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Commentary: Jan/Feb 2010

Haiti’s reconstruction challenge


February 22, 2010
By Andy Bateman


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The devastating earthquakes that rocked Haiti lasted for only a few
seconds, but the social and economic aftershocks will impact the
country’s future for many years to come.

The devastating earthquakes that rocked Haiti lasted for only a few seconds, but the social and economic aftershocks will impact the country’s future for many years to come.

If you’re looking for good news from Haiti, past or present, there isn’t much. Haiti is by far the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere and has a turbulent history of political unrest, corruption, occupation, deforestation, over-farming, health crises, violence, human rights abuses, as well as a series of hurricanes in 2008 which killed an estimated 800 people and caused damage totalling $900 million.

Those involved in the present earthquake relief efforts face a daunting list of  issues; accessing stricken areas, finding and burying the dead, calming violent outbreaks, as well as shortages of basic medical services, food, fresh water, sanitation and power. The long list of shortages extends into the construction industry, with the dire need for heavy construction equipment and skilled operators to help with the rescue efforts and begin clearing debris. Full marks to Caterpillar, Hyundai, John Deere and other companies who responded quickly with equipment, money or both to support the relief effort.

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But what happens in the coming weeks and months?

On Jan. 25, Canada hosted a meeting of foreign ministers to focus on Haiti’s needs in the wake of the earthquake. Foreign Minister Lawrence Cannon said the Montreal meeting would “reassess the Haitian situation and seek to ensure that the U.N. mission can focus international efforts both on current challenges and long-term stabilization and Haitian reconstruction.” 

Here in Canada, infrastructure funding has been a central feature of recent government policy to boost the economy and create jobs during the economic downturn. Our infrastructure problems pale into insignificance compared to Haiti, although there are many more questions than answers when it comes to a viable Haitian infrastructure renewal program. However, even a glimmer of a brighter future has to be worth the effort, given Haiti’s troubled past and calamitous present. The only way to go from here is up.


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