The images from the collapsed school in Haiti are horrifying: bloody, dusty
children with fear in their eyes. At least 92 (Images)
people have died. President Renć Prćval
has said the building collapsed because it wasn't built to code. In fact, it
seems it was little more than a pile of concrete blocks. It was the kind of
building that wouldn't have been allowed in a country where building codes, and
other laws, are enforced. "What we need is political stability," Mr. Préval
That connection between a crumpled school and national politics parallels
another recent disaster, this one in China in May, after a serious earthquake.
There, too, shoddy construction was blamed. But there are differences between
the two tragedies. Email to a friend Printer friendly Font:****
In China, the state felt it had to respond to the grief and anger of parents --
although its response alternated between the Communist party's usual
defensiveness and a more enlightened willingness to investigate.
In Haiti, where even the president sounds helpless and desperate, why should
parents even bother expressing their outrage? Yet they did, even if they didn't
expect anything to change. United Nations peacekeepers confronted a crowd of
angry people at the rescue site. It may be that the crowd was hindering the
rescue operation, but the UN's role in the country seems, increasingly, to be
about keeping a lid on the people's anger rather than helping the government
create peace and stability. The preacher who owned and built the school has,
according to reports, been charged with involuntary manslaughter. Whether or not
he is guilty of a crime, it is a crime that was more likely to go unchecked in a
poor and politically volatile country. Haiti is a major recipient of Canadian
aid. The relationship between the two countries is strong and can be productive.
The collapse of the school shows that Canada must continue to pressure the
government of Haiti to improve.
Governance is a dry word that makes people think of paper-pushing bureaucrats
and jargon-filled reports. But it's the foundation of development. No country
can thrive without it. Indeed, as the example of Haiti shows, without good
governance, people die. It might be a slow death by hunger, or a faster death by
violence, or they might die in the rubble of some preventable accident. As much
as Canadians complain about what goes on on Parliament Hill, the fact is that
governance is something Canada does relatively well. The more we can share our
expertise with developing countries, the more lives we will save.
The Canadian people can act on their own to help the people of Haiti, too. Just
as Canadians gave generously after the China earthquake, they can give now to
organizations that are working to help the victims of the school collapse in
Haiti, or who are helping improve the country's infrastructure to prevent future
accidents. Grassroots organizations, such as Engineers Without Borders, already
lend expertise in the creation and maintenance of basic infrastructure,
especially in sanitation.
Things fall apart when the centre cannot hold. Without political stability, as
Mr. Préval said, buildings crumble. A country with a
dysfunctional national government will collapse, and that collapse will be begin
in its wells and its roads, its bridges and schools and clinics.