Recommendations on Rebuilding Haiti

By Dr. Ron Daniels and Roger Atangana Muhammad -Guest Columnists- | Last updated: Jan 21, 2010 - 9:02:34 AM

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“Undeserved suffering is redemptive”—Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

No words could possibly convey the horror, the pain and the consternation felt on the great Republic of Haiti during the Earthquake. No words could possibly bring comfort to all those who lost loved ones and those who are still awaiting news about their loved ones, not knowing if they are dead, alive, or injured. This catastrophe, according the top United Nations official, is the worse they ever faced in recent decades.

But we do find some measure of solace, in the tremendous outpouring of concern and help coming from all over the world, especially from the United States of America, under President Obama's leadership. The Media, also, must be given much credit for its relentless coverage and for sending their journalists in harm's way to keep the world informed.

Nonetheless, the destruction of Port-au-Prince is nearly total. The devastation is unparalleled. It will take years of unyielding commitment to rebuild this country—the first free Black Republic of the Western Hemisphere—before it can once again resume a measure of normalcy.

In fact, it will take more than that, much more! For normalcy, in this Republic which has known more than a fair share of tragedies—be they political, economic or natural—means, as the media never stops reminding us, that 78 percent of the population lives on less than $2 per day. By any standard, this is not normal, nor should it ever be tolerated.

Yet, through this ordeal, there is hope. France, who had previously announced plans to cancel the Haitian National Debt—58 million euro ($84 million USD)—by 2014, said it would speed up the process to completely annul it. If this does, in fact, occur it can provide great financial relief to an already crushed economic infrastructure in Haiti.

We also commend the efforts of President Obama in response to the crisis. In so doing, we should also remind the United States government that Haiti is a “special neighbor” of theirs. Haitian troops fought in the crucial battle of Savannah in the American Revolution, and President Jefferson's acquisition of the Louisiana Purchase was a direct consequence of the defeat of Napoleon (by the Haitians). America owes a debt of gratitude to Haiti for its unique contributions to the evolution and development of this nation.

From a policy perspective, the response of the U.S. government should be proportional to the enormity of the disaster—which requires a “Marshall Plan” type response—massive, holistic, systematic and sustained.

Moreover, the private sector, including the banks and financial institutions that recently benefited from American tax dollars to bail them out, should be challenged to contribute, e.g., we understand G.E. has agreed to contribute hundreds of portable water filtration units.

Conversely, on the part of the Black community in the United States, a representative delegation should visit Haiti at an appropriate time in the next week to ten days to interact with government ministries and community-based agencies, as to identify specific needs and find out where monies should be donated in order to be most effective.

Campaigns to gather and ship humanitarian goods like food, clothing and medical supplies can be a logistical nightmare, especially as it relates to getting the assistance through the port and to the people who need it in Haiti. Therefore, collecting monetary contributions which can be donated to credible organizations and agencies on the ground based on their identified needs must be made a priority.

To avoid duplication of effort and to respond effectively to the needs of agencies and organizations on the ground, it is important to strive for a coordinated relief effort; appealing to African-Americans, Caribbean-Americans, Afro-Latinos and Continental Africans for contributions/support [Haitian-Americans are already in motion and will organize/mobilize their community]. Our task is to challenge other people of African descent to become engaged.

Lastly, we must also anticipate the time, in a not so distant future, when the media's attention will gradually subside and move towards other world events. Who then will keep the flame alive and continue to mobilize and organize help for Haiti? As it was (and still must be) with the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, we, as a People worldwide, must be ready to bear the prime responsibility and act in a united and sustained effort in the years to come.

(Dr. Ron Daniels is the director of The Institute of the Black World 21st Century. Their Haiti Support Project has reinstituted the Haiti Relief Fund and is receiving tax-deductible contributions for that purpose via their website