Zack Gross
Zack Gross

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Rebuilding Haiti A Long-Term Effort

Brandon Sun “Small World” Column, Saturday,  January 23 / 10

Zack Gross

It’s hard to watch, and even harder to turn away from, the images that assail us these days from Haiti’s earthquake zone.  Canadians, through their tax dollars and through individual giving, are generously donating millions of dollars to disaster relief, with organizations such as the Red Cross, Foster Parents PLAN, World Vision, Doctors without Borders and many others delivering this aid. 

Sometimes, when we’ve watched the latest News, or sent in our cheque, or indeed have moved on to other distractions in our lives, we wonder why things take so long and whether the funds are used honestly or wisely. 

Our expectations are likely too high for what can be accomplished in absolutely horrendous conditions.

The first step in delivering disaster relief, of course, is just to get to the earthquake or storm zone.  If roads and bridges are out, if the terrain is mountainous, if the season is rainy or snowy, if working ports or airports aren’t available, or if the area was already poverty-stricken, the operation will be that much more difficult. 

The money that a Manitoban donates in the first months after a disaster goes very specifically to immediate, practical needs such as shelter, food, medicine, water and sanitation. 

In the case of Haiti, using shelter as an example, that translates into tarpaulins, mattresses and blankets.  You can find out what the group you’ve donated to is doing by visiting their website. 

Heavier tasks, using tractors, ships and airplanes, are often accomplished by governments, United Nations, armies and so on.
When the news media move on to other stories, we mistakenly assume that the problems in the disaster zone have been solved.  In fact, the first frenzied weeks and months of disaster relief are just the tip of the iceberg. 

After relief efforts, there is rehabilitation.  This is the rebuilding of programs, infrastructure and buildings so that normal life can be re-established. 

Getting schools and clinics operating again, even if they are outdoors, as in the Asian Tsunami, are examples, as are psychosocial programs to deal with the trauma that children and adults feel after such a catastrophe. 

Opening up roads and markets are necessary, too.

As one of the poorest countries in the world, Haiti has been the focus of many aid programs, delivering health care, supporting food production, dealing with civil conflict and fostering education. 

Many Canadian organizations, in particular faith-based ones, have been active there for many years.  At some point, and it may take a year or years, Haiti will get back to the development phase of building up its social and economic resources. 

Beyond the immediate disaster relief and the start to rebuilding a normal life in the country, comes actually helping Haiti prosper.  Some observers say that, in actuality, Haiti has been set back a generation.

The severity of the earthquake and its location, right in the capital, the huge loss of life and property damage, have created a greater overall effect than if a remote area had been hit.  

This could greatly stretch out all phases of recovery and progress. 

The better off a country and its people are, the more able they are to withstand and recover from a natural disaster.  In a country like Haiti, the best result of recovery efforts is to leave the country less vulnerable to disaster in the future. 

Understandably, a 7.0 magnitude earthquake is going to be devastating, but what if the capital, Port au Prince, had buildings that were earthquake proof, had a strong and organized government and police, and had better medical care?

Early warning systems were brought into South Asia after the Tsunami, and specially designed buildings were mandated after quakes along North America’s west coast. 

In Bangladesh, regular flooding kills people and washes away farmland. 

The very poor live an unsustainable existence on these flood plains and the remedy to this is a socio-economic one, that the poor shouldn’t be shunted into the worst locations. 

In Pakistan, after the earthquake which occurred in a remote area, people “at the end of the road” never really received help because they were too far from the centre in a country with a government with other priorities. 

Again, it didn’t have to be that way.

For so many people in Haiti, their history will seem to begin with the January 2010 Earthquake. 

Everything before will seem like a dream, or like something meaningless – a great “What if it hadn’t happened…?” 

We can only try to help these fellow human beings pick up the pieces, build their country, and hope that the new Haiti offers its people a better life.

Zack Gross works for the 
Manitoba Council for International Co-operation (MCIC), a coalition of more than 40 international development organizations.

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