Haiti: Beyond the Relief Effort

Nearly two weeks after the earth trembled beneath Haitian feet, the country’s government has called off the search for survivors. Yesterday (23 January 2010) British rescue teams returned from the capital, Port-au-Prince, but now the real process of rebuilding the nation begins.

Within moments of the earthquake striking images of destruction circulated around the globe, leaving the media and many others to speculate why aid wasn’t quite so instantaneous.

The world responded by dispatching over $1 billion of aid together with thousands of troops and marines – many of whom are still there trying to connect the supply of help with demand, so that everybody affected by the devastation is reached.

In 1989 there was a 7.0 earthquake in San Francisco and 63 people died. More than twenty years later, a slighter bigger earthquake in a much poorer country is estimated to have killed around 200,000 people and the figure keeps rising.

‘A Lesson About Poverty’

The Haitian President, Rene Preval, has said: “This is above all a lesson about poverty.”

When the quake struck, the epicentre was the country’s capital and Port-au-Prince still lies buried beneath rubble. The Presidential Palace has fallen, Parliament has fallen and the Palace of Justice has fallen. Most government buildings have been lost, along with essential staff and important records. This makes regaining control of the shattered country and rebuilding its devastated infrastructure single-handedly almost impossible.

A Long-term Strategy for Reconstruction

President Preval has insisted that beyond the rescue stage there must be a commitment to a long-term strategy for reconstruction.  But who’s going to organise it and how will they do it?

Haiti’s institutions were weak before the disaster occurred and since then they’ve been decapitated. Just as a stream of international help is leaving, the Caribbean country needs global support more than ever before.

Haiti’s government is not in a position to take control, but the longer the current chaos lasts the harder it will be stabilise the country.

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