What Haiti Needs

“It has never been able to fulfill its potential as a nation. But I think it can.”

A moving and inspiring piece by Bill Clinton , the UN Special Envoy to Haiti, appears on TIME.com today … below, an excerpt of his piece.  In times of crisis, immediate response is critical – and in the wake of a tragedy of this magnitude, more is better – but Former President Clinton reminds us that coordination, sustainability and broad vision are key to making sure our efforts to help are truly most helpful.

Click here to read the TIME piece in its entirety (please do – it’s worth the read).

The international relief effort that followed the Asian tsunami of 2004 offers some lessons that can be applied in Haiti. First of all, there has to be national buy-in by the U.S. There has to be a national vision, and I think we have that. Secondly, coordination is really important both within the U.N. and among all the donor countries and nongovernmental groups. There are 10,000 nongovernmental organizations working in Haiti, the highest number per capita in the world except for India. We’ve got to all work together toward a common goal. We have to relentlessly focus on trying to build a model that will be sustainable, so we don’t plant a bunch of trees and then revert to deforestation, or adopt a program to bring power to the country that can’t be sustained, or adopt an economic strategy that is going to wither away in two years.

I’m trying now to get organized to make sure not only that we get the emergency aid that Haiti needs but also that donors come through on their pre-existing commitments. We need to keep the private sector involved. Once we deal with the immediate crisis, the development plans the world was already pursuing have to be implemented more quickly and on a broader scale. I’m interested in just pressing ahead with it.

Haiti isn’t doomed. Let’s not forget, the damage from the earthquake is largely concentrated in the Port-au-Prince area. That has meant a tragic loss of life, but it also means there are opportunities to rebuild in other parts of the island. So all the development projects, the agriculture, the reforestation, the tourism, the airport that needs to be built in the northern part of Haiti — everything else should stay on schedule. Then we should simply redouble our efforts once the emergency passes to do the right sort of construction in Port-au-Prince and use it to continue to build back better.

Before this disaster, Haiti had the best chance in my lifetime to fulfill its potential as a country, to basically escape the chains of the past 200 years. I still believe that if we rally around them now and support them in the right way, the Haitian people can reclaim their destiny.

Bill Clinton is the United Nations special envoy for Haiti.

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