DATE: January 14, 2010
SOURCE: New York Times, http://www.nytimes.com/2010/01/14/opinion/14thu1.html?ref=opinion
TEXT: Once again, the world weeps with Haiti. The earthquake that struck on Tuesday did damage on a scale that scarcely could have been imagined had we all not seen the photos and videos and read the survivors’ agonizing accounts — of the sudden crumbling of mountainside slums, schools, hospitals, even the Parliament building and presidential palace.
Whenever disaster strikes, we are reminded that Haiti is the poorest country in the hemisphere. And each time there is a disaster, this country and others help — for a while. This time must be different.
Haiti urgently needs relief to dig out and shelter survivors, and to nurse, feed and clothe people who had little to start with and now have nothing left. But Haiti needs more. It needs a commitment to finally move beyond the relentless poverty, despair and dysfunction that would be a disaster anywhere else but in Haiti are the norm.
President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton have promised that assistance from the United States will be swift through the coordinated efforts of the military, civilian aid agencies and nongovernmental organizations. The administration must make sure that the upswelling of generosity turns into sustained action, replacing the confusion and chaos on the ground with a rational and effective campaign — first to rescue, then to rebuild.
Private citizens can help speed the process by giving generously to charitable organizations that have a track record in Haiti. Those groups know where to direct humanitarian aid and how to spend it prudently.
The United Nations mission in Haiti suffered a tragic blow on Tuesday when its headquarters in Port-au-Prince, the nation’s capital, were destroyed. Its chief and dozens of employees remain unaccounted for. The organization must find a way to recover quickly to resume its vital mission.
Former President Bill Clinton, the United Nations’ special envoy to Haiti, has an opportunity to bring all his skills of leadership and persuasion to bear. If ever there was a time for so gifted and trouble-prone former president to make himself useful, this is it.
The United States has a special responsibility to help its neighbor. This is an opportunity for President Obama to demonstrate how the United States shoulders its responsibilities and mobilizes other countries to do their full part as well. Even as he urges his administration and others to act, he should remind them — and himself — that this is not the work of a few months. It is a commitment of years.
On Wednesday, the Obama administration said it was halting the pending deportation of up to 30,000 Haitians who have run afoul of the immigration agency. The government should now take the next step by granting these immigrants temporary protected status — as it has to survivors of Latin American earthquakes and other disasters — so that the Haitian diaspora in the United States will be allowed to work and send vitally needed money home.
An earthquake this size would have been a catastrophe in any country. But this was only partly a natural disaster. Look at Haiti and you will see what generations of misrule, poverty and political strife will do to a country. Haiti, suffering forever, is in the direst straits. But Haitians do not need condolences. They need help and the ability to help themselves.