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Haiti-Earthquake : January 12 and Us

Transforming a Nightmare into a Utopia/Reality

By Ericq Pierre

Transmitted to AlterPresse on March 30, 2010

At last, I can thank one and all for the solidarity shown toward me and my country. To my friends in Haiti and abroad, at last I can, in turn, express my condolences for the loss of their loved ones and their countrymen living in Haiti. The victims of January 12 belonged to nearly 50 nationalities.

I do not think that the recent history of humanity has seen such a strong outpouring of solidarity at all levels. Everyone or nearly everyone felt like a Haitian after January 12. A kind of active compassion poured out to us from all quarters. Even if great sorrows are very personal, even very intimate, it was good to feel that we were not alone.

My experience on the scene right after the tragedy was such that I can pay tribute to the intensity of the solidarity among Haitians that so greatly aided me in seeking and retrieving the remains of five members of my family. Youngsters not even from the neighborhood, whose names I did not know, spontaneously offered to help. One told me he had lost everything, and that he had never searched for bodies before. Nor had I, I thought. It was he who taught me that dousing decomposing corpses in kerosene mixed with Clorox reduced the stench considerably.

An architect whom I had first met the night before stayed with me an entire day, pointing out the best places to search. Thanks to him, we retrieved two corpses from the rubble on the first day. Local solidarity allowed me to give them a more or less decent burial in a cemetery outside Port-au-Prince, after nightfall, despite the fierce indignation of local residents who insisted that one does not bury the dead at night. I was full of apologies; I did not know. Among the things I learned, or relearned, during that time of distress, the enormous capacity of Haitian men and women for suffering occupies a place that I will never forget.

The foreign media providing round-the-clock Haiti coverage were very likely in no position to report this local solidarity, because it not so visible as the international solidarity. And yet it was this barehanded solidarity that saved the most lives and pulled the greatest number of victims from the ruins. It was this solidarity that provided the first aid, offered the first bottles of water and the first blankets. It was this solidarity that consoled and helped cope with despair and panic in the first moments. Alongside the still-spectacular international solidarity, this local solidarity is present today still under the tents and in the camps of those bound to remain refugees for a long time. I would say it has understood that, to be effective, it is better not to attract too much notice.

I have made the choice to respect its discretion and to try rather to understand what is happening on the post-disaster operations front and more particularly with the reconstruction effort. Perhaps I am not using the right word. People speak of Reengineering, Reconfiguration, and Build Back Better. The former Prime Minister of Jamaica, P.J. Patterson, has spoken of Rebirth. President Préval prefers to speak of Refoundation. In any event, whatever the word we use, the underlying idea will have to apply to the whole country, since the country’s reconstruction/refoundation will not succeed if not accompanied by a vast program to rehabilitate provincial towns and rural areas. We will also have to build new cities.

This is what everyone says, truth be told, with a few different shades of emphasis. From the President of the Republic to the Prime Minister, from Ban-Ki Moon to Bill Clinton, including all the major policy-makers of the international community. This is what is written in virtually all the documents that I have seen (and God knows how many there are). There is the Post-Disaster Needs Assessment (PDNA), which has fielded nearly 300 Haitian and foreign specialists. There are proposals from the Haitian diasporas in Canada, the United States, and Europe, as well as from the Haitian diasporas of the interior. There are proposals from the private sector and civil society. The political parties have not declared themselves in writing, but I would be surprised if they were not to be found in any of the proposals, or in a combination or synthesis of them all. For I must admit that the proposals are not bad; there are even some very good ones. I can say this straightforwardly, as I had no part in their preparation.

After studying the roadmap proposed by the private sector, the government’s vision document and the Action Plan for the Reconstruction and National Development of Haiti, to name just a few, one realizes that a tremendous effort of cooperation and coordination has gone into these different documents, and they share strategic directions that could produce an equitable reconstruction. They have also succeeded remarkably in focusing on the essentials and avoided getting mired in combats of secondary importance. Of course, it still remains to make these strategic directions known to the general public, and to work toward their ownership by the great majority of Haitians. The government, the private sector, civil society, the diasporas, the general public, and the international communities would in this way achieve a virtual unity of views.

Such unity, if achieved without a great majority of Haitians, could appear suspect and even alarming, just as this need to keep saying that the Haitians must be the ones in charge sounded suspicious to me. For very often, when everyone seems to agree, it can mean that no one agrees. There’s an expression for that in English: “paying lip service to a cause.” That does not appear to be the case this time, since all stakeholders seem to acknowledge that Haiti will not survive if reconstruction of the provinces, decentralization and deconcentration remain nothing more than ideas or pious wishes. And that bodes well. What must be done now is to transform words and documents into tangible action.

I will take the liberty, however, of suggesting that we should strengthen the environmental aspects of the Vision and introduce into it a dream, one that would see Haiti make such progress within 15 or 20 years in areas like reforestation and environmental protection that it becomes a model for overcoming poverty. For that to occur, we must resolutely, as suggested by Pr Jim Lyons of Yale University, choose to build the new Haitian economy on the principles and concepts of a green economy: sustainable development, renewable energies, energy efficiency, adaptation to climate change, protection and renewal of the environment.

A focus on developing renewable energy sources—solar, wind, biofuels—could also serve as a catalyst for new investment. If our new communities and our cities adopt strategies with less adverse impact on the environment that are more energy-efficient and less costly, our country will become a more attractive place to live, visit and invest. The various documents produced have often made reference, and rightly so, to the Dominican Republic’s progress in terms of economic development. I believe that, when it comes to the environment, we will also have to look to Costa Rica, to position ourselves in the carbon credit market.

In terms of energy and the environment, therefore, we must offer a vision of sustainable development that inspires both the Haitian people and the international communities. In that vision, Haiti would receive aid not because we are poor but because we are among the nations and peoples with a future. In this sense, reconstruction must prepare our country to be a leader in the new global economy. Not only would that create good business opportunities on the economic front but it would also spark the enthusiasm and even excitement that I spoke of earlier. Our country would cease to be a problem, and would become an example.

Wouldn’t it be extraordinary if the country we are used to calling the poorest in the Western Hemisphere were to become one of the world’s greenest nations? And if our half of this island, so extremely vulnerable to climate change, strives to emerge from poverty with a different development model, that could draw global attention to our efforts and our growth strategy. (Pr Jim Lyons)

After the nightmare of January 12, I propose to make a living reality of this dream, or rather this utopia, and offer it to the Haitian people.

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