In the Aftermath of Hurricanes, Haiti Situation is Critical
In the Aftermath of Hurricanes, Haiti Situation is Critical
Frank Giustra on the Devastating Situation in Haiti
Frank Giustra on the Devastating Situation in Haiti
Op-Ed / Latin America & Caribbean 2 minutes

In the Aftermath of Hurricanes, Haiti Situation is Critical

A decade ago, when Hurricane Mitch devastated Central America, the world reacted with immediate, nearly unlimited generosity. Two weeks after that disaster, the U.S. already had pledged $263 million. Soon thereafter, Sweden hosted an international pledging conference that produced pledges of $9 billion to rebuild smarter and better.

By contrast, in barely three weeks beginning in mid-August, four hurricanes -- Fay, Gustav, Hannah and Ike -- lashed Haiti and the Caribbean, and the international response has been eerily muted. In Haiti, roads are still blocked, bridges are down, and the country's agricultural heartland is flooded. More than 800 were killed, 100,000 people are displaced and another 130,000 families suffered serious damage to their farms and homes. Local businesses are crippled. Food distribution to rural communities is critical but is nearly impossible because of the continuing mudslides. In hard-to-reach areas, there is a real danger of famine.

Despite the devastation, the U.S. has committed just $30 million for Haiti. The U.N. has sent out a humanitarian appeal for $107 million, but only $20 million has been received. In fact, the most significant pledges came from private philanthropies at the Clinton Global Initiative annual meeting in New York last month. A number of private individuals and relief agencies are already struggling mightily with the challenges, but they are overwhelmed and under-supported.

The risk goes beyond humanitarian concerns. Haiti is so fragile today that it requires a U.N. peacekeeping force (MINUSTAH) to keep it afloat. Recall that food riots resulted in several deaths and occupation of public buildings in February and forced one Haitian government out of office. Political unrest and violence loom if there is not a rapid and extensive response to this natural disaster.

Not only was the economic infrastructure destroyed by the hurricanes, but public services were hard-hit as well. Police cars in Gonaives were swept away. In other cities and towns, courthouses were flooded. Without these basic tools in place, ongoing efforts to reform the security sector by vetting police, establishing standards for judges and responding to overcrowded jails will grind to a halt.

With school starting, many children will not be able to attend classes because dozens of school buildings are still being used as shelters, while others were simply washed away. Most families will be unable to pay school costs in a country where free public education exists for barely 20 percent of school-age children. Donors need to construct an urgent safety net by helping those families pay to enable the children to attend school.

A vast rebuilding and transformation is needed in virtually every sector. The same kind of comprehensive donors meeting that was held in Stockholm a decade ago should be organized by the international community to provide Haiti, which is far more desperate today than Central America was a decade ago, with a 10-year multibillion dollar pledge of recovery and reconstruction. That conference should also address the needs of other Caribbean countries harmed by the hurricanes, including Cuba.

Another immediate step that the Bush Administration should take is to order Temporary Protective Status for Haitians, which would ensure that current illegal migrants would not for now be forced back into an already overburdened Haiti.

If Haitian families cannot send their children to school, if their farms cannot produce, if roads and bridges are not repaired, and if electricity and clean water remain scarce, even the U.N. peacekeeping force may find it difficult to control the next riot.

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