By Garry Pierre-Pierre
To most casual observers, Haiti is a country that just can’t catch a break from Mother Nature. Last month, it was Hurricane Matthew that destroyed the Great South. More recently, pounding rain has been taking a toll on Cap Haitien, the country’s second largest city.
And of course, we all remember the Grand Daddy of all, the earthquake that crushed most of Port-au-Prince, the capital. I can go on and on. But the question that no one wants to address is why are natural disasters taking such a huge toll on Haiti. It’s not because we believe in Vodou, or that there is an international conspiracy, or that God is upset at us as I’ve often heard from various folks.
The reasons that natural disasters crush us is that we’ve refused to deal with the core problems. The country’s infrastructure is feeble. For example, a view from an airplane usually gives you a great sense of how a city is designed. More often than not, you see clear grids and houses are built in rows and escape routes in an event of an emergency are clear. However, when you fly to any Haitian city, you see none of that. What you see is an unruly mess similar to domino bones being shuffled before they are handed out to players.
On the ground, there is no canalization and the few egresses that exist are clogged with rubbish. Cities are grossly overcrowded with a population roughly 10 times more than what they were originally designed for.
And everyone knows the deforestation problem where most mountain ranges – and there are many – are denuded of trees or vegetation.
So what needs to be done? It’s an intractable situation, but I believe that the country’s leaders have to coalesce around one mission: Massive infrastructure rebuilding process. The country needs just about anything you can imagine from roads, bridges, canals, electrical girds, water system.
In short, Haiti needs some kind of Marshall Plan, which resurrected Western Europe after the folly of World War II. Countries that purport to want to help Haiti should work with the Haitian government and prioritize projects and craft a 25-year plan to bring Haiti’s infrastructure up to date.
There is a precedent for this. Hugo Chavez, the late Venezuelan president, gave Haiti a sweetheart deal with billions of dollars low interest loans and a gas at a fixed price. His Haitian counterpart at that time, Rene Preval, poured most of the money into building roads in the north and an airport in Cap Haitien. The Port-au-Prince airport was refurbished and once impassable roads in the city were repaved.
Unfortunately, his successor, Michel Martelly, promptly took credit for the projects that Preval started. He then spent the money on restoring tourism, an industry that we’re not yet ready to compete in. Some of these projects were wiped out last month, courtesy of Matthew.
Since Haitians are supposed to cast their vote for president and legislative leaders in two weeks, voters should start asking tough questions to the candidates about their plans to rebuild a country that is crumbling before their eyes.
Whoever is elected president should make infrastructure investment its number one priority and continue Preval’s work. Haiti is that one dilapidated home in a nice neighborhood. Let’s put our hands out to the world one last time so we don’t have to come back begging for aid.
The Haitian people are proud and hard working and are yearning for an opportunity to improve their lot. In the Diaspora we’ve shown what we can accomplish when given a chance. Furthermore, it’s cheaper for the international community to do it that way instead of rushing in aid after another natural disaster.