.