A Haitian solution

  • January 5, 2011
Haiti new generationHaiti’s late-afternoon earthquake last Jan. 12 devastated the impoverished nation in less than 60 seconds. Twelve months and many promises later reconstruction has barely begun.

That sad reality is a reflection of Haiti’s political fragility and the world’s inability to rapidly respond to a catastrophe that killed an estimated 230,000 people, injured 300,000 more and left more than one million homeless. As Haitians mark the first anniversary of the tragedy it remains imperative that the international community neither forget nor abandon them. 

This edition of The Catholic Register includes a nine-page section that revisits Haiti one year after the 7.0 earthquake focused world attention on the shattered nation. Associate editor Michael Swan went to Haiti to report on whether the world has lived up to promises made in the aftermath of the quake, when the international community pledged $5.7 billion in aid. Canadians sent more than $200 million in emergency relief, much of it collected through Catholic charities.

What he found was a nation still clearing rubble, still reeling from post-traumatic stress, still grieving its dead. Disease, hunger and crime are rampant. More than a million displaced people are living in tents. Some small-scale reconstruction has begun but the larger job of rebuilding roads, bridges, sewers, power grids, schools, government buildings, etc. is often stalled in bureaucracy.

Above all else, however, Haiti is starving for leadership. International goodwill can be the fuel for reconstruction but the engine that will drive rebirth must be Haitian. Strong, trustworthy, respected leadership is essential to give a vision for a new Haiti and to energize the Haitian people. And robust Haitian leadership is needed to soften growing tensions with the international community.

Haiti’s leaders have criticized international agencies for often bypassing them in planning the reconstruction of their country, and they lament that so far less than $1 billion of the pledged $5.7 billion in aid has been received. The international response has been an urgent plea that Haiti get its political house in order. U.S. Secretary of State Hilary Clinton expressed the impatience of many when she said the Haitian government has failed to launch the “coordinated, coherent response” the world requires before the aid taps will fully open.

Haitians are scheduled to elect a new president on Jan. 16, but the first round of elections in November brought violence and charges of fraud. With those results in question, Haiti is shuffling along what outgoing president René Preval has called a “dangerous road.” There is concern that, rather than resolving the impasse, next week’s vote could spark a political crisis that would further retard reconstruction.

One year after the earthquake, Haiti is still suffering. Its needs are many but, foremost, Haiti needs to elect a strong leader to steer reconstruction and to give its beleaguered people hope.

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