Starting from Scratch

How to rebuild a country that is a failed state, an economic basket case and a sad example of perpetual instability and injustice?  The Haitian earthquake poses a monumental problem not just for the Haitian people and what’s left of their inept government, but also for the international community, which will undoubtedly spend billions in the coming years to get the country back on its feet.

Just when Haiti was beginning to see a faint glimmer of hope as relative political stability and some foreign investment interest were more in evidence, the earthquake smashed all possibilities. Now besides the unimaginable human and physical destruction, there is the near complete absence of governmental institutions and leaders. It is the United States, the United Nations, the European Union and other rich countries that are runninig Haiti, and will likely do so for years to come.

Some optimists believe that the earthquake offers the country a new opportunity to start over and build a nation anew, not just with new structures, but a new social and political culture that is based on a more cooperative spirit, honest and active government, and a willingness of the diaspora to return home and lend their talents and money to create a Haiti that is able to stand on its own, rather than depend on international hand outs.

But even if this terrible tragedy offers hope and opportunity, rebuildiing Haiti is a generation’s work that will cost hundreds of billions, perhaps trillions of dollars, far more than the hundreds of millions in aid raised or committed so far. It is when the media leave and the world turns its attention to a new tragedy that the Haitians will be left to their own resources to start anew.

Fortunately, the Haitians are a people of enormous strength and resilience who have plenty of experience with adversity, but this is not an ordinary natural disaster; this is the destruction of an entire country with the capital city of Port au Prince enduring the worst of the destruction.

The reality of this crisis is that hundreds of thousands of Haitians will be seeking protected status in the United States and elsewhere in the world; an international police force will be on the ground keeping the peace for years with an enormous price tag; and rather quickly money that is flowing now will begin to dry up, leaving the recovery a patch work of some successes and many failures.

Hope is all the Haitian people have at this time, but the devastation is just too overwhelming to turn hope into faith in the future. Haiti may never recover.

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