The Great Debate

Helping Haiti: Stop the handouts


By Danielle Grace Warren
The opinions expressed are her own.

The people of Haiti have a name for the earthquake that rocked their country: Goudougoudou, an onomatopoetic creole nickname invented for the earthquake meant to emulate the sound of the earth rumbling, the buildings falling. There are numbers for it, too: 230,000 deaths, 59 aftershocks and 1.5 million people who remain displaced nearly a year later.

While over a billion dollars in US aid was promised was for rebuilding Haiti is tied up in the umbilicus of Washington, Port au Prince residents are settling between piles of debris — 98% of which still has not been removed. Haitians pick through the rubble for building scraps to reinforce torn tarpaulin.

Many who were displaced by the disaster and came to the Haitian capital for aid have tried to re-settle in the small towns and villages of their birth. But they have been forced to return to the capital yet again since it is still where most of the food and aid in the country can be found.

Before the earthquake happened there were already 3.5 million people living in Port au Prince — nearly 50% of the total country population. This number has doubled in recent years as people have flooded in from severely deforested and degraded agrarian areas in the hope of finding a job. Yet the vast majority of Port au Prince residents are unemployed or underemployed. Eighty percent of city dwellers live below the poverty line in slum and squatter settlements with unstable housing and poor sanitation.

If living in poverty in Port au Prince is the best thing going for Haitians because it means hope for the possibility of work then the international community’s focus on the area is sure to keep the majority of the people there in a perpetual state of waiting.

Drawing humanitarian lessons from disasters

Diane Paul is Nonresident Senior Fellow on Natural Disasters and Human Rights, Brookings-Bern Project on Internal Displacement at The Brookings Institution. The views expressed are her own. –

As the world rushes to Haiti’s aid, we should remember some of the lessons of the Asian tsunami and Hurricane Katrina. Protecting vulnerable people is as important as giving them water, food, or medical care. Children, women, the elderly, and the disabled all have particular vulnerabilities that must be taken into consideration when relief is provided.

Children separated from their parents should be placed with relatives or trusted family friends whenever possible, or with foster families, not in institutions. Their names must be listed with Red Cross tracing services immediately so that they can be reunited with parents or relatives. It is unfortunately true that in the aftermath of disasters, children are more vulnerable to sexual exploitation and trafficking and need to be protected against these dangers.