Haiti's economy struggles to regain footing

A few blocks from where men lined up for backbreaking jobs digging corpses from the rubble for about $3 a day, a hotel was selling a ham sandwich for five times that amount.

And as throngs of anxious Haitians jostled for bags of rice being tossed from the back of a U.N. truck, women at a market struggled to find buyers for their overflowing sacks of fruits, grains and vegetables.

Haiti's earthquake pulverized concrete and twisted metal, but it also distorted the nation's economy, as it wiped out thousands of jobs and sparked a rush on humanitarian aid.

Now, as Haitians still dig for their dead and the government struggles to reorganize, the business community is trying to figure out how to jump-start the economy amid a historic opportunity to reshape the nation.

No one knows the exact economic toll of the Jan. 12 earthquake that is thought to have killed 170,000 and left one million homeless. But economists speculate that it wiped out at least half of the nation's gross domestic product, or about $3 billion to $4 billion.

In downtown Port-au-Prince, where much of the nation's industry was clustered, about 80 percent of the buildings were destroyed.

"Downtown was the lung and heart of the economy of Haiti and now it's completely a ghost town," said Reginald Boulos, president of the Haitian Chamber of Commerce.

In the days after the earthquake, many businesses saw their stores looted or merchandise lost to fires, he said. Even worse, the administration has failed to articulate a recovery plan.

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