OPINION: Four Ways The United States Can Help Haiti

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haitian capital

An urgent message from TransAfrica Forum:

“The country does not have the infrastructure or resources to deal with a crisis of this magnitude, the U.S. and the international community must provide immediate medical, humanitarian, search and rescue, and additional supports as requested by the government of Haiti,”    –Nicole Lee, President of TransAfrica Forum.

Click here to find out how you can support Haitian earthquake victims.

January 12, 2010 the island nation of Haiti, was slammed by a magnitude 7.0 earthquake, its most severe in 200 years.  The epicenter of the quake was approximately 10 miles south of Port-au-Prince, the country’s capital and home to almost 2 million people.  The city, including communications and transport infrastructure, is said to have suffered “massive damage.”  According to Associated Press, the capital is largely destroyed, with widespread loss of life predicted.

“The people of Haiti are only just beginning to recover from a decade of economic, environmental, and political shocks.  The global recession, increases in international food prices, and natural disasters, including four hurricanes in 2008, have undermined the country’s already weak infrastructure and increased poverty in a country already the poorest in the western hemisphere,” according to Nicole Lee, President of TransAfrica Forum.  “The country does not have the infrastructure or resources to deal with a crisis of this magnitude, the U.S. and the international community must provide immediate medical, humanitarian, search and rescue, and additional supports as requested by the government of Haiti,” Lee continued.

According to Haitian Ambassador to the United States, Raymond Joseph, “the quake has crippled the country.”  Aid agencies, including the U.S. Agency for International Development, are meeting to organize a response.  An emergency message from the internationally respected health organization Partners in Health gives an indication of the level of crisis:  “Port-au-Prince is devastated, lot of deaths. SOS. SOS… Temporary field hospital by us at UNDP needs supplies, pain meds, and bandages. Please help us.”

TransAfrica Forum recommends the following:

1.  SUSPEND HAITIAN DEPORTATIONS AND GRANT TPS. Since January 2009 U.S. immigration judges have issued deportation orders to over 30,000 undocumented Haitians.  The Department of Homeland Security should immediately halt the arrests of these deportees and grant Temporary Protected Status (TPS) to Haitians in the United States and conduct a full review of its policy towards Haiti. Temporary protected status (TPS) is granted by the United States (Homeland Security Department) to eligible nationals of countries that cannot safely return to their homelands because of armed conflict, environmental disaster, or other extraordinary and temporary conditions. Haiti clearly fits this description.

2.  COORDINATED INTERNATIONAL RELIEF ASSISTANCE. The U.S. government and international aid agencies are already beginning to mobilize immediate relief.  We urge the administration to continue its efforts, in full coordination with international agencies and multilateral agencies in order to ensure efficient relief efforts.  The first impulse of individuals and governments in the face of a crisis of this level is to give, a reflection of the generous nature of the human spirit, which is to be admired.  Joint planning, coordination, and full use of resources already available within the region will ensure the efficiency efficacy of relief efforts.

3. FULL RESOURCE MOBILIZATION. Within the context of international efforts, and as requested by the Haitian government, we encourage the Obama Administration to fully mobilize its resources to support urgent needed search and rescue of the wounded and trapped, including, again if requested by the Haitian government, mobilization of the Southern Command structure.

4.  CHARITABLE DONATIONS. Many non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and private voluntary organizations (PVOs) have long-established development projects on the ground.  Those organizations are best placed to assist with the country’s immediate needs; we encourage supporters to contribute to two highly effective organizations that are already providing emergency services:

*Partners in Health.  Donate online at:  www.pih.org or send your contribution to Partners In Health, P.O. Box 845578, Boston, MA 02284-5578

*Doctors Without Borders.  Donate online at www.doctorswithoutborders.org, or toll-free at 1-888-392-0392.  24 hours a day, 7 days a week.  USA Headquarters 333 7th Avenue, 2nd Floor, New York, NY  10001-5004.

BACKGROUND
Haiti is the least-developed country in the Americas. The “dumping” of cheap products into its economy has further destabilized the nation and underscored the need to overhaul Haiti’s agriculture policies in tandem with international trade policy.  Approximately 80 percent of Haiti’s population lives in poverty and over half struggle to survive on less than $1 a day.  Remittances that Haitians outside the country send home account for over a quarter of gross domestic product (GDP), there is chronic unemployment and the informal economy is steadily growing.

Foreign aid continues to dominate Haiti’s budget (30-40 percent) and its debt stands at $1.3 billion — 40 percent of which was incurred by the Duvalier dictatorships by stealing or misspending most of the money between 1957 and 1986.  While loss of civilian life and public security due to armed confrontations continue to be problems, people are increasingly dying as a result of starvation and poverty. The prices of products needed to fulfill basic needs have risen by more than 50 percent since 2007 and most families are forced to choose between buying food and sending their children to school.  Unfortunately, the current conditions in the country show no signs of notable improvement and disproportionately impact vulnerable groups, such as women and children, human rights defenders and journalists.  Through it all, Haitians continue to identify creative ways to survive and to help others along the way. This tradition of “youn ede lòt,” or “one helping the other” remains strong. One example of this is the existence of solidarity lending groups, established by members to cover financial obligations, in which one person receives a rotating pool of money each pay period.

TransAfrica Forum is the leading U.S. advocacy organization for Africa and the African Diaspora in U.S. foreign policy. TransAfrica Forum helped lead the world protest against apartheid in South Africa and today works for human and economic justice for African people on the continent of Africa, in Latin America and in the Caribbean. Contact us:  TransAfrica Forum, 1629 K Street, N.W., Suite 1100, Washington, D.C., 2006, 202-223-1960, http://www.transafricaforum.org.

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