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Haiti Resilience Put to the Test

January 10, 2011

Robert Skinner, Associate Director of the UN Foundation’s New York Office

The first thing one notices when arriving in Haiti these days is the intensity of the people, native as well as volunteers from abroad, working to bring this battered nation back to life. Hard work is a badge of honor and dedication; in some ways, it is the noble public face that hides a range of more complex internal feelings about the state of things as we approach the one-year anniversary of the January 12 earthquake.

For me, and many others who spend time in Haiti, I expect, the daily and even hourly swings from hope to despair create a kind of emotional whiplash. Walking with a police patrol through the isolated Camp Corail, which is about a 25 minute drive — if traffic cooperates — from Port-au-Prince, I was both encouraged and worried about the future.

The camp is well organized with tents in neatly arranged and well spaced rows. Food and water supplies seemed adequate. Children approached us to talk, laugh, and kick soccer balls with the multi-national group of Haitian and UN police and Peruvian peacekeepers that guard and patrol the camp, keeping the roughly 6,000 inhabitants safe. The smiles of everyone in the camp provided a sense that, while life is difficult, there is a way forward.

Still, the questions nag. What would a hurricane, or even a strong storm, do to these neatly ordered tents? Where can these people get work out here, so far from any community or marketplace? Will the new transitional wood frame structures being built, at a hoped for pace of 5 per day, become permanent? I posed these questions to the committed individuals in the Haitian government, the UN, and NGO communities, and after hearing their realistic but creative and positive ideas, the pendulum swung back to hope.

Haitians know that the world’s attention on their small country will not last, particularly if things don’t seem to be going right. However, if the Interim Haiti Recovery Commission (IHRC) can convince the people of Haiti, international governments, and NGOs that it is a serious and well organized decision-making body, then resources will continue to flow into the country. And further, if the committed team I met with at Haiti’s Inter-Ministerial Committee for Territorial Management can find a way to integrate their plans with those of the IHRC, the idea of the much discussed decentralization of Haiti might become a reality.

The world is rooting and working for Haiti, but we all have to stay in the game together and for the long haul if its people are to have a chance at a better future. As always, the United Nations will be at the forefront of that effort, with the UN Foundation behind them every step of the way.