A rebuilding Haiti faces some difficult new issues
Visiting Haiti last week, it was clear that the country is entering a different stage. The depth of poverty is shocking -- more like Kibera in Nairobi than an island in the western hemisphere. But there is food being sold in the markets. “The atmosphere of despair has subsided,” one Marine told me. Nongovernmental organizations are paying Haitians to clean the streets, putting $5 in their pockets. There are lines at the Western Union -- increased remittances from Haitian-Americans provide an infusion of cash. The most immediate need is better shelter. Blue plastic tarps will offer little protection as the rainy season arrives.
Non-governmental Organizations and Haitian officials are beginning to debate difficult issues. The services provided in the displaced persons camps need to be improved, with clinics and clean water. But, as one NGO worker told me, “the more comfortable, the more permanent” -- which is precisely what the government does not want. At least some of the Haitians in the camps could return safely to their homes and begin rebuilding. Many Haitians build their own homes by hand -- a process that can take years. For them, there is no insurance, just effort and a determination to start over.
Those who want to help Haiti have a challenge. It is a nation clearly in need of massive development assistance -- but it is also one of the world’s primary examples of failed development assistance. Haiti has received over $8 billion in foreign aid since 1969, and its people are poorer than they were in 1945. To be credible, the world’s help must somehow be different from the generosity of the past.
A variety of approaches have been proposed. Ultimately, Haiti needs more direct foreign investment -- the path from poverty for many developing nations. But who wants to invest in poorly run country? So Haiti could use massive technical assistance -- civilian technocrats who will stay in Haiti for years, work beside local officials and help build the management and financial systems that make economic progress possible. Some propose an emphasis on tourism, agriculture or reforestation. One Haiti expert suggests a 10-year United Nations trusteeship to set the country right.
A few days on the ground didn’t suggest to me a simple answer to the struggles of Haiti. But it did reveal one institution -- the United States military -- that is doing its job effectively, and differently than it has in the past. My column Wednesday will explore how the military has become a culturally sensitive, nation-building institution. It is a remarkable development -- and a long way from Patton to Petreaus.
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