Saturday, September 13, 2008

Commentary: Haiti's Katrina

By Jean H Charles
President René Préval of Haiti told the world recently that after the successive strikes of Fay that killed 50 people, Gustav, 75, Hanna, 500 and Ike, 65 (FGHI) during the sinister month of August, the country has been hit by a ”Katrina” spread not only in the epicenter of Gonaives but all over the nation. Some 800,000 Haitian people are in danger of starvation, disease and other ailments due to the hurricanes.

[caption id="" align="alignleft" width="160" caption="Jean H Charles MSW, JD is Executive Director of AINDOH Inc a non profit organization dedicated to build a kinder and gentle Caribbean zone for all. He can be reached at:"][/caption]

Katrina is closely associated with the destruction of New Orleans, a city located at a thousand six hundred miles from Haiti but with a culture and mores very similar to the island state. In fact, Louisiana as a State of the United States is a creature of the gallant victory of the Haitian people against slavery domination.

Napoleon, dejected of the defeat of his army in the Caribbean, ceded that parcel of land to Thomas Jefferson for almost a peanut to the hectare. Following the Haitian revolution, around 1807, some 10,000 former colons and Haitians landed in Louisiana, changing forever the texture and the vista of that part of the United States.

I lived in New Orleans for two years while attending law school at Tulane University, some thirty years ago. I am familiar with both Haiti and Louisiana.

Both entities breed a culture that seems comfortable with the squalor of inequality, inviting as such the specter of disaster to a larger degree than other countries or other states. Haiti is the poorest country of the Western Hemisphere; Louisiana is the poorest State of the United States.
Gonaives, compared to New Orleans (four feet) is 6.5 feet below sea level with surrounding mountains deprived of any trees. The bare rocks that support some giant cactus remind me of the vista in the Arizona desert in the area of the city of Phoenix. Gonaives is a proud city that has been the theater of several historical events.

It was there, that the founding fathers of Haiti assembled on January 1, 1804 to read the proclamation that the country shall forever remain free and open to all Blacks and Indians who set foot on that piece of land. It was also there that the spark of liberation from the yoke of despotism of the Duvalier ignited and spread all over the country forcing the departure of Jean Claude Duvalier on the dawn of February 7th 1987.

Gonaives is hot, literally and figuratively, passing through, en route to Cape Haitian (my home town) I have often said to myself that Gonaives needs trees to cool it down. In fact the whole country needs trees to spare the population from the havoc of successive hurricanes when rainwater rushing from the mountains gushed like a flood destroying every structure on its way to the sea.

While traveling to the South of the country, the day after the inauguration of Jean Bertrand Aristide, on February 8, 1991, I witnessed the unpleasant picture of rows and rows of destroyed trees piled neatly; ready to be sold to the bakeries of the capital city, Port au Prince. I immediately placed a call to Aristide’s private secretary (a personal friend) to bring a halt to the practice. His answer, “We do not have time for such insignificant matter,” was as discomforting as the chilling vista that we are witnessing now in Gonaives.

Haiti needs the help of all God’s people to feed the hungry, bury the dead, and facilitate the reconstruction, but the new government of Michele Pierre-Louis will have to embark into a mode of urgency that I have advocated in this column on January 1, 2008 in the essay: Haiti needs a sense of urgency to catch up with the rest of the Caribbean.

With the global warming in the horizon, the hurricanes will become more frequent and stronger in size. Haiti and the rest of the Caribbean will have to live with this new phenomenon and adapt themselves the same way that Holland turned its low-lying configuration into an advantage by construction of giant docks that retain the sea.

I have reviewed the framework of the Caribbean Catastrophe Risk Insurance Facility (CCRIP). With an initial budget of $45 million to cover funding, the immediate repair and reconstruction to governmental structures, Turks and Caicos has already received this week some 6 million US dollars in damages payment. Haiti did not bother or did not complete its paperwork and pay the premium on time to receive its share of compensation.

The country must profit from this foursome strike to put its house in order. Failure to do so will result in donor fatigue and the compounding effect of misery piled upon catastrophic disaster. It is said that a country or a city cannot die.

The survival of Haiti and of New Orleans stricken by nature and by the indolence of men is at stake.

The remedy is simple, they must learn to create a culture of appurtenance where all the sons and the daughters of the nation and the city will have access to the resources that will make them dignified contributors of the citizenry.

Source: CNN

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