By Raffique Shah
January 31, 2010
BEFORE the Herculean task of reconstructing Haiti can begin, the current relief programme must reach every Haitian. It must first ensure that all those who suffered physical and mental trauma during and after the earthquake are properly treated. Last week I made reference to amputations being done with hacksaws and without anaesthetic. Hello! Anaesthesia was introduced in the mid-19th century! The US military has large numbers of field hospitals equipped a wide range of medications to meet such emergencies. Where were they?
Instead, the US commandeered all points of entry to the country and virtually removed the legitimate government. Then with more soldiers than medical or aid-distribution personnel, it failed to deliver relief to Haitians (and foreigners who lived there or were trapped in the country) who needed it most. Only this morning I read an emailed report of one victim who managed to keep a diary of sorts. Stories of death, the stench of decaying bodies, of food and water not reaching most victims for more than 15 days, expose the incompetence of the US and UN relief teams.
President Preval called for more tents to temporarily house those displaced by the disaster. Can anyone explain why no fewer than 500,000 tents and portable toilets to meet people’s needs are yet to reach the country? Bear in mind these are only immediate relief measures-not reconstruction of the country. Before the latter can even begin, the former must be dealt with. The last thing you want is hungry, angry people storming sites that must be cleared before reconstruction begins.
Reconstructing Haiti must be done on a comprehensive and consultative basis. It cannot exclude Haitians or be confined to Port-au- Prince and surrounding districts. It must not be restricted to government buildings and housing. It must include measures for restoring the country’s once-thriving agricultural sector, and with that, reforestation. There will be huge infrastructure projects-roads, bridges, water dams, electricity-hell, just about everything to restore some modicum of civilisation to that country.
It is for these reasons that I dismissed Mr Manning’s call for US$1 billion a year to rebuild Haiti. Reconstruction will take at least a decade and it will require at least US$3 billion a year. Where will the money come from? Those who live comfortably in their black skins wearing white masks see reparations as a dirty word. These hypocrites justified Jewish Holocaust victims demanding and getting reparations for Hitler’s excesses. But Black people seeking to set right an historical, racist injustice, are looked upon as leeches.
The US and France, which collaborated to bring misery to an entire nation, must meet the major cost of rebuilding it. We can start with cancelling all of Haiti’s current debts. Thankfully, some countries and agencies have already done that. Then, working closely with Haitians who have their country’s interests at heart, a ten-year reconstruction plan must be developed. It will not be perfect. It may not even be practical. But it would at least be a starting point from which the world would move to do what is just.
A major concern is this: based on historical precedents and endemic corruption, much of the money targeting such projects ends up in the bank accounts or pockets of unscrupulous politicians, contractors and even the donors. In order to prevent this banditry, the world needs to set up a committee comprising a few good men and women to oversee the reconstruction programme, to monitor expenditure-in other words, to ensure that every dollar is accounted for, is spent to help Haiti, not hurt it.
Where can we find people of such impeccable integrity? People who have not just good hearts, but fertile minds? These are the $40 billion questions that are difficult to answer. I think we should start right here in the Caribbean, Haiti included. If we leave this function to the US, the bulk of the money will end up in the coffers of companies like Blackwater, as happened in Iraq. For those not-in-the-know, Blackwater (name since changed) is a mercenary outfit that received huge sums of money for murdering innocent people in Iraq and Afghanistan.
While corruption is commonplace in the Caribbean, I believe we can find good, honest people who know Haiti, who can be trusted with managing its reconstruction. In fact, I would go out of the region to enlist the man to head such mission: Brazil’s President Lula, who is due to step down from office sometime this year. Lula has distinguished himself as a global statesman, and more than that, as a man who gets things done.
Reginald Dumas is seen as a man of integrity; Jamaica’s PJ Patterson commands respect in the region; Bangladeshi Muhammad Yunus won the Nobel Prize for his work among the poor in his homeland; India’s Arundhati Roy and Nigeria’s Wole Soyinka, both respected writers with a social conscience; and Guatemala’s Rigoberta Menchu, another laureate who fought for justice for indigenous people.
These distinguished people would form the core of my team. I am sure there are many more who readers may add. Whatever we do, let’s get ’Team Haiti’ up and running. Once Haiti remains mired in misery the Caribbean will never be allowed to prosper in peace.