Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti

Haiti’s painful recovery

Miami Herald Editorial

OUR OPINION: Some signs of progress, but still long way to go

President René Préval of Haiti has moved back into an undamaged portion of the Presidential Palace to receive official visitors for the first time since the cataclysmic earthquake of Jan. 12. It is just one of several small but encouraging signs that Haiti has started the long and painful process of recovery.

Given the onset of the rainy season, the vast population scattered in hundreds of refugee camps, living in rudimentary shelters and still vulnerable to mudslides and the threat of flooding, no one is ready to declare the end of the emergency. But it is important to note that the mountains of aid and intense levels of attention Haiti has received from the world community in the last 15 weeks have made a positive difference in the lives of hundreds of thousands of Haitians.

Most important, perhaps, is that epidemics of contagious disease that many feared would ravage the population have failed to materialize — so far. This is not just a matter of good fortune. Haiti’s doctors, U.S. and U.N. medical authorities, nonprofits like Doctors Without Borders and the International Medical Corps have been working tirelessly to give medical attention to the needy and create disease-free conditions in the sprawling camps.

In some cases, they have been too successful. U.S. Rep. Kendrick Meek, who visited Haiti this weekend, noted that some Haitians had left their undamaged homes to live in camps where they could be assured of sanitary living conditions and a guaranteed food supply. He said some of the camps have grown to three and four times their original size.

Nonetheless, too many camps are just a major storm away from sliding down a hillside or turning into disaster zones. Closing these camps and moving the vulnerable population to safer sites should remain the top priority for the authorities in Haiti.

Perhaps the most urgent need after that is to streamline and formalize the process of distributing funds and resources for organizations that want to help Haiti. At the moment, well-intentioned efforts to assist Haiti — groups that want to contribute money to establish hospitals, for example — do not know where to turn to move forward.

The first step is to fill the position of executive director of the Haitian Reconstruction Commission to begin giving shape and direction to the recovery effort. Mr. Préval will be instrumental in the selection. He must find an individual whose reputation is beyond reproach — preferably a Haitian living in Haiti — as a way of reassuring the international community that the recovery effort will not be plagued by corruption and malfeasance.

Haiti has come a long way since Jan. 12, but the journey to recovery is just beginning.

The $5.3 billion pledged by international donors for 2010-11 at a March 31 U.N. conference is no more than the promise of a better future for the people of Haiti. This level of aid will likely be slow in coming, if at all, until Mr. Préval’s government shows credible signs that it is up to the job of leading the recovery.

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