Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti

No time to despair OUR OPINION: Haiti’s progress has been slow, but improvements are underway

The Miami Herald Editorial
January 9, 2012

In Haiti, where progress usually comes with painstaking slowness, it is all too easy to give in to despair when things don’t go well. That has been particularly true since the shattering earthquake of Jan. 10, 2010, which claimed some 300,000 lives, left the capital in ruins and forced about 1.5 million people to live amid the misery of makeshift camps, dependent on international donors for all their basic needs.

Critics of the government and of the international effort to promote recovery are quick to point out the obvious signs that much remains undone. Indeed it does. Roughly 500,000 Haitians are still huddling in densely crowded camps, and there is still entirely too much rubble in the streets.

Although more than $2 billion has been spent on recovery efforts, the people of Haiti see very few signs of improvement in their own lives. Meanwhile, the country lurches from crisis to crisis amid persistent political bickering instead of having leaders call a political truce to get things done.

But this is not the entire picture. We do not share the optimistic vision of those who say Haiti has turned the corner — too much remains undone — but under the incredibly trying conditions of the post-earthquake period, mere survival is a victory against the odds. The diligent efforts of thousands of aid workers have fulfilled the immediate needs of Haiti’s people to avoid needless waste of life, while others focus on the future.

Progress is hard to quantify because of an absence of concrete figures, but as Herald reporter Jacqueline Charles noted on Sunday, the rubble that could once fill five Superdomes has been reduced by half, and tattered tents have been replaced by 100,000 temporary shelters.

According to UNICEF, almost two thirds of the people have left overcrowded camps and 700,000 children are in school. That’s not enough, but it’s a significant improvement. “The decrease of people from camps has been dramatic,” according to a ranking aid worker quoted in The Herald.

President Michel Martelly and Haiti’s Parliament can help make a case for continued assistance by setting aside their differences and moving forward together to pursue their common objective of getting Haiti back on its feet.

The first task would be an agreement to revive the International Haiti Recovery Commission, the umbrella organization overseeing reconstruction whose mandate has expired. The international community needs the confidence provided by the IHRC if it is to continue helping Haiti.

Mr. Martelly and legislators must agree on an electoral agenda, as well. Some 10 senators will be out of office in May, but there’s no electoral calendar on the horizon yet. Some 500 mayoral positions also need to be filled.

Here at home, the Obama administration should say Yes to a bipartisan plea by Florida legislators to speed up visas for more than 100,000 Haitians waiting to join their families. U.S. Sens. Bill Nelson and Marco Rubio both signed onto this appeal, as did six U.S. representatives, including Democrat Frederica Wilson and Republican Ileana Ros-Lehtinen.

The lawmakers also asked that a visa program for low-skilled workers be extended to Haiti. These are H-2A and H-2B visa programs that allow U.S. employers to bring foreign workers into the country for temporary jobs. Given the importance of remittances in Haiti’s economy, this should be a priority.

Haiti’s recovery may have fallen short of expectations, yet this is no time to despair but rather to recommit to the task. Much remains undone, and the needs are great.

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