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|Written by Kendall R. Giberson|
|Wednesday, 03 March 2010 00:00|
On January 12, 2010, an entire country was reduced to shambles in just a few seconds. In the metropolitan area of Port-au-Prince, where nearly half of Haiti's 9 million people live, everything resembling normalcy was ground to a halt in the earthquake. A nuclear bomb could have done as much damage, with almost 200,000 people killed and many hundreds of thousands more rendered homeless.
Perhaps down the road, after years of rebuilding, the people of Haiti may see this event as the beginning of the rebirth of the Western Hemisphere's poorest state. Long considered the textbook case of a failed state, Haiti now has an opportunity to start over with a clean slate. After decades of dictators, rampant state corruption, and shoddy public planning, Haiti has one of the lowest standards of living in the world. This terrible disaster could be the catalyst for real change in the lives of Haitians.
What Needs to be Done
With all of the foreign aid that came in after the earthquake, Haitian officials now have a chance to turn things around and make Haiti prosperous once more. In the early to mid-19th century, Haiti was the most developed land in the Caribbean, and its farmlands and textile mills exported goods all over the globe. More recently, Haiti has not been able to feed its own population and has had to rely on foreign aid to avoid catastrophe.
In the wake of the recent earthquake, significant contributions have come from the following national governments, not including sub-national governments, NGOs or private donations (as of Feb.17, 2010, all in US$):
European Union - $474 million
United States - $466.9 million
Canada - $130.7 million
Japan - $70.7 million
Saudi Arabia - $50 million
Brazil - $16.8 million
Australia - $13.4 million
South Korea - $10 million
China - $8 million
Italy - Forgave $55.7 million loan
Cuba - 30 field hospitals
Senegal - Free land for Haitian refugees
The problems in housing and transportation can be solved if the money is spent properly. The best start would be re-building Port-au-Prince altogether by creating proper roads and buildings that can withstand earthquakes. The vast shantytowns, bastions of danger and crime that have sprung up and steadily grown in the city's suburbs, should be bulldozed, and proper urban planning should take place. Proper city streets and blocks should be planned out with modern utilities serving public housing instead of the mess of infrastructure created by neglectful governments in the past.
Political instability has likely been the largest factor in Haiti's struggles as a nation. After years of broken promises, dictators, and military coups, the effect can be seen in Haiti's demographics:
Lack of education is also a problem, as only 15% of Haitian teachers are qualified by Canadian standards. A large percentage of children do not go to school at all. The hopelessness of the situation is such that many Haitians with the means to do so leave the country for places like France, the United States, Canada and African countries.
What Canada Can Do
"The best thing Canada can do is assist the Haitian people to rebuild, to 'make it right'."
-- Peter Goldring, "Rebuild Haiti and Make it Right"Before the earthquake hit, Haiti was the second-highest recipient of Canadian aid. Canada was the first country to respond to the disaster, and Canadians have been the largest donors to relief organizations on a per capita basis. Canada has long had a Haiti Task Force in place, administered through Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada. The provincial government of Quebec, home of a large Haitian expat population, donated $3 million (CND) on its own. Canada has committed thousands of soldiers, police officers, aid workers, and volunteers in addition to those who were already in Haiti when the earthquake occurred. Through Citizenship and Immigration Canada and federal government employees in Port-au-Prince and Santo Domingo, Canada has decided to speed up the process for family-class Haitian immigrants to Canada.
There have been rumblings in the media recently about Canada taking the lead in international relief efforts for Haiti. Given the cultural and linguistic connections with Canadian francophone communities, and the fact that Canada's mission in Afghanistan is scheduled to end after 2011, Canada seems to be a natural choice to lead the efforts, as we have the resources available to help rebuild the country. It is doubtful that Haiti will need as strong of a military presence as Afghanistan, but the Canadian Forces' experience in overseeing the construction of roads, bridges, schools, and hospitals is valuable.
Canada could create job-training programs for Haitians and help them get work experience in Canada. The most obvious need would be in education, through training Haitian teachers at Canadian schools. The next priority would be opening up Canadian colleges and universities to Haitian students whose schools were destroyed in the earthquake. This way, Canada could help train the next generation of Haitian professionals: scientists, doctors, engineers, architects, bankers, civil servants, etc., who would succeed where their predecessors could not in helping the country make economic progress.