Saying “it is time we responsibly manage our investments in Haiti and make sure we work collaboratively towards greater accountability in dealing with relief efforts for a sustainable Haiti,” state Sen. Linda Dorcena Forry hosted the first program in her conversation series titled “Eyes on Haiti” last Friday afternoon at the Massachusetts State House.
The discussion centered on the causes and effects of the widespread epidemic of cholera across Haiti and the status of relief efforts in the wake of Hurricane Matthew’s passage of destruction across the island earlier this month.
Massachusetts is home to the third largest population of Haitian Americans in the United States and several score community members were on hand for the conversation.
“We have Haitians who are in every field, and we need to pull together as a community and mobilize in one direction to make sure we get our voices heard by Senator Markey and our partners in Congress,” said Forry.
US Sen. Edward Markey, who spent three days in Haiti early last week, spoke to the gathering about his visits to clinics dealing with cholera and meetings with disaster relief teams. The senator and many others have long said that the United Nations, in particular the peacekeepers it sent to the island after the devastating 2010 earthquake, had played the key role in introducing cholera to the population almost six years ago. The UN recently acknowledged that the charge has merit.
“The United States has an obligation to step up. Haiti was victimized by actions that The United Nations authorized,” said Markey, a member of the Senate’s Foreign Relations Committee who has called on the United Nations to apologize publicly for its mistakes and actively work to provide medical resources to fight the epidemic and financial assistance for its victims.
“I do not think the United Nations will fully apologize until they feel the pressure of the world demanding that they take responsibility for what they did to Haiti,” Markey told the Reporter.
“Ultimately, I think that we are getting closer and closer to that day, but I think that our best opportunity is going to be in [UN Secretary-General] Ban Ki-moon’s final three months as the head of the UN. It gives him a chance to do the right thing.”
A good part of the discussion was focused on how Massachusetts, and the United States as a whole, can provide resources and aid to the victims of Hurricane Matthew.
Sen. Forry identified the St. Boniface Haiti Foundation as one of the places where interested constituents can confidently donate because of the work the organization has done on the ground in mobilizing resources.
Lynn Black and Conor Shapiro, president and CEO of the foundation, flew down to Haiti the day after the hurricane struck. Black said that she could not believe how “woefully underreported” the situation in Haiti was – more than one thousand dead; the destruction of crops mere weeks before harvest time, leaving farmers with no income; no access to clean water; and a dangerously scarce supply of food.
Brian Concannon, the executive director of the Boston-based Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti, compared the effect of Hurricane Matthew on Haiti to Cuba, which suffered no fatalities. Pointing to Haiti’s poor infrastructure, Concannon called this disparity “an unnatural vulnerability to natural disasters.”
Nadia Raymond from Partners in Health and Equal Health, who has been nationally recognized for her involvement in disaster relief efforts in Haiti, discussed what the potential “action plan” for aid to Haiti might look like with a focus on efforts to educate and provide resources to the people on the island. “This should be Haiti-led,” she said, “and we should be coming in to support them. I’ve seen so many good things happen to Haiti when it’s done right.”
Added Markey: “We cannot forget Haiti. We cannot have amnesia again. This is a great moral responsibility on the shoulders of the world. I am going to make sure that effort [goes on] year after year.” In a way, he concluded, “a crisis is a terrible thing to waste.”
The next “Eyes on Haiti” conversation will be held during the first week of December.