Rebuilding Haiti: Tomas’ brutal wake-up call

When Hurricane Tomas struck Haiti with torrential rains and high winds, it rocked the fragile world of 1.3 million people. That’s how many Haitians are still living rough, exposed to cholera, mudslides, flash floods and other risks, 10 months after a Jan. 12 earthquake shattered the island nation and killed 230,000.

Despite a plea from President René Préval to “protect your lives” by seeking better shelter, many simply had nowhere to turn. “We haven’t taken precautions,” Ave Lise Mesila told Reuters news agency as she huddled in a flimsy tent. “We are in God’s hands.”

That is only too sadly true. The United Nations has marshalled a vast relief effort, backed by 12,000 troops and police, to provide shelter, food, clean water and medical care. But even so, a “profound humanitarian crisis” continues to grip the island, UN special envoy Walter Kaelin warns. Worse, there has been “no substantial progress toward durable solutions,” he says. Violence is on the rise.

All this confirms what Star columnist Catherine Porter and a team of writers found on recent visits: A motherlode of misery and precious little rebuilding. Of the nearly $10 billion promised by donors, less than a tenth has been delivered. That’s not fast enough.

Préval’s broken administration has yet to regroup, and can’t provide the needed political leadership until the Nov. 28 presidential and parliamentary elections are over (and, possibly, a Jan. 16 runoff). By then Haitians will be into their second year of hardship.

Clearly, Canada (which has pledged $1 billion) and other donors need to roll out help faster. Rebuilding will take years. But Tomas is a brutal reminder that urgency must be part of the planning.

Rubble must be cleared from Port-au-Prince and other centres. Ports, roads, bridges, schools, health clinics need rebuilding. So do the power grid and water lines. Small business and farmers need subsidies and loans to create jobs and grow food. Families need help paying for schooling. Haitian émigrés and investors should be wooed to build up the tourism, light industry and food-exporting sectors.

And Haiti’s leaders must tell the public, clearly and often, what the plan is, and how it is being implemented. Terrified families huddling in soaked tents fearing mudslides deserve that much hope at least.

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