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Op Ed by UNICEF Executive Director on Haiti’s recovery


Tons of uncleared debris. Tent cities filled to overflowing. Tens of thousands of children in need of protection. Such harsh images of Haiti -- and stark assessments of the on-going crisis there -- are likely to dominate our thoughts this week, as we mark the somber anniversary of the earthquake that struck one year ago Wednesday.

In an emergency of such tragic magnitude, it is natural that we look for villains -- and much harder to look for heroes. But as we frankly assess and learn from what’s gone wrong in Haiti, we must also study and build upon what has gone right, and why.

The task has been Herculean -- a humanitarian worst case scenario in one of the world’s poorest countries, with massive casualties, multiple catastrophes, the decimation of the nation’s civil service, reams of critical records destroyed and staggering damage to the country’s critical infrastructure. Delays in pledged aid have further complicated the recovery effort.

And in the past three months, the cholera epidemic has claimed almost 3,500 lives, with almost 150,000 cases reported to date. Despite our determined efforts, the wave of this deadly disease has not yet crested.

These are enormous, unprecedented obstacles. But as we look back, we should remind ourselves not only that it might have been far worse, but that real progress has been possible, even in such dire circumstances.

Working together, Haitian relief organizations, 140 donor countries, international NGOs and the UN, including UNICEF have saved and improved many lives. More than eight million liters of clean water have been trucked every day; mobile nutrition units have helped to avert widespread acute malnourishment; almost two million children and young people have been immunized.

Thousands of children have been reunited with their families. Almost 100,000 children continue to benefit from a network of child-friendly spaces that provide psychosocial care. And the new "All to School’’ campaign is reaching around 80 percent of children directly affected by the earthquake.

This is only a start. In Haiti -- as in every emergency -- we can and must do a better job channeling pledged aid to people and communities in greatest need. We need to ensure better coordination among government, the international aid community and local NGOs. And we need to do more to support communities’ efforts to drive their own recovery.

When so much remains to be done, and when so many continue to suffer, it is no time for self-congratulation. But neither should it become an occasion for self-flagellation. To do so risks discouraging those who can still provide help -- to the absolute detriment of the people who so desperately need it. And it is both a denial of the small victories achieved and a disavowal of the heroes who are still out there, every day, helping to rebuild lives and restore hope.

Heroes like Marie, a structural engineer and radio host who returned to Haiti after the earthquake, determined to help Haiti’s children by rebuilding schools. As she put it, ``If we don’t give the children the opportunity to go to school, we will lose an entire generation.’’

Heroes like Frere Franklin, whose commitment to Haiti’s children is already the stuff of legend, and whose efforts to provide clean drinking water in the wake of disaster are reaching thousands of people around the country.

Heroes like Mauvette, a registered nurse and former lecturer at a nursing school in Port-au-Prince, who narrowly escaped death and now dedicates herself to the famous ``baby tents’’ of Mais Gate, where so many newborn lives have been saved. And young heroes like Judith, 15, who lost her mother and her home in the earthquake, but who has not lost hope. She lives now in a single room with eight relatives, and walks two hours every day to attend school. ``Sometimes I want to give up,’’ she says, ``but a little voice tells me to keep going.’’

Can we do any less?

There is no denying that today in Haiti, rubble still remains, cholera still kills, and political turmoil still imperils progress. But the time has come to look beyond the rubble and the ruin, and to look ahead to a stronger Haiti. One year later, we have a choice -- to wring our hands or to join them together in renewed commitment to help Haitians rebuild their wounded country. For how we can despair, when so many Haitians have not?


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