Beyond the Haiti Relief Effort, How to Fix the Country

There’s little point in the international relief influx without a huge education effort.

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By Bonnie Erbe, Thomas Jefferson Street blog

Rescue and cleanup efforts following the horror of Haiti's incalculable earthquake losses will continue for months and reconstruction will continue for years. But as large parts of the nation are rebuilt, foreign policy experts are asking, how does Haiti rebuild in a way that leads to long-term economic gain and political stability?

One Canadian commentator in the Toronto Star suggested:

With its 1,500 kilometre coastline, it could easily be developed into a key transport and tourism hub for the Antilles, one that provides a lot more than just sun and sand for today's jaded travellers. This earthquake could be the wake-up call that the international community needed to step up to the plate and come through not just with 9,000 men and women in blue helmets to keep the peace, but with the billions of dollars needed to build up its infrastructure nationwide, to relaunch its agriculture (sadly crippled after misguided Washington Consensus reforms imposed in the '90s destroyed its rice production), to recover its degraded environment and to provide its population with the skills needed to survive in the 21st century.

While I agree there needs to be a strategic program for redevelopment aimed at finding an economic niche for the impoverished nation of 10 million, first there needs to be an enormous effort to educate Haiti's woefully undereducated populace. There's little point in a huge international influx of cash for reconstruction, if intense poverty continues after the quake cleanup. Let's remember there were and still are 9,000 U.N. peacekeepers stationed on the island before the quake. And that alone has helped Haiti enjoy one of the longest periods of relative peace since independence.

But intense poverty is always a product of lack of education. Even the former prime minister warned that a huge influx of cash for rebuilding could end up filling the wallets of thugs and criminals if not monitored closely. The New York Daily News reports:

The European Union could kick in $5 billion to start the reconstruction of Haiti's wrecked capital, (former Prime Minister Gerard) Latortue said, but must tightly control the cash to avoid corruption.

Haiti has a long and sad history of political upheaval, drug gangs, even food shortages and riots. Until the populace moves into the 21st century in terms of education, that won't change.