Haitians need help now, solutions for stable future

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Haiti desperately needs your help.

While most Americans have understandably been concerned about Hurricane Ike’s assault on Texas, people in Haiti just a few hundred miles away are suffering an even worse fate.

More than a week after Ike assaulted Haiti, people in Gonaives, the country’s third-largest city, were still stranded on rooftops and trapped by rivers of mud. Others in remote areas remained huddled in schools and churches, their villages cut off from the capital by washed out bridges and roads.

At least 1,000 deaths have been reported, with more expected as the waters recede. A million people remain homeless. Crops and livestock have been wiped out, making an already chronically dire hunger situation worse.

Haiti is not just on the brink of disaster, as Haitian President Rene Preval noted in his plea for international aid. It is over the brink.

Right now, Haiti needs all the help it can get, with food, drinking water, medical supplies and shelter being at the top of the list.

Haiti’s neighbors and the international community must not only find the will and compassion to help the country’s desperate survivors at this time, but they need to ensure a steady supply of aid down the road. Haiti’s problems will not recede with the floodwaters, and the international community must recognize this.

For its part, the Haitian government, which had begun to invest heavily in agriculture in the devastated regions, needs to continue to pursue long-term solutions, including large-scale reforestation and alternative fuels to replace the charcoal production that has left Haiti with less than 2 percent tree cover. It is also vital that Haitians living and working in the United States not be deported back to Haiti at this devastating time. Deportations threaten the only consistent type of aid that Haitians receive. It comes in the form of $2 billion in remittances from friends and relatives abroad.

The U.S. government may fear that granting Haitians temporary protection status, as it did with Hondurans and Nicaraguans after Hurricane Mitch in 1998, will encourage mass migration to U.S. shores. However, it is mass starvation and political instability that have encouraged Haitian sea migration more than anything else.

Haitians are strong and proud and determined, and most will survive this latest in a string of political and natural disasters. But at this most vulnerable time, they need your help to overcome the immediate crisis and implement long-term solutions.

Edwidge Danticat, a Haitian-American writer, lives in Miami.

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