Haiti Crisis: Beyond Immediate Action

The devastation in Haiti in the aftermath of a strong earthquake that hit the country Jan. 12 calls for action that would address long-term recovery issues, and not only the immediate needs of victims.

Initial responses would inevitably focus on the immediate needs of  earthquake victims, but as Kara McDonald of the Council on Foreign Relations says, this action should be matched with a stronger and longer lasting commitment to secure Haiti's future stability.

International response must consider the bigger picture: The Haiti earthquake is both a humanitarian and development situation, as international affairs and development experts reiterate. It must be approached with what McDonald describes as a blend of "relief, development and stabilization efforts."

The international community should be ready to provide immediate disaster responses while dealing with Haiti's poor infrastructure and political instability. Aid workers must also prepare for massive population displacement, disease outbreak, increased crime rate and further political instability that could result from the tragedy.

McDonald and fellow experts urge the United States to lead the international response to the Haiti disaster. The United Nations could have taken the role, as it usually does in similar situations, but the organization itself was directly affected by the earthquake. McDonald argues that it may be hard to expect sufficient response from the U.N. as it attempts to account for members of its staff trapped under the collapsed U.N. mission headquarters in Port-au-Prince, capital city of Haiti, the CFR expert notes.

The U.S. has a stake in Haiti's situation as a neighboring country and its biggest donor. It also has the means to provide both immediate and long-term response. James Roberts and Ray Walser of the Heritage Foundation state that President Barack Obama can tap into the resources and expertise of the Miami-based U.S. Southern Command. But Obama should also be prepared to send heavy equipment and emergency supplies, the two scholars add.

The U.S. is likewise in a position to support long-term recovery in Haiti by establishing special trade preferences for Haiti's products, mobilizing the large number of Haitian-Americans living in the country, and encouraging faith-based groups to engage in recovery efforts in the Caribbean nation.

But more than anything, commitment to Haiti's recovery is the most essential element required of the U.S. and other international response to the Haiti earthquake. As McDonald argues, the earthquake is a "bitter reminder" that the patchwork-like nature of previous responses to Haiti's problems should be put to an end.

About the author

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    Ivy Mungcal

    As former senior staff writer, Ivy Mungcal contributed to several Devex publications. Her focus is on breaking news, and in particular on global aid reform and trends in the United States, Europe, the Caribbean, and the Americas. Before joining Devex in 2009, Ivy produced specialized content for U.S. and U.K.-based business websites.