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Double tragedy

Sarah Cliffe's picture

I visited Haiti just before Christmas with Nik Win Myint from the WDR team. I talked to community groups in some of the slums that have been most ravaged by drugs and gang-related violenceCite de Soleil, Martissant, Bel-air.

    Visiting a poultry farm in Haiti. Photos © Henriot Nader

The people I met had great hope for the futureafter decades of a debilitating cycle of poverty, violence and state inaction, they finally felt that things were improving. The young men in the pictures here had just started their own farm for chicken eggs, funded through small grants from the government.  "Security is better. The police are better. We are still worried about the future, but this is the first time the state has done something for us. People in this community just need the chance to work, to get training" they said.

Who knows how many of the people I talked to are still alive.  Tens of thousands have died in the earthquake, and those who survive have lost family members, their houses, their possessions, their jobs.  This would have been a tragedy at any timeit is more so at a period when the country seemed to be regaining hope and some confidence in the future.

     Nik Win Myint (left) and I in a community bakery.

International aid is pouring into the countryand the immediate needs are humanitarian, to care for the hurt and desperation amongst survivors. Yet watching the faces on my TV screen and thinking about those I spoke to just a few weeks ago, I'm also struck by how important it is that this aid gives Haitians the chance to regain the hope and dignity which they were claiming before the earthquake struck. This will mean the international community sticking around for long enough after the initial crisis not only to feed and treat victims and help rebuild destroyed infrastructure, but also to get Haiti's fragile economy and institutions back on their feet. Not just giving people clothes and temporary shelter, but making sure they have an income at the end of it to start to rebuild their own lives. Not just rebuilding hospitals, schools and police stations, but making sure that the government has the means to run them. Not just rebuilding houses, but making sure that the poor do not have to live in the most vulnerable locations to natural disasters because they have no other access to land or property.

Haiti needed more aid even before the earthquakewith gaps in funding for job creation, for agriculture and to support continued change for the better in the police and the justice system. Hedi Annabi, the UN SRSG who died in the earthquake, was struggling to persuade donors around the world to provide this funding. It would double the tragedy if this support is not now providedfor this is what is needed not only to paper over the current damage but to make Haitians less vulnerable to a similar disaster in future. As the BBC did this week, it is good to ask "What will happen in one year, or five years? Will this be the opportunity to remake Haiti or will it be a lost opportunity?"

    Streetsigns prepared by a youth group to improve their neighborhood.


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