Bill Clinton: It Will Take Years to Rebuild Haiti

Haiti suffered the worst catastrophe in its history last week. Given all the nation has been through in the last 200 years, that is saying something.

We have all seen the heartbreaking scenes of hospitals collapsed, government buildings in rubble, people young and old lying injured or dead in the street, and a cloud of dust hanging over Port-au-Prince—a city I have cherished and visited many times since Hillary and I took our delayed honeymoon there in 1975. Haiti is a poor, tragically deforested nation, but it is rich in history, human potential, and human spirit. Haiti was the second nation in the New World to declare its independence, just after the United States. It did so despite greater adversity than we Americans faced—we had to deal with the British, but Haiti's founders at different times stared down the militaries of France, England, and Spain.

I am grateful they did. The central third of the United States—the Louisiana Purchase—became American when Napoleon decided to sell it to Thomas Jefferson, a decision he reached after concluding he could not defeat the brave people fighting in Haiti for their freedom. That territory includes my native state of Arkansas.

As president, I worked to end a violent military dictatorship and to restore Haiti's elected president. After leaving the White House, I continued to work in Haiti through my foundation, partnering with the government to increase treatment for and reduce the prevalence of HIV/AIDS and other diseases.

After a series of hurricanes battered the coast of Haiti in 2008, I made a call to action at the annual meeting of the Clinton Global Initiative for commitments to help rebuild the country. CGI members responded by pledging more than $100 million for efforts that included providing immediate disaster relief and rebuilding damaged bridges.

In June 2009, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon asked me to become the U.N. special envoy for Haiti, a role I was honored to accept. I've traveled to the region a number of times to encourage investment and spur job creation, and to increase nongovernmental activity and aid from governments and multilateral organizations. We had made a good start in rebuilding after the storms, and in addressing disease, political unrest, and deforestation, largely because of the Haitian government's commitment to implement its comprehensive plan for sustainable development and because of the unprecedented interest in the country's progress on the part of neighbors, the Haitian diaspora, and thousands of NGOs.

I still believe that Haiti can move beyond its troubled history and this lethal earthquake to emerge a stronger, more secure nation. But we can't do it with government support alone: ordinary citizens must fill in the gaps. Little donations make a big difference, and there are a number of organizations that will move the money to where it's needed most. Explosions in technology have made it even easier to give: the State Department raised more than $1 million for the Red Cross in less than 24 hours through text messages that added $10 to the user's phone bill.

But we need more money to ensure that we can deal with the immediate humanitarian crisis; to ensure that relief reaches every last person who still needs it; to return those who lost their lives to their families for burial; to provide medical aid to the hurt, water to the thirsty, food to the hungry, and shelter to the homeless. We have to clear the rubble from the roads and restore access to essential services and basic necessities. Once the emergency subsides, the long road of reconstruction begins. What took mere minutes to fall will take months and years to rebuild, and we must ensure that our focus continues long after the media coverage fades and relief workers return home.

Fortunately, Haiti has more non-governmental organizations per capita on the ground than any other nation except India. With a coordinated effort and sustained funding, we truly have an opportunity to build Haiti back better, with stronger buildings, better schools, improved health care, more clean energy, and a more diversified, more sustainable economy.

We all have a stake in Haiti's future. In our interdependent world, we are all connected and the fate of our neighbors is intrinsically linked with our own. A stronger, more secure Haiti means a stronger, more secure region. The Haitian people deserve the chance to build a nation that reflects their hard work, their ability, and their desires. There is a Haitian proverb, ÒMen anpil chay pa lou,Ó which translates as "Many hands lighten the load." Working together, we can lighten the load that the Haitian people have carried on their own for far too long, and finally give them a real chance for a better tomorrow.

Join the Discussion