World Community Should Rebuild Haiti

by Tyler Murphy

The world is still reeling from the devastating earthquake that shook the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince and disrupted the lives of nearly 3 million residents. While a complete assessment of the devastation is not yet available, the Red Cross predicts some 100,000 deaths and billions of dollars in damage. While this natural disaster has caused widespread destruction, it provides us a renewed focus on a nation that has struggled so long for definition and stability.

As we reflect upon the troubled history of the nation in its most troubling time, we must understand that, looking forward, the emphasis must not be on rebuilding, but rather on building a new Haiti. This Caribbean nation of nine million people most recently placed itself on the path to democracy in 2006. The preceding period was marked by great political instability following the military coup that ousted popularly elected President Jean-Bertrand Aristide in September 1991. What ensued was pervasive violence at the hands of the military, escalating to the intervention of a 21,000-member multinational force.

After more than a decade of political stalemate, the United Nations Stability Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) was established in April 2004 to provide for a peaceful, effective path to stability and progress in Haiti. An integral part of this effort was a comprehensive plan to build a new, more democratic Haiti capable of providing its people with the government they needed to prosper and contribute substantively to the global community.

The earthquake certainly requires a readjustment to such a plan so that it can incorporate physical reconstruction. But out of the concrete rubble can emerge this dream of a new Haiti – both literally and metaphorically. So as devastating as the earthquake was, it provides renewed hope and opportunity to realize this vision. The international community’s commitment to Haiti, then, cannot end with the suffering and trauma the earthquake has left in its wake, and our investment in Haiti must not depart with the news networks and crews. This long-term approach requires an emphasis not merely on rebuilding but on building something stronger.

Indeed, this commitment was present in the work of MINUSTAH and remains even stronger in the aftermath of the earthquake.

As former President Bill Clinton, the U.N. special envoy to Haiti, noted, “I think that what we want to do is to see people be part of building something … stronger. That – that it’s not just enough to rebuild. And … they’re committed to that. And … based on my meetings with donors, with – the private sector, with investors, everybody that was helping them before feels even more strongly they ought to continue to do it now.”

Building a new Haiti is important for a variety of reasons. With the highest AIDS rate in the Caribbean, Haiti is burdened with avoidable health costs that are preventing them from making progress in other economic sectors. In the same vein, Haiti is the poorest nation in the Caribbean and, as such, its financial difficulties jeopardize the entire region. The earthquake, then, has finally inspired Latin American and other Caribbean nations to become involved and contribute to this new Haiti, increasing the chance of more cooperation and partnership in the region and hemisphere.

And, as Clinton reminded us, Haiti has “shown a willingness to change [and] improve their own circumstances” – something at which they have not succeeded for over 200 years. A new Haiti, then, could change our idea of what is possible in Africa, East Asia and other troubled areas.

So the great paradox of the devastating earthquake is that with the widespread devastation comes renewed hope. In rebuilding the foundations of its infrastructure, Haiti can construct a new, more stable political foundation – ending over 200 years of political upheaval. But this goal can only be achieved with the resources and commitments from the international community. And the international response to the earthquake reminds us (perhaps for the first time) that these are indeed present and available. Let’s hope they remain so for the long term.


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