Dollars and data

Wah sat on the Interim Haiti Recovery Commission's project review committee. When HRI came before the review committee, Wah recused herself. On October 6, 2010, the IHRC approved the Initiative's concept note; two weeks later the Haiti Reconstruction Fund (HRF) approved funding. The concept note stated clearly that CSI was a five-year project, with ambitions going out 20 years. The five-year budget proposal specified eight sectors:

·       Agriculture

·       Education

·       Health and Nutrition

·       Environment

·       Water and Sanitation

·       Information, Communication and Technology (ICT)

·       Infrastructure, Energy and Transportation

·       Capacity Development and Links to Government

A video outlining the scope of the Côte Sud Initiative in Haiti.

HRF granted the Haiti Southwest Sustainable Development Project portion of CSI $8 million (of the Norwegian funds) for January 2011 through March 2012 to develop the program.[26] For the Côte Sud Initiative, 2011 was Year Zero, a period to gather baseline data and plan projects. Activities would start in 2012 and run through 2016. CSI staff had asked for a four-year funding commitment, but post-earthquake funding was given in one-year increments. In meetings with the CSI team, Norwegian government representatives said they were committed for the long term, but could sign only one-year contracts, recalls Levy. "It was hot and dusty and I remember sitting at a picnic table on the phone with [Earth Institute Director] Jeff Sachs to get his guidance and blessing on what to do," he recalls.

I said, “Do we take this on a leap of faith and start a four-year project with just one year’s money in the bank, or do we redesign this as a set of activities that at the end of a year we can walk away from and we wouldn’t have wasted our time?” And Jeff was really, really strong. He just didn’t hesitate. He said, “No, act as if you’ve got all the money. Don’t do it piecemeal. That’s just not worth it. I trust the Norwegians.”

Closing the data gapOn January 4, 2011, UNEP and the Haitian government formally launched the Côte Sud Initiative. The CSI team hit the ground running, launching into data collection. Little existed,recalls Project Manager Fischer:

We didn’t know the rainfall averages or spatial patterns very well. We didn’t have information on the soil quality or characteristics. We didn’t have information on attendance rates in schools or literacy rates. We don’t know which schools have latrines and which schools have school meals programs.[27]

Data was critical for sustainable development, says Wah. To help farmers, for example, development officers needed information not only on soil and climate conditions, but also about the farmers' level of knowledge, whether they had access to agriculture extension agents, and their cultural preferences for food crops.  Within eight months, for example, the team had found that the upper watershed, roughly onemile from the coast and 800 meters in elevation, had more than double the average daily rainfall ofthe coast. This huge rainfall variation had significant impacts on agriculture, early warning for floods, and the topography in the small watershed.

Another focus of the Millennium Development Goals was providing access to basic services. That meant learning where the population was concentrated, what routes people took and what obstacles existed. Building new schools, for example, wasn't sufficient; students had to be able to get there. Explains Wah: “In the [Port-à-Piment] watershed during the hurricane season, you’re lucky if the kids spend three weeks in school [during] a 4 ½-month period, because they can’t cross rivers.” Similarly, curbing charcoal production—the main cause of deforestation—was not simple. Previously, armed forest rangers had patrolled the area. ”That didn't turn out well," says Wah. "You’ve got to understand what folks need. This is 200 years in the making. You’re not going to undo it in a year or two."

For the first half of 2011, the CSI team surveyed households in the watershed, built weather stations, and recruited a team of agronomy students to measure soil conditions. It was the first time anyone in Haiti had assessed soil conditions throughout a region or correlated household surveys with ecological measurements. The CSI team also counted the number of schools in the watershed, which helped them price school meals programs, support parent-teacher associationsand determine if there were enough schools to meet the demands of the current population. Through its implementation partners, CSI also provided business training, health initiatives, and agricultural subsidies.

The data helped inform the project design—always a challenge in multi-sector development, says Fischer. Project managers had to balance the demands of different sectors within the constraints of a budget. The health sector was expensive and typically took a high proportion of a budget. Infrastructure, too, was costly. "If you want to do one road, that eats up a huge portion of your budget right off the bat," says Fischer. Education was certainly a priority as well. "But how much of the budget do they get and what do they spend it upon?" he says.


[26]  UNEP in Haiti: 2010 Year in Review, February 2011.

[27]  Author's interview with Alex Fischer, September 10, 2013 in New York, NY. All further quotes from Fischer, unless otherwise attributed, are from this interview.