For Haiti, A New Year Brings Some Old News

Jan 07, 2011 09:32 AM EST

Stouffville, ON, December 31, 2010 - For decades, millions upon millions of dollars and years of manpower have been poured into Haiti, the poorest country in the Western hemisphere. These dollars, hours and efforts have come from governments, international non-profit organizations and caring individuals.

And yet, the evidence of long-term improvement on the quality of life in Haiti has been hard to find.

When a devastating earthquake hit the already impoverished and weak country last January 12, it killed over 220,000 people, injured more than 300,000, and left 1.5 million homeless.

Again, the international community responded with enormous compassion and generosity and pledged a total of $9.9bn in immediate and long-term aid to earthquake-hit Haiti.

Now, almost a year later, over a million people still remain in overcrowded tent camps. Haiti has faced a year of trials - hurricane winds, torrential rains, cholera and most recently rioting over recent government elections.

People are again asking - what difference is the earthquake response money making in the country? What, if anything, will finally make a difference in the lives of the poorest Haitian people?

“Haiti needs to have a stable, responsible and representative government which currently does not exist,” says Ed Epp, Executive Director of cbm Canada (formerly known as Christian Blind Mission). “Haiti’s history of not involving community in a participatory way in government decisions has resulted in the challenges it faces today.”

“Unless the government and the non-profit development sector involves the community – the people of Haiti at a very grassroots level – in the decision-making process, we won’t see anything new come out of Haiti,” says Epp who spent seven years managing a microfinance and economic development program in Haiti.

“We need to fully embrace the notion of participatory development if dollars are going to make a long-term improvement in the lives of Haitians.

“And in order to truly be participatory, we need to ensure people with disabilities are included in that consultation and decision-making process,” says Epp.

Before the quake, 10 per cent of Haiti’s population had disabilities. After the quake, that number increased significantly.

“We know that in any major catastrophe, for every child killed, another 2-3 are injured and left with life-long disabilities.

“Now, more than ever, the Canadian government has an important role to play in influencing the Haitian government to include people with disabilities in any restructuring/rebuilding plans for the future,” says Epp.

“We know that any community is incomplete if it doesn’t address the specific needs of people with disabilities,” says Epp. “We believe that a strong Haiti has to involve all people at the community level.”

To this end, cbm will be launching a petition on January 10th to give Canadians an opportunity to join voices, requesting the Canadian government make inclusion of persons with disabilities a central focus in their rebuilding plans and efforts in Haiti.

“As an international community, we face the challenge of rebuilding Haiti. The Canadian government has an opportunity to be leaders, setting a whole new standard for inclusion of people of all abilities in society.

“How can we ignore the needs, the input and the potential of 10-20% of Haiti’s population?” asks Epp.

cbm Canada is a Christian international development organization focused on improving the quality of life of people struggling to survive the double disadvantage of poverty and disability.

cbm has been working in Haiti since 1976, with development projects throughout the country, including five programs for those with disabilities in Port-au-Prince.

Every year, cbm brings hope and transform the lives of more than 23 million people.