BLOG: Haiti in Crisis
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January 22, 2009
by Her Excellency Michaëlle Jean
Intense and deeply moving. During our brief visit to the country, to the south, the north and the capital city, we saw for ourselves the magnitude of the disaster brought on by four cyclones that pounded the island and the region last October: the human losses; infrastructures completely destroyed; environmental damage; crops wiped out; an existing food crisis made worse. But during this same visit, as we met with many of the island’s people, we also saw the courage with which the Haitian women and men are trying to get back on their feet in the wake of a very trying year. The collective efforts in small, rural communities to clean up, to clear away the wreckage, to replant and to rebuild deserve our admiration.
Solidarity is at work across the island: local solidarity between citizens; regional solidarity with the help of other countries in the Americas, from north to south (Canada is one of the most present nations in Haiti, which, after Afghanistan, is Canada’s second largest development assistance beneficiary in the world); and international and multilateral solidarities.
That said, the needs are great but have largely been identified. Time is of the essence; now is the time to act with a co ordinated plan between the Haitian government, beginning with its National Growth and Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper (DSNCRP), and the many authorities from the international community. The ball is already rolling; Canada has always supported this action and will do what it can to help things run smoothly. In the course of our visit, we met with many different people to discuss what needed to be done.
This working visit gave us the opportunity to see the impact that Canada’s co-operation is having on a number of different sectors (health, education, security, strengthening of institutions, justice, agriculture, and infrastructure), in both urban and rural areas.
Canada continues to promote greater hemispheric commitment and is working successfully with other countries in the region on a number of programs. A prime example is the joint action with Brazil in the Bel Air district of Port-au-Prince. Long stigmatized by poverty and exclusion, made impenetrable by the violence of gangs that controlled its streets, the district is now safe thanks to the patient and unwavering efforts of MINUSTAH, the social interventions of Viva Rio (a Brazilian NGO supported financially by Canada), the collaboration of Haitian authorities, and the participation of residents.
I would like to applaud the efforts of Viva Rio, which we also saw at work during our State visit to Brazil in July 2007. The way they mobilize youth through arts and culture and engage them socially for the betterment of their community is producing amazing results. Viva Rio has also restored access to running and drinking water in the district through a vast and rather ingenious system for collecting and storing rain water. Education is also a priority, with numerous scholarships being handed out each month to reward effort and involvement.
The number of initiatives is growing, and the people of Bel Air have taken back their neighbourhood with pride. That is what made me think that we can look to this Haitian community to find inspiration and viable solutions to realities that we are also facing in many of our cities and communities in Canada.