Saturday, April 13, 2013

The Haitian Earthquake -Three years later


The Haitian Earthquake -Three years later

Par Louis J. Auguste, MD

January 12, 2013 marked the third anniversary of the disastrous earthquake that in 35 seconds destroyed Haiti’s capital city, snuffed the life out of 300,000 individuals. It created at the same time 1.5 million homeless persons and crippled an economy already in tatters. This catastrophe of proportion hardly ever seen led to an outpouring of good will and the more fortunate countries of the world opened their burses and pledged over 1.6 billion dollars to “rebuild Haiti and put it at last on the path to development.” Three years later, every time I mentioned my medical missions to Haiti, I hear the same question over and over from Haitians and Americans alike:”Are they making any progress down there?” The tone of the question always suggests that they already know the answer to their question or at least they assume they know the answer. Of course, it has to be “NO.” After all, the media continuously comments on the corruption and the ineptitude of the Haitian government... Unless you decide to dig deeper with Bill Quigley or Jonathan Katz to unearth the truth about the relief efforts in Haiti. To debunk the myths about Haiti, Jonathan M. Katz spent time on the ground there right after the seism and published a treatise entitled “The Big Truck That Went By: How the World Came to Save Haiti and Left Behind a Disaster.” This book is an absolute must for anyone interested in this issue. Bill Quigley and Amber Ramanauskas shared their observation under the title: ‘Where the Relief Money Did and Did not G0 –Haiti after the Quake. This well documented study full of precise numbers cannot be summarized. Instead, I will quote a segment from it verbatim: “1) The largest single recipient of US Earthquake money was the US Government. The same holds true for donations by other countries. Right after the earthquake, the US allocated $379 million in aid and sent in 5000 troops. The Associated Press discovered that of the $379 million in initial US money promised for Haiti, most was not really money going directly, or in some cases even indirectly, to Haiti. They documented in January 2012 that 33 cents of each of these US dollars for Haiti were actually given directly back to the US to reimburse ourselves for sending in our military. Forty-two cents of each dollar went to private and public non-governmental organizations like Save the Children, the UN World Food Program and the Pan American Health Organization. 2) Only 1 percent of the money went to the Haitian Government.

Less than a penny of each dollar of US aid went to the government of Haiti, according to the Associated Press. The same is true with other international donors. The Haitian government was completely bypassed in the relief effort by the US and the international community.”

Three years later, Haiti still exists and life has gone on with and without the International community. Certainly, the Haiti of today represents a completely different reality than the Haiti of 30 or 40 years ago. Every time, I fly to Haiti, I see more American, Canadian or Korean passengers than Haitians. Non-Governmental agencies have sprouted everywhere and they may have reached the record number of 10,000. Of course, these foreigners compete with the local individuals for food, lodging and all other services and this phenomenon has driven up the cost of living. The local production of agricultural goods, already very anemic, has plummeted in the South of the country, in the aftermaths of Hurricane Sandy. Therefore, it is not surprising that life has become quite expensive and from the four corners of the country, we hear reports of extreme poverty, despite countless efforts being deployed by the current government to move the country forward.

Indeed, much attention has been given to the program of free education to the youth of the country, a solid investment in the future since it will provide the country with more educated individuals, better able to deal with a rapidly changing world. Hotels are being built at a faster pace than anywhere else in the Caribbean basin. An industrial center was erected near Caracol with the capacity of creating 400,000 jobs. Agriculture is also a focus of concern, true to the REPONS PEYIZAN platform put forth by candidate Martelly. This program so far has included several projects of reforestation, direct support to the farmers to improve their land management and agricultural techniques and promotion of fish hatcheries, etc… These projects probably need to be expanded ten-fold, but at least it is a beginning. From the point of view of energy, area where the country is seriously lagging behind, efforts are being made to prepare brickets from thrash and garbage for daily cooking, thus hopefully reducing the consumption of wood coal. In addition, there has been a discussion to purchase electricity from the Dominican Republic, project that I believe we should approach with caution, since it would lead to further drain of currency toward the neighboring republic and would also maintain our dependency and ipso facto our vulnerability in case of disagreement and/or conflict with them. We hope that more effort will be made toward the production of renewable energy from the wind, the sun and biodiesel. The Minister of Tourism has been working extremely hard to promote our unique historic monuments and beautiful natural sites, including our well-known beaches, our majestic waterfalls and the newly discovered magnificent caves. She has been also striving to draw investments to make these sites more hospitable and more accessible.

Finally, the recent Carnival in Cap-Haitien was a brilliant idea. Indeed, not only it drew close to a million of people to the Capital of the Northern department, creating an instant influx of capital into the region, but also it allowed young Haitians, Haitian Americans or Haitian Canadians to discover a land that they barely knew either because they were born abroad or because they left the country at a very young age. This event watched by hundreds of thousand over the Internet has forged new bonds and renewed the interest of many expatriates, so that nowadays, more than ever I hear Haitian Americans talk about buying homes and retiring in Haiti.

Therefore, my answers to the question about Haiti is: Yes! Things are getting slowly better and are definitely moving in the right direction. Haiti cannot depend on foreign help to rebuild itself. In 1842, when a severe earthquake destroyed entire blocks of houses in Cap-Haitien and severely damaged its Cathedral, as well as the nearby Sans Souci Palace of King Henri, it took a long time to rebuild the city. Nevertheless, the City was rebuilt without any foreign help. This time again, we can do it if all Haitians put their heads and their hands together to create a better future for the next generations of Haitians. Let us take charge of our own destiny. Let us bring about durable changes that will be catalysts for better outcome ahead: changes in the infrastructures such as better roads, which will facilitate the transport of goods, improve access to touristic sites and result in fewer expenses for car and truck repairs and spare parts. Let us improve the health of our community not simply by reinforcing our hospitals and health centers, but mainly by strengthening our public health policies, providing proper vaccinations to all children, making clean water available throughout the country, adopting stricter rules in the handling and distribution of food in the urban as well as the rural settings, etc...

With a more educated and healthier citizenry, with better infrastructures in a more secure and stable environment, under the rule of the law and with Haiti-centric economic policies, we will not need any foreign aid to rebuild our country and at last Haïti will take the path toward economic development.

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