There’s been a lot of talk lately about rebuilding Haiti. Two facts need to be taken into consideration when this topic comes up. First, not all of Haiti was destroyed by the recent magnitude 7.0 quake. Second, whether Haiti was ever properly ‘built’ in the first place to now be ‘rebuilt’ is a subject worthy of debate.
As soon as I first heard of the earthquake on January 12 I thought of my friend Salonique. He, his wife and children live in Gonaives, 85 miles north of Port-au-Prince. No real damage from the quake came to them where they live and work with a church. It was a relief to know these people I care about were far from the epicenter of disaster, but the impact is being felt by them in other ways. Aside from concerns about friends and family they had in Port-au-Prince, Gonaives is now receiving refugees from the earthquake and is suffering from the disruption of its supply chain. This was a catastrophe for the entire country, even though not all the country was “destroyed” directly by the earthquake.
It could be argued, and I think correctly, that Haiti was never really ‘built’ at any point in its history. It is the first modern black republic, having won its freedom from France in the 1800s at great cost. Those expenses were ongoing, as France demanded reparations for war damage and loss. So much so that by 1900, 80% of Haiti’s budget was dedicated to paying back loans taken out to pay the French bill. Without sufficient financial resources and with corrupt governance for pretty much all of its history, essential infrastracture was either never put into place, or else built in a very limited fashion.
Some are speaking, however hesitantly, of this nightmare situation as an opportunity. It is difficult to look for positives in the face of so much suffering and death. Over 100,000 and perhaps more than 200,000 people lost their lives in the earthquake. Yet, we the living have grieve the dead and then to look to the future.
Haiti needs to be set on its feet and assume its place among the nations. It has a unique and noble story to tell. What will it take?
Doctors, nurses and the clergy have been going on missions to Haiti for decades. This work needs to continue, not only now but in an ongoing, sustain manner. Those in the medical profession provide an obvious benefit, while people of the cloth can provide spiritual nurture and counsel to this very religious nation. What else is needed?
Engineers! Had the buildings in Port-au-Prince been built to code for earthquakes less property would have been destroy and the death toll would not be so astronomical. Also, the main supply road into Haiti from the Dominican Republic is said to be quite narrow and of poor quality for the most part. What Haiti desparately needs is solid physical infrastructure.
Roads, bridges, power plants, phone lines and more are needed in Haiti. With these phone lines there should also be fast Internet, widely available. Technology needs to be put into regular use.
How can this be done? There are many ways the work can be done. Factories would help. Not more than 100 miles from the American mainland (so I’ve heard), Haiti could be a fantastic place for garment factories and the like. Sweatshops? Well, hopefully nothing terrible, but certainly better than abject poverty and want.
Are there other suggestions? Is there something you can think of to be done, or that you’d like to do? Why not take it to “Haiti Rewired”? This is a new forum for discussing technology, infrastructure and the future of Haiti. I joined last week and strongly urge anyone with an interest in the topic to take part. Just talking won’t help Haiti. Let’s join together, share ideas, strategize and get busy.