“As school goes, so goes the nation.” That’s how Josué Mérilien, a Haitian teacher and union leader, sees it. And the schools aren’t going well. Teachers make as little as $100 a month, fees are high, and there’s a “terrible problem” of kids showing up faint with hunger.
“What we have is an absurd imitation of a school that isn’t conducive to thinking,” he recently told Le Nouvelliste newspaper.
It’s a depressing sign of the times nearly two years after the earthquake that shattered Haiti, leaving 220,000 of its 10 million people dead and cities in ruins. Today, 600,000 still live in sketchy, cholera-threatened camps, their lives on hold. Like Haiti’s promised rebirth.
After presiding over a half-year of political wrangling, Haitian President Michel Martelly finally obtained parliament’s approval this past week for a prime minister. Garry Conille will preside over a cabinet with the daunting task of rebuilding the country. “My greatest fear is that if we don’t buy time, this country will explode in a few weeks, a few months,” Conille told the Miami Herald. Sadly, others don’t seem to share that sense of urgency.
Although Canada is a key donor, pledging $1 billion in help, Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird did not mention Haiti’s needs in his Sept. 26 speech to the United Nations General Assembly. That’s how little attention Haiti is getting these days. The world is distracted by the Arab Spring, famine in Africa and Europe’s economic woes.
Of the $5 billion promised for reconstruction, Haiti has seen just $2 billion so far. Of that, less than $300 million has gone through the Haitian government, sapping its credibility. And incredibly, United Nations relief chief Valerie Amos says Haiti has yet to see $160 million of the $380 million in urgent humanitarian relief that was promised. The camps are short on food, drinking water and toilets.
As Martelly pointed out in his own UN address, the world’s grand promises are fast becoming “dead letters.” That neglect, coupled with the regime’s precariousness, could prove explosive.
Martelly won power in a deeply flawed presidential election earlier this year. Chillingly, his supporters welcomed the return of past dictator Jean-Claude (Baby Doc) Duvalier with open arms. And Martelly has been criticized for wanting to build up the army (as the Duvalier family had) rather than the police.
None of this is reassuring. But Haitians have made their choices, and the world must honour its promises to help them rebuild. That means delivering the remaining $3 billion in help promised for this year, channelling more of it through Haiti’s government to strengthen its credibility and capacity, and keeping a sufficiently robust UN peacekeeping force in place until the growing police service can take over.
It also means making sure kids don’t faint from hunger in school.