Rebuilding Haiti

U.S. ambassador to Haiti among speakers at recent School of Communication panel.

Coral Gables (January 26, 2011) — Rising from the rubble like harbingers of hope, projects and plans intended to aid in Haiti’s reconstruction have brought tangible signs of a quake-ravaged country on the mend.

In the slum area of Cite Soleil, a new 30-megawatt power plant has opened, providing much-needed access to electricity for residents and businesses. In northern Haiti, residents are encouraged by a recent agreement to build a new industrial park in their region, a venture that could bring thousands of jobs.

And in an innovative approach that uses a common device as a powerful short-term solution to the country’s financial crisis, the Haitian Mobile Money Initiative will enable Haitians to communicate as well as send, receive, and store money on their cell phones.

Such were some of the positive signs of reconstruction that Kenneth Merten, the U.S. ambassador to Haiti, reported at the University of Miami’s School of Communication on January 22. He was among the speakers during the day’s conference, which focused on the progress made in Haiti since the devastating January 2010 temblor and what it will take to lift the country out of the mire of despair that still plagues it.

Presented by Voice of America and the School of Communication, Haiti Earthquake: One Year Later not only included remarks by Merten, who said he remains “optimistic” about the country’s recovery, but also Haitian Ambassador Louis Harold Joseph, community leaders, and several School of Communication faculty members who participated in panel discussions addressing issues such as political climate, health care, and media in Haiti.

Merten pointed to U.S. relief efforts that included clearing 1.2 billion cubic meters of rubble and funding thousands of transitional shelters. But he cautioned that there are still myriad problems there to be solved, from erecting permanent housing for the hundreds of thousands who remain displaced by the earthquake to reining in a deadly cholera outbreak that killed thousands. The ambassador also acknowledged U.S. concerns over what impact former Haitian dictator Jean-Claude Duvalier’s return could have on the country.

Joseph, speaking after Merten, echoed many aspects of his counterpart’s message, noting projects now under way to boost agriculture and other industries and pointing out that many Haitians have left temporary tent camps and returned to homes deemed safe by engineers. But he also called for the creation of more urgent care centers and greater education to help lower the spread of cholera.

During one of the panel discussions, North Miami Mayor Andre D. Pierre said his city, which includes a large Haitian-American population, has raised more than $100,000 to aid the country. “The Haiti of tomorrow can be realized if cities in the U.S. use their resources to help Haiti,” said Pierre, a University of Miami School of Law alumnus.

When the discussion turned to Haiti’s reconstruction, David Meltzer, senior vice president of international services for the American Red Cross, said giving Haitians a role to play in their nation’s recovery is vital.

Other panels focused on Media and Haitian Society, with School of Communication faculty members Sallie Hughes and Tsitsi Wakhisi reporting on a study they conducted that found, among other things, that Haitians living in Miami who speak primarily Creole rely only on Haitian media sources for information, while second-generation Haitians find it difficult to find information about Haiti.

And during a panel on health care in Haiti, Haitian-born physician Michel Dodard, a clinical associate professor at UM’s Miller School of Medicine, detailed UM’s medical response after the earthquake, which included the construction of field hospital near the Port-au-Prince airport, and noted that more doctors are needed in the country to address continued health problems such as diabetes and hypertension.

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From left, panelists Andre Pierre, mayor of the City of North Miami; Gepsie Morisset-Metellus, co-founder and executive director of the Haitian Neighborhood Center Sant La; and Francois Guillaume, executive director of the Haitian-American Chamber of Commerce of Florida.

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