Chen Weihua

Haitians deserve a much better future

By Chen Weihua (China Daily)
Updated: 2010-01-26 06:33
Large Medium Small

Haiti was like hell in the past two weeks after a devastating earthquake. Collapsed buildings, including the Presidential Palace and government ministry mansions, were strewn about the downtown area. An estimated 110,000 to 200,000 people lost their lives and many bodies are still buried under rubble. Stench from the dead permeates the center of the city.

The more than 300,000 people who have found temporary shelters in public parks are short of food, water and medicine, as noon temperature are soaring daily to 40 C. Every Haitian I met has either lost a home, their loved ones, or both. Poverty is everywhere in Haiti. Panic and despair are on almost everyone's face.

Life is extremely hard and will remain so as the recovery and rebuilding from the catastrophe will be a prolonged process. However, what has been amazing in the last few days is the gradual restoration of order in the streets. People are getting more food and water due to international humanitarian relief efforts. More vendors have emerged on sidewalks. It is now safe to walk in the street carrying a basket of bread or a huge box of bottled water.

The scenes shown by CNN were only the scariest parts of life there, not the routine.

The horrible quake has received massive attention worldwide in the last two weeks. But the attention and care could wane quickly as TV crews, reporters, rescue missions and aid groups leave the Caribbean nation in the coming weeks and months.

That is something we should not let happen if we truly care about the trauma suffered by Haitians.

Haitians don't have the luxury like those in China's Sichuan province, when the central government ordered each province, autonomous region and municipality to help in reconstructing the region.

Haitian's elected government has not been functioning well enough post-earthquake to give its people much-needed assurances to wade through the hardship.

Ludner Confident, a 60-year-old doctor who emigrated to the US 35 years ago, has lauded the freedom and democracy in today's Haitian society, but said he believes outside aid is vital to help develop the economy.

He himself is looking for investors to help realize his dream of building an oceanfront golf resort in a peninsula only an hour's drive from the capital of Port-au-Prince.

What I have foreseen in the past days was exactly a vision like that of Dr Confident's. Although much of Port-au-Prince lays in rubble, Haiti's beautiful landscape is still there.

The unique culture, the Voodoo religion, fascinating music, art, food, beaches and tropical climate would make Haiti a tourist destination at least as attractive as Sanya in South China's Hainan Island, which is now teeming with Chinese and foreign tourists.

Haiti's natural beauty is complemented by the hospitality of Haitian people. Daphne, the Haitian owner of a hotel in Petionville, Port-au-Prince, generously offered my colleague and I a place to stay one late night after a 10-hour, bumpy bus ride from Santo Domingo of the Dominican Republic. The fact that she had just lost her 23-year-old son in the quake is not lost on me.

Deng Xiaoping's slogan of "Development is the Top Priority" seems fitting for Haiti today. With 80 percent of its 9 million people in rural areas, Haiti's demography is much like China 30 years ago, only 100 times smaller.

Labor-intensive industries would help create many jobs for the people leaving rural villages. The tourism industry should tap into its abundant natural sceneries and create jobs.

I am glad to hear that the Chinese government, though still having no diplomatic ties with Haiti, has voiced its support of Haiti's reconstruction. In fact, two Chinese businessmen I met in Port-au-Prince have already started looking for opportunities in the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. A Zhejiang native is looking into infrastructure projects while the other, from Beijing, looks into industry as well as the service industry.

With plenty of good and bitter lessons from the reconstruction of the Sichuan quake zone, China should have a lot to offer Haiti.

The United Nations, which has peacekeeping forces in Haiti to maintain social order, should take on the extra task of focusing on Haiti's reconstruction.

If Haiti follows a sound economic policy in the coming decades, it won't be too long before the nation on the south of Hispaniola Island becomes a paradise. And I will be looking forward to going back to Haiti on a Caribbean cruise then.

Good luck, Haiti.


(China Daily 01/26/2010 page8)