Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti

Working To Build Haiti Back Better

By Nicole Lee, The Seattle Medium

(NNPA) – I heard a statistic this week that 50 percent of all American households gave to Haiti’s relief effort. Even more heartening, 90 percent African-American households gave. With this unprecedented level of giving comes an unprecedented expectation for success. The best shot for success is that the funds directly support of Haitian-led initiatives to build back Haiti better and stronger. The calls for a U.S. policies that supports that effort rings all the more true.

Many Haiti experts, commentators and friends have emphasized the need to “Build Haiti Back Better.” And this is true. Returning to a pre-earthquake Haiti cannot be an option. After years of crippling international debt, an unsound economy, inconsistent governance and international intervention, far too many of Haiti’s citizens were already struggling to gain access to stable jobs, affordable food, shelter and education, health care and security before January 12th, 2010. Haiti has been a laboratory for international tests of military interventionism and occupation, threats and coups against democratically-elected leaders, economic policies that privilege multi-national corporations over local economies and organized workers, and discriminatory immigration policies.

Haiti has withstood the litmus test of these, and other, severe challenges presented by the international community: governments, international financial institutions and non-governmental organizations. In the face of such adversity, the Haitian people remain strong. But they should not have to do this alone. Building back better has to be a central principle in moving ahead and we must be specific in our demands and consistent in our pressure. As we work to build back better, we must prioritize the plans of Haitian civil society organizations on the ground. These plans already exist and should frame the continued relief and reconstruction efforts. Our efforts must include holistic approaches to basic services—access to food, potable water, sanitation, shelter/housing, health services and security. We will face issues of education, job creation and sustainability, infrastructure, government capacity, food independence and sustainability. Even now, as priorities are already shifting towards long-term reconstruction, too many short-term issues remain outstanding.

I have been to Haiti a few times since the earthquake hit, both in Port-au-Prince as well as to Leogane, the epicenter of the quake. As aid organizations, governments and NGOs commend themselves for their perceived successes, hundreds of thousands of people have still seen little to no food, water or shelter in over two months. While we must formulate a long term plan of reconstruction, we absolutely cannot ignore the men, women and children who have received nothing despite billions of dollars of aid that have been raised.

We have to do better. We have to do better for Haiti. We have to do better for us all. Haiti has always stood as stalwart image of freedom, resistance and power throughout the world. Recognizing the claims of Haitian civil society organizations on the ground will ensure the most effective and just form of rebuilding. As Pan-African leader Kwame Nkrumah noted in 1965, ”We have the blessing of the wealth of our vast resources, the power of our talents and the potentialities of our people. Let us grasp now the opportunities before us and meet the challenge to our survival.” In addressing the aftermath of January 12th, the talents and priorities of Haitians in Haiti, and throughout the Diaspora, should remain central.

Our destinies are intimately linked. And with our shared fate, we can not continue to accept a standard level of misery for our sisters and brothers in Haiti. Haiti must be built back at its best. The resources, internal knowledge and skills and international support exist. Adequate implementation continues to challenge the most astute organizations and governments and we have the opportunity to support and uplift the creation of a Haiti where the all people are free from want and fear. Let us use this opportunity to show how aid and development can prioritize and empower people. Viv Ayiti!

Nicole C. Lee, Esq. is the President of TransAfrica Forum, Inc.

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