Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti

Aid to Haiti slow in coming

Philadelphia Inquirer Editorial

Of all the things Haiti’s earthquake victims are running out of, patience may be the most important.

This destitute country has endured the consequences of revolution and the abuse of dictators. Now it is struggling mightily to recover from the Jan. 12 temblor that left 300,000 dead and more than a million people homeless.

The frustrations of the survivors, many of them recovering from loss of limbs and other injuries, are chronicled in letters placed in suggestion boxes installed at homeless camps by the International Organization for Migration.

“Please, do something,” pleaded a woman in one of the letters recently published in the New York Times. “We don’t want to die of hunger and also we want to send our children to school.”

“I gave birth six months ago, the baby died, I have six other children, they don’t have a father, I don’t have work, my tarp is torn, the rain panics me, my house was crushed, I don’t have money to feed my family, I would really love it if you would help me,” said another woman in her letter.

It’s not that Haiti is being ignored by the international community, but the assistance it promised isn’t coming in as quickly as it should. Donors made a two-year pledge of $5.3 billion for earthquake relief, but the United Nations says only about 18 percent of that has been received.

“I recognize that in many cases the approval of funds needs to go through the legislative process, which can slow things down,” World Bank vice president Pamela Cox told the Miami Herald. “However, we echo former President Bill Clinton’s call to donors to expedite delivery of funds.”

There has been some good donor news for Haiti, but it won’t bring immediate relief for the letter writers and others living in tents and other make-do abodes.

In announcements last week, Haitian officials revealed an agreement with the South Korean company Sae-A Trading to build a garment factory expected to employ 10,000 people; and a pact with France and the United States in which each will contribute $25 million to rebuild General University Hospital in Port au Prince. Even in its damaged state, the hospital has been serving thousands of patients since the earthquake. Restoring its electrical systems and replacing equipment are essential to providing basic public health services.

More controversial is the garment plant. Sae-A Trading, which makes clothing for Gap, Banana Republic, Target, Wal-Mart, Levi’s, and others, has been criticized for its low wages. But Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton has defended the planned factory, saying it will provide “good jobs with fair pay that adhere to international labor standards.”

Time will tell whether that will be the case. The concern now is to provide more relief to Haitians. The Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti released a report Tuesday that said 75 percent of all families had at least one member who went a full day without eating in the past week.

Haiti has been wracked by poverty for so many years that many of those families probably had a hard time getting fed before the earthquake. But that doesn’t excuse the tardiness of promised disaster aid by other nations. The need is evident. So, too, should be the assistance.

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