Magazine article Americas (English Edition)

Rebuilding a Future for Haiti: In the Aftermath of the Devastating Earthquake, a Commitment of Crucial Support Has Emerged from the Community of Institutions That Form the Inter-American System

Magazine article Americas (English Edition)

Rebuilding a Future for Haiti: In the Aftermath of the Devastating Earthquake, a Commitment of Crucial Support Has Emerged from the Community of Institutions That Form the Inter-American System

Article excerpt

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Albert Ramdin has traveled to Haiti many times in the past ten years. But no trip was like the one he took there in early February, three weeks after a 7.0 magnitude earthquake devastated Port-au-Prince, killing an estimated 217,000 people, injuring over 300,000, leaving 1.9 million people homeless, and destroying the country's already struggling economy.

"We knew the situation was not great, but those images on TV are nothing compared to actually being there, seeing a country completely collapsed, and the devastation on the faces of its people," said Ramdin, Assistant Secretary General of the Organization of American States (OAS) and chairman of the OAS Haiti Task Force. "I knew many people who died in the earthquake--ministers, policymakers, friends, family members, their kids. They did not even have time to grieve."

Ramdin said it was a miracle that the OAS headquarters in the Port-au-Prince suburb of Petionville was left untouched by the quake. It was immediately offered for use by the Haitian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

"We are now establishing a Haiti coordinating office. My next visit to Haiti will be to make our OAS office fully operational," Ramdin explained. "We are not going to be able to finance hundreds of millions in reconstruction. Our role instead will be to assist in strengthening governance and building technical capacity." The Inter-American Development Bank estimates it will cost nearly $14 billion to rebuild Haiti's homes, schools, roads, and other infrastructure. That makes the January 12 earthquake the most destructive natural disaster in modern times when viewed in relation to the size of Haiti's population and economy.

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After a two-day visit to Haiti, OAS Secretary General Jose Miguel Insulza echoed Ramdin's impressions. "This has been the greatest natural disaster of our lives. There is not a single street that has not lost a significant number of homes. The population is still traumatized by the experience and by the fear of new tremors." He also noted that international aid is playing, and must continue to play, a fundamental role in helping the victims and rebuilding Haiti.

"Haiti can recover, but it will require enormous courage from policymakers," said Ramdin. "Are we going to have a country where every five years you have fifteen elections taking place? It's about time to look at that, and maybe have one election for president and legislative bodies. This is the time for structural changes in Haiti. The world cannot spend $14 billion and see everything collapse again because of wrong decisions."

In this sense, he said, Haiti is at the top of the OAS political agenda and will remain there for some time. "We have mobilized financial resources with our partners and facilitated coordination among the various inter-American institutions: the Pan American Development Foundation (PADF), the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), the Inter-American Institute for Agriculture (IICA), the Inter-American Defense Board, and the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB)."

"Beyond the physical and economic damage, the Haitian people will require a lot of mental and psychological assistance to overcome this," he said. "The Haitian people will need assistance beyond repairing the damage and rebuilding the economy. But Haiti can recover. And we must keep Haiti very high on the agenda."

One of the most crucial agencies on the ground in Haiti right now is PAHO, which was immediately designated as the lead coordinator for all health issues. Every afternoon, "cluster" meetings are convened, with 200-some NGO representatives who have arrived in Haiti to offer assistance. Work is divided into subgroups for specific tasks, like the management of mobile clinics, damaged hospitals, and stationary clinics in the 600 or so new settlement areas that have sprung up literally overnight because people were afraid to go back into their homes. …

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