Global Journalist: Recovery from Haitian earthquake

Friday, January 22, 2010 | 11:17 a.m. CST; updated 10:15 a.m. CDT, Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Stuart Loory, Lee Hills Chair in Free-Press Studies at the Missouri School of Journalism: The tragedy in Haiti moves forward. The time to think of rescuing more of the earthquake’s victims has passed and that is unfortunate. Now is not only the time to think of recovery and rebuilding but also to take advantage of the situation and to begin rebuilding Haiti so that it can enter modern international society. Haiti is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, but it has not always been that way. In the 18th century, as a colony of France, it was the so-called Pearl of the Antilles. It provided 40 percent of all the sugar used in Europe in those days and 60 percent of all the coffee. It rose up for independence at roughly the same time as the North American 13 colonies did against Great Britain. And in 1804 it became the world’s first Afro-American republic and the second republic of any kind in the Western Hemisphere after the United States. France, though, forced Haiti to pay reparations for its freedom that saddled the country from 1826 to 1947. That debt, as well as corruption, exploitation, and murderous totalitarian government plunged Haiti into cruel poverty from which in recent years it has only begun to emerge. So is there anything that can be done to set Haiti back on a road to real economic self-sufficiency and political freedom? I understand that there are signs that the worst might now be over and recovery might be beginning. Is that too optimistic a view?

Eduardo Gamarra, professor of political science, Florida International University; Miami: Yes, perhaps. There was some major ground shaking yesterday with serious consequences. The worst part is what is happening right now, and that is the lack of coordination among international teams. If you put this in comparative perspective elsewhere in the region, we have never experienced the magnitude of death. So, while things seem to be looking up, I am not sure the worse is yet over.

Loory: As far as coordinating aid, I think there are probably three major organizations that we have to think about: the European Union, the United Nations and the United States government. The United Nations itself suffered greatly in Haiti. Is it mobilizing as quickly and efficiently as it should?

Margaret Besheer, U.N. correspondent, Voice of America; New York: Yes, absolutely. The U.N. is coordinating the entire international relief effort. One of the main problems is that you have a very small airport. It is backed up. Flights are coming in constantly. Where are you going to store the aid that is coming in? I think the criticisms of the aid not getting through are slightly unfair. You still have to mobilize efforts from other places in the world and it takes time. The U.N. is really at the forefront of coordinating this relief and the peacekeepers are securing the humanitarian convoys and corridors.

Loory: How are the European countries reacting and is there enough aid being promised from Europe?

Teri Schultz, freelance reporter, National Public Radio and correspondent, Global Post; Brussels, Belgium: I think the Europeans themselves were pleasantly surprised at how forthcoming the member states were. The European Union feels that it can really shine in situations like this because it doesn’t like wars, it doesn’t have fighting forces but it does feel that it has very good expert-level delegations to send. They’ve mobilized very quickly to get in search teams. They’ve put in portable hospitals. They can help rebuild the infrastructure. They’re doing that in Afghanistan and they’ve done that in Iraq.

Loory: What is the reaction in the United States and how is that is being viewed in Haiti?

Mike Dupuy, Web developer and spokesman,, Middleburg, Pennsylvania: The reports I have seen indicate that there has been a bit of confusion between going down there to rescue people to aid in a humanitarian way and basically providing military cover simultaneously. I understand that a number of medical flights and humanitarian flights have been turned away. Last night on CNN, I heard one of the correspondents talk about this overemphasis on security as if it was Fallujah. There does seem to have been a delay in getting things from the airport out to people.

Loory: What do you think about the inefficiency of distribution? We heard Margaret Besheer say that that kind of criticism was not really justified. Who’s right?

Gamarra: I don’t think it’s fair to criticize what is an extraordinary effort by all agencies involved. I think you have to see what is happening on the ground to really be able to understand how difficult it is to carry out any kind of mission. The U.N. in fact has been able to rebuild its presence in a very short period of time. I think it is important to place this into context and to really understand how difficult it is to help any situation as chaotic as Haiti.

Loory: The New York Times had a really interesting story this morning about sending money to Haiti. Contributions in kind - milk, clothing, that kind of thing - are not easily distributed and not easily used. Is that the situation?

Gamarra: Absolutely. Again, all of the goodwill- old clothing, cans of milk and so on- flying it in and then distributing it is a major undertaking. What needs to be done right now is to understand that what organizations need is cash to operate.

Loory: Margaret Besheer, I don’t imagine that you have any disagreement with what Professor Gamarra has just said.

Besheer: On the food front, if you send cans of soup, tell me how people living on the street are going to cook it. The United Nations will fund the World Food Program which is sending meals that are ready to eat. And that is what people need because people have no facilities, they have no running water, they have no electricity. It has been a crippling blow in the United Nations, but in spite of it they have gotten right back up and didn’t miss a beat.

Loory: What, if anything, can be done to start making Haiti a good member of the international community in the years to come?

Dupuy: I think we, as a nation, the United States of America, respond really well to crises. When bridges start to fall we start inspecting them, but quite often we know the infrastructure is crumbling and we don’t handle it at the time when it is crumbling. The infrastructure of Haiti has been completely neglected by the international community up until this point. I think one of the most important aspects is for Haitians and for Haitian-Americans, the Haitian diaspora throughout the world, to realize that they are the stakeholders that need to come back to Haiti, need to reinvest in Haiti, need to commit to bringing Haiti out of this.

Loory: I would like to ask Professor Gamarra to react.

Gamarra: Haitians often complain about being abandoned by the international community and there is a great deal of truth to that. At the same time, it is also true that when there has been an international commitment to Haiti, the authorities in Haiti have been very difficult to work with. I’ve been talking to some officials recently who recall the inability of the Haitian government to absorb loans. There is not enough capacity on the part of the bureaucracies that exist in Haiti.

Loory: Can that be turned around?

Besheer: The U.N. has always been working for capacity building in Haiti. You’re going to see the U.N. and the international community hopefully try to turn this tragedy into an opportunity and there is no point to rebuild Haiti as it was. I wouldn’t be surprised if also we see former President Bill Clinton in the lead on this.

Loory: I have to say that it is difficult to put an upbeat face on the situation in Haiti. I think that certainly you can say that now is the time to begin working on a long-term solution to all the country’s problems, not just the recovery from the earthquake.  

Producers of Global Journalist are Missouri School of Journalism graduate students Youn-Joo Park, Angela Potrykus, Melissa Ulbricht, Tim Wall and Megan Wiegand. The transcriber is Pat Kelley.

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Jacqueline Brill July 21, 2010 | 9:59 a.m.

Disaster recovery goes far beyond food, water and medicine. It's about infrastructure, education, economy and emotional healing. A new documentary shows what disaster recovery looks like in the long-term, by examining three survivors of the 2004 tsunami in Southeast Asia. "Kepulihan: Stories from the Tsunami" follows the lives of three survivors over the course of the four years immediately following one of the worst natural disasters in human history. It will air on ABC on November 21, 2010. For more information, please visit our website at, or find us on Facebook by searching for "Kepulihan: Stories from the Tsunami."

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