On January 15th, Dubai's ruler, Sheikh Mohammed bin-Rashid bin-Maktoum responded to an article written by the author and Joel Kotkin suggesting the United Nations should move its headquarters from New York to Dubai. Dubai issued a formal statement, "The emirate would welcome talks with officials at the organisation to inform them of the facilities and advantages that Dubai can offer."
If I were Sheikh Mohammed, I would follow this bold gesture with another and offer to lead a modern Marshall Plan for reconstruction of Haiti, fueled by the crude oil fortune pumped from the Persian Gulf. What better way to demonstrate the deservedness of Dubai and the Gulf region as the site of the new United Nations Headquarters than to demonstrate the ability to lead the world in a time of crisis.
The Marshall Plan was announced by Secretary of State George C. Marshall during a speech at Harvard University on June 5, 1947. Marshall said,
“The truth of the matter is that Europe's requirements for the next three or four years of foreign food and other essential products - principally from America - are so much greater than her present ability to pay that she must have substantial additional help or face economic, social, and political deterioration of a very grave character”.
The European Recovery Program, or Marshall Plan as it was known, reconstructed the war ravaged economies of Western Europe between 1948 and 1952. By 1952, these economies were 35% higher than in 1938. The recovery led to unprecedented growth for twenty years and stability on the continent.
Change “Europe” to “Haiti” and the words ring as true in 2010 as they did in 1947. The United States has pledged $100 million. Britain has pledged $10 million. The UAE, to date, has offered just “shelter materials” according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (WSJ 1/16/10). Dubai must do more to take its place as a leader on the world stage.
Haiti is a tiny island nation of 9,000,000. Between two and three million souls were clustered in ramshackle housing around the city of Port au Prince when a 7.2 earthquake hit. More than 100,000 perished although the true count may never be known. Haiti is one of the poorest places on earth with a per capita income of just $1,317 (2008).
The Persian Gulf, half a world away, pumps 20,000,000 barrels of crude per day at a cost of approximately $4 per barrel. At current world prices of $80 per barrel, the gulf nations have free cash flow approximating $1.5 billion per day. The developed nations of the West pump more than half a trillion dollars per year into the coffers of the Persian Gulf nations and these nations are struggling with the worst financial crisis in a century. To the contrary, the sovereign wealth funds of Abu Dhabi, Saudi Arabia and other oil rich GCC nations contain $3 trillion dollars.
Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush have agreed to lead an international effort to raise emergency funds to aid in the immediate rescue of the Haitian people. They will raise enough to bring in badly needed rescue personnel, water, food and tents for 2,000,000 people living in hellish conditions. But their efforts do not touch Haiti’s long term needs.
Haiti has been mostly destroyed. It is estimated that 75% of its buildings have been damaged or destroyed. Its Presidential Palace collapsed as did its main Cathedral and the island’s UN Headquarters. Its infrastructure is in ruins, its water system destroyed. It looks reminiscent of Dresden, Germany during the carpet bombing of World War II. Dead bodies lie everywhere amidst the smoking ruins of a destroyed city.
The city of Port au Prince needs to be razed to the ground. 2,000,000 people need to be dispersed around the Caribbean as the residents of New Orleans were after Hurricane Katrina. And then a massive reconstruction project, similar to the Marshall Plan after WWII, must be undertaken to rebuild everything from roads and ports to homes, hospitals and schools. Who will lead that effort? The nations of Latin America do not have the expertise or capital. The United States is financially exhausted, drained from two wars half a world away, 10% unemployment and a financial collapse as severe as the Great Depression.
There is one man who is no stranger to multi-billion dollar projects and the transformation of a nation, Dubai's ruler, Sheikh Mohammed bin-Rashid bin-Maktoum. Why would Sheikh Mohammed intervene and lead an effort to rebuild Haiti that will cost several billion dollars? Haiti is half a world away from the Persian Gulf. One reason is his proven ability to create and build a radical new urban vision. Sheikh Mohammed built the tallest structure on the planet, huge residential islands in the Gulf, and the world’s largest airport – simultaneously.
The Gulf Cooperation Council, (GCC) consists of the UAE, Kuwait, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Oman and Qatar. To say these nations are rich is an understatement. Their oil reserves total somewhere around 500 billion barrels. Dedicating $10 billion to rebuild Haiti would require allocating a week’s revenue from crude oil production. That much money will not be needed tomorrow. A pledge of $3 billion per year for three years would suffice and not even dent the balance sheets of the Gulf nations.
Sheikh Mohammed needs to take the lead if he wants the balance of power, respect and authority to move the UN from New York City to the Middle East. For too long, the Middle East has exported oil, its wars, the Israeli/Palestinian conflict and terrorists to the world. To many, the face of Islam has been the face of a terrorist, committing heinous acts on innocent people. Dubai, despite its majesty, has not yet become a true global destination, particularly in the wake of the world economic crisis. What better way to raise the image of Islam and the Middle East than to lead a 21st Century Marshall Plan to rebuild Haiti? The reward might just be a Nobel Peace Prize as George C. Marshall was awarded in 1953.
Sheik Mohammed should make this announcement at the foot of the tallest structure ever created by man to show, while reaching for the sky, the ruler of Dubai can reach down to the poorest, most ravaged people on the earth and lift them up as well. He could take the center stage of the world, once again, and do what has made him arguably the most visionary developer since the Pharaohs of ancient Egypt.
Robert J. Cristiano PhD is a successful real estate developer and the Real Estate Professional in Residence at Chapman University in Orange, CA.