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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Monday, January 18, 2010

Devastating quake offers chance for change

By John C. Bersia

Nature has a way of delivering some of its most devastating blows to those who already suffer disproportionately, as happened during Haiti's tragic earthquake. It will take weeks, maybe months, to account for those who are lost and evaluate the full extent of the damage.

Fortunately, through the efforts of many, the most needed items food, water, medical supplies, clothing, shelter and other emergency materials have begun moving into the hands of Haitians. President Obama's promise of unwavering support to help Haiti recover is precisely on target.

But what about the long term, 10 to 20 years from now? What will occur after the worst of the earthquake's ravages pass and images of its destruction lose their prominence? Will the hemisphere's poorest nation return to virtual invisibility? Will it grab the interest of people in other countries only when their cruise ships approach the island's beaches, desperate Haitians try to navigate rickety boats to foreign shores or the next crisis erupts? Will we be content to leave Haiti to its status as a struggling state on the verge of failure?

Some would argue that such a fate is almost inevitable. After all, weak, languishing states have little influence in the global mainstream. They and their problems tend to wash to the wayside. The world, busy with its own affairs, usually has time for no more than a word of encouragement or a dollop of foreign aid.

That does not have to happen, though. Instead of merely putting a bandage on Haiti and wishing it well, why not use the earthquake to respond in a manner that rises to the larger challenge? And why not do that purely because it would be the right and humane course of action? Since the earthquake was first reported, I have had a running conversation with several Haiti specialists. They have raised some worthy suggestions that would help it avoid a future of neglect and marginality.

For example, Haiti could clearly use an infusion of assistance from a 21st-century version of Live Aid, the multi-venue concert of the 1980s that directed assistance toward famine relief in Ethiopia. A similar concert for Haiti, led by someone such as famed Haitian musician and singer Wyclef Jean, could bring in huge sums of money. Jean, to his credit, has already rushed into the relief effort for Haiti through Yele (www.yele.org), his nonprofit, charitable organization.

I suspect hundreds of thousands of people would attend a concert for Haiti, and millions more would tune in through television and the Internet. A key to success would be intense oversight of concert profits and their routing through non-governmental organizations that have the capacity and honesty to put them to the best use for Haiti's people.

Another idea worthy of consideration: Have the U.N. Security Council convene a special meeting with the remnants of Haiti's government. Its purpose would be to consider a broader, more direct role for the international community in Haiti. The experts are not contemplating a modest gesture such as expanding the U.N. peacekeeping force currently in Haiti. Rather, they envision something dramatic, along the lines of the International Trusteeship System, which emerged in 1945 to assist territories in developing political, economic and other capabilities on their way to self-government and self-determination.

Haiti, despite its lengthy independence, finds itself in a similar situation. Its government is not capable, its prospects bleak across the board. Haitians would benefit immensely from a special partnership with the United Nations that would infuse the country with a large, multinational cadre of experts who are equipped to deal with the multitude of issues that Haiti's government has never been able to resolve.

Haitians are more desperate now than ever. If the international community merely provides an escort through the current crisis and returns home, it will doom them to an endless cycle of misery and calamity.