* Funds target education, farming, disaster preparedness
* Haiti needs intrepid investors, World Bank official says
By Pascal Fletcher
MIAMI, Dec 1 The World Bank is allocating $255
million for Haiti's post-earthquake reconstruction over the
next 12 months, including support for education, agriculture
and disaster risk management, the bank said on Thursday.
The announcement of the grants came in the same week as
President Michel Martelly's government hosted hundreds of
foreign investors and declared itself "open for business" in an
ambitious strategy to boost rebuilding of the Western
Hemisphere's poorest economy after last year's earthquake.
Projects approved by the bank's board of directors included
an Education for All initiative that will support
reconstruction of Haiti's education system, which suffered
heavy damage and lost teaching personnel in the quake. The
program will benefit more than 100,000 Haitian children.
Another project will help the country improve its disaster
response capacity and strengthen critical transport
infrastructure, while a third seeks to increase productivity
and competitiveness in agriculture, which contributes 25
percent of GDP and accounts for 50 percent of all employment.
The strategy would also support the return of 22,500 people
to safe housing, out of around half a million homeless quake
victims still living in vulnerable tent and tarpaulin camps.
Worries about "donor fatigue" and lingering concerns about
political stability have raised questions about how effectively
Martelly can maintain international financial backing for Haiti
at a time of shrinking aid budgets in major donor countries now
increasingly preoccupied with a widening debt crisis.
World Bank Special Envoy to Haiti Alexandre Abrantes was
confident international support for Haiti would be sustained.
"You don't have the momentum that you had a year ago, but
you still have an opportunity," Abrantes told Reuters in an
interview before the latest grants allocation announcement.
Additional World Bank grants of $275 million would be
available for use in Haiti from the end 2012 up to 2014.
Abrantes played down fears that the disappearance in
October of the Interim Haiti Recovery Commission (IHRC), an aid
coordination panel that brought together donors and the Haitian
government, might impact the effective delivery of funds.
Haiti's parliament did not renew the IHRC's mandate
following criticism that the panel was too foreign-dominated.
NEED FOR INTREPID INVESTORS
Abrantes said the core technical functions of the panel
would be maintained at the office of Prime Minister Garry
Conille as part of efforts to "Haitianize" aid coordination.
"Basically they are trying to make this structure and this
function more Haiti-based and less dependent on external
donors," Abrantes said.
Commenting on this week's investors' forum held in
Port-au-Prince, the World Bank official said Haiti needed
intrepid investors ready to take entrepreneurial risks.
"Even if we do everything right in the next two or three
years, the overall business environment is relatively messy,"
he said, noting persisting difficulties with issues like
obtaining land titles and bureaucratic hurdles.
He suggested businessmen from fast-emerging economies like
Brazil, China and South Korea would be ideally suited to pursue
opportunities in the Caribbean state.
"The government seems, at least in rhetoric, very business
friendly, so there is a window of opportunity," Abrantes said,
adding that Haiti's state and political institutions could take
concrete steps to improve the investment climate.
New investment projects under way include a $257 million
industrial park on Haiti's northwest coast that will be
anchored by a South Korean textile firm, Sae-A Trading Co Ltd,
which has committed to hire 20,000 people.
Despite criticism that the international humanitarian
effort in Haiti has often appeared sluggish and ineffectual,
Abrantes said he saw signs of progress in the recovery.
An epidemic of cholera which broke out following the
earthquake has killed more than 6,700 people. The government
estimated more than 300,000 people died in the quake itself.
(Editing by Eric Beech)