On Monday, January 10, LIRS Policy Associate Nora Skelly and LIRS Legislative Assistant Alison Gurley joined a packed room at the Falk Auditorium at the Brookings Institute to hear about the state of Haiti one year after an earthquake devastated an already troubled nation.
Actor Sean Penn, founder of the J/P Haitian Relief Organization, joined representatives from NGOs, think tanks and the U.S. government to speak about the reconstruction progress and the struggles Haitians continue to face. Penn pointed out that the Haitian government offices close at 4:00pm and the earthquake hit at 4:53pm, killing many dedicated civil servants who chose to work long hours. These individuals were part of the over 200,000 Haitians killed on January 12, 2010.
The poverty that pre-dated the earthquake and the centralized, urban composition of the country’s hardest-hit areas created an unprecedented crisis, one which the international humanitarian community was not prepared for. The panelists agreed that a state of emergency persists in the country.
Progress in the reconstruction has been slow, partially due to a series of compounding disasters (cholera, political violence, hurricanes) and partially due to a pre-existing capacity vacuum. The earthquake also created the largest urban population of internally displaced people (IDP) in history at 1.5 million people, and the main priority of the aid community continues to be providing shelter and protection for these individuals.
The panelists urged patience in providing for the dignity and safety for the Haitian people, despite our desire to see immediate progress. Samuel A. Worthington, President and CEO of InterAction, the largest alliance of U.S.-based international nongovernmental organizations, said we must remember that “[w]e are not rebuilding a Haiti, but building a Haiti.”
Claude Jeudy, Haiti National Director of Habitat for Humanity, pointed out that Haiti is the “NGO capital of the world” and that the Haitian government and the people of Haiti must lead in the reconstruction. However, he stated that the work of U.S. and other international responders has not gone unnoticed by Haitians: “When you know someone cares about you, you feel less pain.”
LIRS strives to show this care to all of our neighbors as we work towards a world of just and welcoming communities. We have called upon the U.S. government to care for vulnerable Haitians with a variety of policy tools, such as helping Haitian families in the United States reunite with their loved ones who remain on the island and protecting Haitians already in the United States. We care for and advocate for the crucial psychological and legal needs of Haitian children in the United States. By facilitating the safe migration of Haitians we reduce some of the pressure felt by this vulnerable nation.