THE CANADAIN GLOBE AND MAIL
Andre Picard's Second Opinion
To rescue Haiti we must look at past mistakes:
It had long been a land of disease, malnutrition and high child
mortality. True recovery means solving those problems:
Published on Thursday. Jan.21, 2010 10:08AM EST Last updated on
Thursday. Jan.21. 2010 7MPM EST
The media coverage of the Haitian disaster can, at times, be
overwhelming. The scars on the land, like the scars on the faces
of the children, are still painfully raw.
There is seemingly no end to the misery.
But, amidst the aftershocks, the healing - of individuals
and of a nation - must begin. And an integral part of that
process must be learning the lessons that such a disaster offers.
The world - and Canada in particular - has responded generously,
and we should be proud of our response. But, in addition to
writing cheques and heartfelt expressions of solidarity, we
should be asking ourselves some tough questions about our past
(in)action and future plans.
Before the magnitude 7 earthquake hit, on Jan.12 at 4:53
p.m., Haiti was already a man-made disaster - a kleptocracy
burdened by abysmal poverty, high child mortality, homelessness,
inadequate basic infrastructure like water and sewage,
malnutrition, infectious disease, violence, corruption and so on.
The island nation was a living laboratory demonstrating the
damage wrought by inequality and neglect of public health. The
earthquake merely exacerbated these horrors and exposed them to a
heretofore willfully blind world.
Haiti, located within spitting distance of the richest
nation on Earth, was indeed forsaken. It has been for
Why did it take the shift of tectonic plates for us to start
caring - at least temporarily? It is a harsh question that merits
reflection. Merely replacing indifference with guilt is not a
But looking back at our past failings should help guide our
The aftermath of the Haitian earthquake has, if nothing
else, served to brutally underscore what is truly essential for
good health - clean water, food, a solid roof over one's head, a
social network (family, friends, community), some economic power
(read: money), and basic health services like vaccination.
To rescue Haiti we must look at past mistakes.
While the quake itself has been deadly, there is concern
that diseases that spread in insalubrious conditions, like
cholera and dysentery, and threats that thrive where there is
instability and desperation, like rape and HIV-AIDS, could leave
even more Haitians wounded and dead in the weeks to come.
Battlefield medicine - scenes of orthopedic surgeons
amputating limbs with rusty hacksaws while using vodka as
anesthetic like we saw in the early days after the quake - makes
for dramatic TV news stories, but it is a triviality.
Public health grunt work such as distributing food and
water, reuniting families (both specialties of the Red Cross),
preventing outbreaks of measles, cholera and the like with
sanitation and vaccination (a forte of Medecins Sans Frontieres)
and setting up temporary shelter is crucial for mitigating the
impact of disasters. But these temporary solutions must then
evolve into permanent ones.
Looking back at past failings should help guide future
Watching the news, one is left with the impression that
Haiti is a uniformly poor country. But for those who wish to see,
the earthquake has laid bare the gross inequalities that persist
in this former colony.
The disparities - financial, educational, racial and
geographic - have, in many ways, set the stage for the
post-earthquake chaos we are seeing now.
THE WEALTHY SECTION OF PORT-AU-PRINCE
At the highest point in the capital Port-au-Prince is the
wealthy neighbourhood of Pietonville. While the earth moved there
too, the enclave was largely unscathed, with the exception of the
Montana Hotel, a pied-a-there for foreigners that has received an
inordinate amount of media attention.
The houses of Pietonville, well-built, did not crumble.
Residents of the enclave have generators for electricity, water
for drinking and all the food they need. The stores have
re-opened selling luxury goods. Armed security guards keep
looters at bay.
The elite of Pietonville were not spared by Mother Nature:
They were protected by wealth and, perversely, they stand to grow
wealthier still from the reconstruction. Their employees are
still paid the minimum wage of $3 a day or less.
THE MOVE FORWARD
These are uncomfortable truths, but we should not shy away
from exposing them. The aid that Haiti needs cannot merely take
the form of rice and water, rebuilt shanties and new health
clinics and orphanages. As we move from relief to rehabilitation
and then rebuilding (or, in Haiti's case, building), we must aim
to make this impoverished country more than just a model home for
At a summit planned for Montreal on Monday Jan.25, there
will be much talk of rescuing Haiti by building a viable economy.
There will be an attempt to cobble together a modern day Marshall
Canada, a key partner for Haiti, needs to be a leader in
these efforts. But we should not be satisfied with a strictly
Our foreign aid is all too often a subsidy program for
bolstering Canadian business; the priority has to be creating
jobs and an economy by having Haitians rebuild Haiti, not
creating more dependency.
A striking image on day one of the earthquake was the
Presidential Palace reduced to rubble. Let that be a symbol and
an inspiration. Canada, the United States and other countries
need to use our might - financial, political and moral - to build
a more democratic, more just and more independent country.
To rescue Haiti we must look at past mistakes.
Only then can Haiti and Haitians start to build lasting
health. And while this will not prevent future calamities - this
is, after all, a part of the world where hurricanes, floods and
earthquakes are ever-present threats - it will build resilience
and a capacity to bounce back.
10 Things Canada should do to help Haiti:
Here are the hard-hitting recommendations of the advocacy group
Haiti Action Montreal:
10. Focus relief efforts on the poorest neighbourhoods of
9. Stop deporting Haitians from Canada. Open our border to allow
more immigrants from Haiti.
8. Fund a new Haitian government disaster relief ministry to
immediately start paying unemployed Haitians to clear up rubble.
7. Provide the Haitian government with money and expertise to
strengthen building codes and government inspection processes to
ensure all new construction meets safety standards.
6. Provide funding for the Haitian government to set up a housing
ministry that would be responsible for rebuilding destroyed
5. Provide the Haitian government with the resources to create a
forestry ministry to re-forest the countryside.
4. Insist Canadian companies in Haiti pay at least three times
the minimum wage of $3 a day.
3. Shift tens of millions of dollars worth of Canadian "aid" from
training police and building prisons to funding human
infrastructure programs like transport, electrical capacity and
2. Understand that the best aid empowers Haitians to control
their own affairs.
1. Once this is all done get the heck out and let Haitians run
their own country.