U.N. official sees opportunity in Haiti's tragedy
PORT-AU-PRINCE (Reuters) - It could take decades for Haiti to recover from last month's devastating earthquake, but the tragedy may provide the impoverished country a chance to rebuild "the right way," a top U.N. official said on Monday.
"This is the moment for the Haitians to refound their republic," said Edmond Mulet, acting head of the U.N. peacekeeping force in Haiti.
A former U.N. special representative to Haiti, Mulet flew into the poor Caribbean country soon after the January 12 quake to assume command of the 9,000-strong U.N. police and military force in the earthquake-shattered state.
His predecessor was killed in the Haiti quake, one of the world's worst natural disasters, as were other top commanders of the U.N, Stabilization Mission. Known by its French-language acronym MINUSTAH, the mission's Port-of-Prince headquarters collapsed along with thousands of other buildings.
Mulet said it may never be known how many people died in the quake or the number of those who perished under what he described as "tons and tons and tons" of rubble.
But in a candid interview in his office in a makeshift U.N. compound, he said the world community and Haitians themselves had failed repeatedly to build strong institutions and foster development in the Western Hemisphere's poorest state, which has a history of political turmoil and natural disasters.
Now, after the 7.0 magnitude quake that government officials estimate killed up to 200,000 people, he said international donors had to come up with more effective mid- and long-term strategies to help Haiti than in the past.
Humanitarian assistance is still the top priority in the near term. But just throwing billions of dollars in aid to the country, as has been done in the past 25 years, will not do the trick for Haiti over the long haul, the soft-spoken Guatemalan U.N. official said.
"We should do better," said Mulet, saying job creation and robust development programs were needed to pull the country out of the misery that was endemic long before last month.
"The international community has been really very fickle here," he added, saying the imminent creation of a special World Bank directorate for Haiti could help lay the foundation for many new projects.
'OPPORTUNITY FOR HAITIANS'
"This is also an opportunity for the Haitians themselves to see all their own responsibilities and to be up to the task. They also have been part of the problem, it's not only us but also them," Mulet said.
"This shake-up ... this earthquake will also make them think about their own responsibilities and to use this tragedy to rebuild Haiti the right way," he said.
He declined to comment on speculation about a possible move to relocate the wrecked Haitian capital somewhere outside Port-au-Prince, away from dangerous geological fault lines. He said that would have to be a Haitian government decision.
He said it was also up to President Rene Preval, who Mulet said would return to the grounds of the heavily damaged National Palace to work out of temporary offices to be set up there later this week, to determine how and where to house all the Haitians made homeless by the quake.
Mulet said the poor living conditions in packed survivors' camps and shanties that have cropped up across Port-au-Prince urgently needed to be addressed, as the onslaught of Haiti's rainy season threatened to worsen a humanitarian crisis still far from under control.
He also acknowledged that the United Nations, which is in the process of adding 3,500 police, soldiers and a small contingent of Japanese and Korean engineers to its force in Haiti, had played a limited humanitarian role in the first few days after the earthquake struck.
"At the very beginning it was very difficult because all the headquarters was completely destroyed and all the leadership of the mission was killed," he said.
"In this case we were victims, as the government was and as the Haitian population was. My first responsibility was really to put back the mission on its feet," he said.
Overall, Mulet said the global response to Haiti's disaster had been much quicker and more effective than in other recent cases, including the Indian Ocean tsunami that killed 226,000 people in 13 countries just over five years ago.
But Haiti itself seemed to have been much harder hit than Indonesia, where the tsunami took its greatest toll.
"My impression is that neither the Haitians themselves nor the international community have fathomed the effects or consequences of the destruction that happened here, not only on human lives but also on infrastructure. And this is going to take, in my own opinion, decades."
(Writing by Tom Brown; Editing by Pascal Fletcher and Peter Cooney)
- Target stores' customers hit by major credit card attack
- UPDATE 3-Saab wins Brazil jet deal after NSA spying sours Boeing bid
- Facebook, Zuckerberg, banks must face IPO lawsuit: judge
- U.S. prosecutor defends treatment of Indian diplomat |
- Fed cuts bond buying in first step away from historic stimulus |