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HE SAID: Haiti needs hand up, not hand out

If Haiti wasn’t an unsuccessful nation before the earthquake, it most certainly is one now, prior to the terrible event of Jan. 12 that left Haiti in a pile of rubble, the tiny country was not much better off.

Haiti, the poorest country in the western hemisphere, boasts of only having 52 per cent of its population that can read, more than two-thirds of whom do not have a formal job and 80 per cent of whom live below the poverty line.

Almost 40 per cent of the national government's budget comes from foreign aid. In fact, in 10 years Haiti has received $ 4.1 billion in aid, with the US and Canada contributing the most ($1.4 billion and $1.1 billion respectively) and it seems to have had little effect, if any at all.

And I don’t believe that it needs to be this way.

It’s only human to want to think that in the wake of a major disaster, we can all do our part to lend a hand by giving charitably, and if there is a silver lining, it would be the considerable boost of money donated to important charities.

But what happens to the people of Haiti when, a year from now, everyone has forgotten this disaster and has moved on to the next one, leaving Haiti to fall back into its old ways of relying on the hand-outs of other countries?

This tragedy has given us the opportunity to go above the clichés of building a better future, and to seek out a legitimate solution to the Haitian problems that have overwhelmed the country for so long, specifically: bad governance, poverty and lawlessness.

We must not be deceived into believing that we can heave funds at Haiti, send in the troops and equipment and then pat each other on the back for a job well done. A triumphant reconstruction effort will involve a comprehensive revamp of the entire Haitian system and a serious review of the historical forces that have prevented the culture from thriving.

The rebuilders need to avoid instituting a course of action that keeps the money in the hands of the privileged and corrupt and instead infuse cash into the roots of Haitian civil society, building up roads, sewers, power lines, industry and agriculture, homes and schools – in short, anything that will assist Haitians to become more industrious and less reliant on foreign aid.

The long term success of Haiti does not depend on the quantity of tents, sacks of rice and dollars that can be parachuted in, but it will rely on everyone –Haitians and the international community - to face up to the prevailing legacy of foreign dependence and the exploitation by corrupt governments that is always present in Haiti.