Haiti – four thougths (perhaps five)

By Roosevelt Institute |

haiti_map-150Shaping the future with today’s choices.

The emergency in Haiti is not my normal subject matter for the Roosevelt Institute part of my life.  But I have the honor of being the Chair of  the Board of Care U.S.A., and cannot ignore a crisis of this magnitude.  I’m not going to try to describe the dimensions of the catastrophe: you can see the on-line material and the news reports as well as I can, and there is nothing close yet to an authoritative accounting of the true scale of this disaster.  We know all we have to know right now -– that it is enormous.

First, the U.S. Government response has been great.  The President’s comments, Secretary Clinton’s, and those of the new AID Administrator Dr. Rajiv Shah have been exactly right.  More importantly, their actions have been immediate and have matched their words.  I also think that bringing in 5500 American troops as rapidly as possible is a critical immdiate step.

Second, no matter how much material the U.S. Government brings in, the arms and legs of the emergency response are and will be largely the Non Governmental Organizations (NGO’s) that have long been on the ground in Haiti and know the terrain.  It is important that we support those organizations immediately.  I don’t intend this as a Care promotion.  I am obviously giving through Care, but there are other fine organizations –- The Red Cross, Doctors Without Borders, World Vision, Save the Children, Oxfam-America, MercyCorps, Medical Teams International Habitat for Humanity, and many, many others –- to whom you could turn.   All of us face the problem that it is extremely hard to raise funds in anticipation of unpredictable emergencies.  Therefore, as hard as we try, we have relatively low initial emergency funds.  Care has such a fund but it becomes depleted very rapidly; so if you want us to sustain the effort make your contributions as soon as you can.

Third, allow whichever NGO you support in this moment to allocate some of the funds to the needs that begin to emerge after the immediate crisis response has occurred.  Right now the Haitian people need to be found, rescued, fed, housed, given medical care and clean water.  But not much later on, they will need homes, schools, roads, and jobs.  For example, Care has found that microfinance is always a critical and often overlooked need shortly after every crisis.  Virtually every tiny to small business near Port au Prince has probably lost all of its physical assets.

Finally, there has to be a long term effort to solve the Haiti development crisis and I hope you resolve to be part of that.  A big reason why this disaster is so great is that Haiti is so poor and has been governed so badly for so long that it lacks the  basic structures allowing it to cope even minimally with something of this scale.  There is no such thing as “a” solution in a case such as Haiti’s; and real improvement takes a long time.  But President Obama clearly takes economic development seriously, and his people are very, very good.  There is a shot here at starting off in the right direction.

(Postscript) Why is it so depressingly predictable that the only truly discordant notes in all of this came from the Reverend Pat Robertson; and Rush Limbaugh?  Pat Robertson is blaming the situation of Haiti on a pact with the devil made by the leaders of the slave rebellion in 1791; and good ol’ Rush has seen this as  President Obama consolodating his hold on both light skinned and dark skinned negros.  I’ve also noticed that no-one from the Republican party has pointed out how nuts these remarks were.  The two of them continue to be the canaries in the cage as the Republican party sails of the edge of the earth.

Roosevelt Institute Braintruster Bo Cutter is formerly a managing partner of Warburg Pincus, a major global private equity firm. Recently, he served as the leader of President Obama’s Office of Management and Budget (OMB) transition team.

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