The Miami Herald
Posted on Tue, Sep. 30, 2008
BY ALBERT R. RAMDIN
Recently, I visited Haiti and witnessed the true scale of the disaster in human terms and physical damage left in the wake of hurricanes Fay, Gustav, Hanna and Ike.
The timing of this string of natural catastrophes -- four hurricanes in three weeks -- could not have been worse.
Following a protracted process that lasted more than four months, it was only at the beginning of September that the Haitian Senate fully approved President Rene Préval's nomination of the economist Michele Duvivier Pierre-Louis as prime minister. She was sworn in on Sept. 6, amid this devastating string of hurricanes and tropical storms.
The challenges faced by Préval and Pierre-Louis are staggering. The sheer scale of infrastructural destruction, economic devastation and human suffering is enormous, and carries with it both short- and long-term implications for that country's economic and political future.
The hurricanes left more than 423 dead, 800,000 people in need of humanitarian assistance, six bridges destroyed and almost the entire agricultural harvest valued at $200 million lost. The international community has responded swiftly to provide much needed short-term aid.
The Organization of American States was one of the first organizations to send a high-level mission to assess the damage, offer assistance and join with the Haitian government in appealing to Friends of Haiti to assist with recovery and reconstruction efforts.
Aid must be well-coordinated
The inter-American community of nations -- Canada, the United States, the Caribbean and Latin America -- has provided valuable relief assistance to the government of Haiti. This effort must continue to address the humanitarian and economic concerns that will confront that nation for years to come.
Strong and sustained international support, including from financial institutions, will be essential for addressing the structural and institutional underpinnings that are conducive to long-term economic and social development. But this support must be coordinated if it is to be effective.
During this period of recovery, the U.S. government's willingness to consider the halting of deportations to Haiti and grant temporary protected status (TPS) for a limited time is welcome. Some 20,000 undocumented Haitian immigrants would benefit from this status, thereby helping to maintain a significant flow of much needed financial resources and food to the hemisphere's least developed country. Haiti will no doubt benefit from this gesture of support, at once symbolic and substantive -- Haitians abroad sent about $1.83 billion home last year, amounting to about 35 percent of the country's gross domestic product.
The solidarity and support from sister countries including Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Dominican Republic, Guatemala, Peru, United States, Uruguay, Venezuela and the Caricom group have been instrumental in fostering a climate of peace and security. This support will be even more important in the months ahead as Haiti works to jump-start its economic development plan.
Haiti's private sector and civil society as well as its diaspora communities must also shoulder their responsibility and assume a major role in the country's reconstruction through an injection of human, social and financial capital.
Despite its many challenges, Haiti, prior to the ''four-three'' punch was well on the way toward achieving relative political stability and elaborating a plan for development, and had demonstrated significant gains in governance, socio-economic development and citizen security.
Haiti will need a major realignment of its infrastructure as well as its strategies to ensure more effective implementation of policies that can eventually mitigate the impact of natural disasters which, reports on climate change suggest, may become more frequent.
The time for collective and sustained action is now. Failure to act could result in a major loss of the social, political and security gains of the last two years. From the crippling effects of these disasters, Haiti's government, legislators, private sector, civil society and diaspora (with the support of the international community) must make this tragedy into a transformative moment to engineer a sustainable framework for Haiti's future development.
This humanitarian crisis cannot go unchecked. Unless the Haitian government, with the support of the international community, moves forward swiftly with a bold solution, Haiti's progress will be severely hampered and political stability may once more be at stake.
Albert R. Ramdin is assistant secretary general and chairman of the Haiti Task Force at the Organization of American States.