Best Defense

Haiti Watch (I): Heading for the hills

My old friend Robert Maguire, a Haiti expert who knows people all over the country (and during the days of Baby Doc graciously introduced me to many of them), from Jeremie to the Artibonite to Cap Haitien, here responds to my question about what Americans need to know about the dire situation there: By Robert ...

treesftf/flickr
treesftf/flickr

My old friend Robert Maguire, a Haiti expert who knows people all over the country (and during the days of Baby Doc graciously introduced me to many of them), from Jeremie to the Artibonite to Cap Haitien, here responds to my question about what Americans need to know about the dire situation there:

By Robert Maguire

Best Defense Haiti correspondent

I am beginning to receive reports of people straggling out of Port-au-Prince toward the countryside. This is not surprising given that so many people migrated from the countryside to PAP over the past three decades — when the countryside was largely neglected by donors and Haitian governments (who were content to siphon off resources from rural areas and people living there). Poor people piled up on each other on mountainsides, ravines, alluvial mud flats and river flood plains. Now with hundreds of thousands of displaced people this movement toward the countryside — for survival and help — is important to pay attention to. It will intensify in upcoming days/weeks.

The displaced are going to a countryside that is ravaged by poverty, joblessness, environmental degradation, with very few resources. Yet, this defacto decentralization offers an opportunity to provide assistance to begin to re-build Haiti. Rather than stacking displaced people in relief camps, it is possible that the displaced, reuniting with families in the countryside, can be transformed into resources to rebuild Haiti. Think New Deal, CCC, WPA.  Tent cities can be work camps. Public works and environmental rehabilitation projects can begin.

This will require investment and organization. It will require human resources from beyond Haiti to help direct and manage — to work alongside Haitian. Two former Prime Ministers and current Presidential advisors — have discussed the prospect of creating a ‘national civic service corps.’ Now is the time.

To read more about this idea go to www.usip.org/publications and read the report "Haiti After the Donors’ Conference."

Tom again: Meanwhile, here is a great tip sheet of humanitarian work do’s and don’ts from my friend Gary Anderson, who as a Marine was the operations officer for a rescue mission in Bangladesh after a cyclone killed more than 100,000 and left millions homeless. Someone should think of making Gary the humanitarian affairs coordinator for the Pentagon. At least then DoD would have someone who gets along with Sen. James Webb, who heads the Senate Armed Services Committee’s personnel committee.

Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military from 1991 to 2008 for the Wall Street Journal and then the Washington Post. He can be reached at ricksblogcomment@gmail.com. Twitter: @tomricks1

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