Rural Haiti seeks more than Port-au-Prince's crumbs in rebuilding efforts

L'ESTERE, Haiti — This town in the Haitian hinterlands has a mostly unpaved main road, scant public services, a main hospital that closes on weekends and few jobs besides farming.

The situation in L'Estere is typical of small towns in Haiti, where resources — what little there are — flow to the central government in Port-au-Prince and little if any return. The archaic relationship between the provinces and the capital will likely be another casualty of Jan. 12's devastating 7.0-magnitude earthquake.

At a critical aid conference in New York later this month, Haitian leaders intend to outline a rebuilding plan that more fully incorporates rural areas like L'Estère into the development of the country.

"The momentum is for a decentralized state," said Leslie Voltaire, a Cornell-educated city planner and architect who's worked in several administrations. "We need laws that give more power to the municipalities and provinces."

The plans have not been released, but Haitian officials and foreign allies point to a need to increase agricultural production, tourism, and build up infrastructure. Although Haitian President René Préval has called decentralization a "priority" for his administration, it is almost certain to be up to his successor to finish the job. Préval, elected in 2006, is expected to leave office early next year.

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