Can Haiti Be Helped?

January 5, 2011 at 10:50 PM

A week from today will mark one year since the catastrophic earthquake that devastated Haiti. According to Wikipedia, “the Haitian government reported that an estimated 230,000 people had died, 300,000 had been injured and 1,000,000 made homeless” by the quake and its effects.

A year later, Haiti is still in dire straits and it’s unclear how much the international community is really helping, according to Maura O’Connor in the first of a series of dispatches from Haiti published by Slate.

As a result of the events of 2010—the earthquake, cholera, and flawed elections—there has never been so much unemployment and destitution and dependence on outsiders…Haitians see that they need assistance, but as [Hatian journalist Michele] Montas described it, they feel disenfranchised by the ‘help’ they are getting.

A key problem, according to more than one of O’Connor’s interviewees, is the international aid community is eager to help but unwilling or unable to recognize Haiti’s unique culture and find solutions working within it. Montas again:

‘I work at the U.N., and every day I have to go to meetings, I’m the only Haitian there, and I have to tell them, “Your perception is not right.” I feel that it is a lost battle.’ Haitians have their own systems of survival, she said, but instead of tapping into that creativity, aid groups come in thinking the country is a ‘clean slate.’

These issues of course get to heart of the difficulty and uncertainty we face when we give. It’s often easy to recognize when someone is in need, but often difficult to know what will help, or how to help another help himself, as Haitians in O’Connor’s report are keen to do. Some problems may not have solutions, at least not in the short term; not all issues are ripe for redress. Haiti seems to me like one of those very hard cases. O’Connor’s series should be interesting.

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Entry filed under: International.

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