Hope, dignity & Haiti

  • January 22, 2010
{mosimage}In a radio interview after Port-au-Prince had been destroyed, a Haitian-Canadian said she prayed the world would unite to build a new Haiti where abject poverty could be replaced by dignified poverty.

It was a stunningly poignant comment from someone grieving the deaths of both parents and the destruction of a beloved homeland. In her words, the abject poor have nothing whereas the dignified poor have at least meager means to acquire the basics of food, clothing and shelter.

Haiti has long suffered the scourge of abject poverty. But only in the wake of unimaginable devastation has the world at large heard its cries for help. Before the Jan. 12 earthquake that buried tens of thousands of people, the most impoverished nation in the western hemisphere was receiving aid from some countries such as Canada and the United States, from specific agencies like the United Nations, and from many Catholic and other charities, but all those efforts combined merely scratched the surface of Haiti’s desperation and provided no protection from nature’s fury. 

Only now, as the dead are being buried, has the general world population been mobilized to bring relief and, we hope, to properly rebuild the poorest nation in the western hemisphere.

The earthquake lasted mere seconds but the truth is that Haiti was already collapsing from a seismic pounding of neglect, exploitation and poverty that had been unrelenting for decades. Humanitarian work of  past years treated the nation’s surface wounds — and those agencies and charities whose members worked, and in some cases died, in Christian service with Haitians deserve thanks and praise — but alone those efforts could not cure Haiti’s underlying ills.

Haiti’s sad past is written but the world is being presented with an opportunity to pool its wealth, ingenuity and manpower to change Haiti’s future. For most of this decade, Canadians have been told that, together, the world could give life to an impoverished nation like Afghanistan, and in addition to spending billions of dollars 140 Canadians have died in that cause. Haiti is Afghanistan without a war.

The response to Haiti’s disaster has been decisive. There has been a heartening collaboration between world governments, businesses and charities to send emergency food, water, medical supplies and shelter. But giving short-term relief is relatively easy.

The bigger challenge is making a commitment to spend untold billions on long-term reconstruction and then sticking to the plan. The United States and Canada must take the lead but, as Canada is helping rebuild Afghanistan a world away, European and Asian nations must also roll up their sleeves.

From the rubble there is an opportunity to build a nation that is durable, secure and functional, a nation with a modern network of roads, electricity, housing, sewers, communication, a nation that is properly governed and policed, a nation that can provide jobs and education and healthcare. Haiti may never be rich, but it could be a nation that offers its citizens, at minimum, dignity.

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