CRS president urges continued aid for Haiti

By Holly Prendergast
November 21, 2010

Ken Hackett, president of Catholic Relief Services, laid out a plan at a conference at Villanova University on Nov. 8 how aid and development organizations like CRS can work with Haiti for a sustainable future. He stressed

that  Haiti was a poor country before the earthquake, it will be after the earthquake and it will continue to be in the years to come unless the correct steps are taken to help this nation build towards a sustainable future.

“When we talk about getting it right in Haiti, we’re not talking about spending a few years cleaning the place up and leaving behind a prosperous developed country with everyone nicely housed, fully employed and well fed and healthy.  That ain’t it.   That’s not going to happen,” Hackett said.

On Jan. 12, 2010 a catastrophic earthquake struck the country of Haiti just 16 miles from its capital city, Port-au-Prince.  It measured 7.0 on the Richter scale, produced at least 52 aftershocks, claimed the lives of more than 250,000 people and left over one million individuals displaced.

“The immensity of the destruction, the many, many needs of the people, the total absence of a strong functioning government, the extent of the displacement and the difficulties of the coordination among those who were and still are responding [in Haiti]; they’re all part of this complex of factors that make Haiti really difficult,” Hackett said.

“Even before the earthquake in Haiti, it was already one of the poorest countries in the world,” Hackett said.

In addition to the earthquake that struck Haiti, they have even more recently experienced a tropical storm that left over five inches of rain on most of the country. Also, there is currently an outbreak of cholera, the first outbreak in 50 years, which has claimed over 1,000 lives.

With such catastrophes continually occurring, it seems as though it is virtually impossible for Haiti to even begin to climb on the ladder of development.  In a nation with no productive education system, a lack of government and a completely failed health care system, it is apparent that merely short-term aid without a plan for long-term development is not the correct solution.

CRS alone raised $149 million from private contributions in the aftermath of the earthquake and it is only a portion of what has been raised throughout the international community.  In the United States alone about $1.3 billion was raised to help Haiti in the efforts to rebuild following the earthquake.

“We have committed ourselves to build, however slow it’s going to be, those capabilities that will be sustained and lasting,” Hackett said.  “Because the handout after handout does not generate empowerment and it does not increase the ability or the capacity that it breathes the sense of the dependency that we want to stop in Haiti.”

Hackett stated that it is extremely important for the international community to come together to try and figure out a new way for Haiti to recover and start to rebuild as a nation.

“We run a tremendous risk, that unless we all come together in ways like we have never done before, at the end of the day all we may be able to say is that we have done many good acts of charity, yet Haiti will remain as broken a society as it was before the earthquake,” Hackett said.

In addition to the work of CRS, Partners In Health (PIH), one of the major organizations currently working in Haiti, also shares the same vision for sustainability.

Through obtaining access to primary health care, providing free health care and education for the poor, building strong community partnerships, addressing basic social and economic needs and serving the poor through the public sector PIH has been striving to accomplish these goals, in Haiti, since its founding in 1987.

In line with the visions of PIH and their mission to provide health care, CRS will be partnering with the University of Notre Dame of Haiti and Saint Francis De Sales hospital, in Haiti, to rebuild the medical system.  Their goal is to build a network of 10 to 12 hospitals in association with University of Notre Dame of Haiti and to provide Haitians with the education and ability to be fully trained doctors and nurses to provide the necessary medical care in both rural and urban areas.

“After a generation, there will be a group of Haitian physicians that will have the highest standard of health training and capacity of any in the western in hemisphere. That’s our commitment, to leave something behind,” Hackett said.

With the efforts of CRS and the long-term development contributions of other organizations, such as PIH, it is possible for rebuilding a sustainable future in Haiti.

“There’s a lot of money that is available for Haiti,” Hackett said.  “That kind of money is obviously important, but even more important is that we have an opportunity to rethink how Haiti will be redeveloped.”

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Holly Prendergast

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