Private sector eyes opportunity in Haiti rebuilding

Wed Mar 10, 2010 3:54pm EST

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By Pascal Fletcher

MIAMI, March 10 (Reuters) - Rebuilding Haiti after its catastrophic earthquake should generate major contracts for private companies specializing in construction, logistics, transport and security, but U.S. executives say they need a clear reconstruction strategy to shape their business plans.

Private sector firms that focus on post-conflict or disaster relief operations gathered at a meeting in Miami this week to consider the business opportunities offered by Haiti's recovery from the Jan. 12 quake that devastated the capital Port-au-Prince and surrounding towns.

With Haiti's government saying up to 300,000 people may have died, some economists are calling the Haitian quake the deadliest natural disaster in modern times. Relief experts and business leaders agree the mammoth task of rebuilding what was already the Western Hemisphere's poorest state will be impossible without private sector participation.

"I don't think they have any option but to get private companies in to help reconstruct Haiti," Kevin Lumb, CEO of London-based Global Investment Summits Ltd, which organized the Haiti Reconstruction meeting in Miami, told Reuters.

"I think it opens up a great deal of business opportunities. Most of their infrastructure is destroyed, their roads, communications, buildings, it's obviously affected water supply, electricity, so that all needs rebuilding," Lumb said.

The Miami summit was also organized by the International Peace Operations Association, a trade group of companies working in conflict, post-conflict and disaster zones.

IPOA President Doug Brooks cited $13 billion to $14 billion as estimates of the scale of damage inflicted by the Haitian quake, which could provide some measure of the business opportunities created by the reconstruction effort.

Brooks called the Miami meeting a "nuts and bolts conference" bringing together service providers, major humanitarian groups and other stakeholders in Haiti's rebuilding. The aim was to fit needs to potential contract opportunities ahead of an international donors' conference for Haiti scheduled for March 31 in New York.

"When the policies come down and the money starts flowing for the reconstruction, we'll be ready to go," Brooks said.

Companies looking for business at the Haiti reconstruction meeting included Georgia-based Harbor Homes LLC, which offers self-assembled PermaShelter houses for those left homeless by the quake, and Virginia-based Agility Logistics, which already supplies food rations to U.N. peacekeeping troops in Somalia.

LOOKING FOR "MASTER PLAN"

More than one million Haitians were left homeless and displaced by the January quake and Harbor Homes' Richard Rivette said his company could provide easily assembled, storm- and quake-resistant galvanized steel homes to create the new villages expected to be set up outside of Port-au-Prince.

But he and other executives at the Miami meeting said they needed to have from the Haitian government and its relief partners a clearer idea of the planned rebuilding strategy.

"Without a master plan, it's hard to cost estimate it," said Rivette.

"I think everyone's looking for the direction, where's it going to go, how's it going to work," said Agility Logistics' Thomas Shortley, who runs the firm's business with the United Nations.

Other speakers said any survivors' resettlement or relocation program could be bedeviled by land ownership issues. "Land rights are the elephant in the room," said Ian Ridley of World Vision International, an aid group.

Weather forecasters are already predicting a more active than normal Atlantic hurricane season in 2010 and storm-swept Haiti could face a fresh humanitarian disaster if the hundreds of thousands of quake homeless are not under adequate shelter by the time the season starts on June 1.

Political analysts and aid workers say that social unrest -- a feature of the cycle of poverty, corruption and violence that has dogged Haiti for decades -- is a also major risk if employment and shelter solutions are not found quickly.

"It will not take long before some kind of civil unrest occurs," said Derell Griffith of Sabre International, a security company, referring to quake survivors' impatience over delays in relief efforts.

Present too at the Miami meeting was the U.S. government insurer and lender Overseas Private Investment Corporation. "Haiti has become a very strong priority for the U.S. government right now," said OPIC'S Suzanne Etcheverry.

U.S. President Barack Obama met his Haitian counterpart Rene Preval in Washington on Wednesday, and said many Haitians were still in desperate need of shelter, food, and medicine.

"The situation on the ground remains dire," Obama said. (Additional reporting by Jeff Mason in Washington, Editing by Jackie Frank)

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