He knows how to get action, but can he show us how to take action?
Last month, former President Bill Clinton and the United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon traveled to Haiti for a whirlwind overnight visit to refocus international attention on one of the most impoverished and desolate countries
in the Western Hemisphere. Unfortunately conditions of despair are not a new development in Haiti, and what the world needs to see is not another set of scripted political meetings like the G20. What this country needs is leaders who will commit the time and resources to help Haitians create reliable government and legal institutions to attract foreign investment and expand the agriculture industry.
The international community must help Haiti seize its current advantages to emerge from the world-wide economic recession on stable ground and prevent the country from falling back into chaos. The United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti has stationed 9,000 peace-keeping soldiers there since 2005. The U.S. enacted the Haitian Hemispheric Opportunity through Partnership Encouragement, or HOPE II, that gives the Haitians special tax exemptions on trade with the U.S. for 10 years. Foreign aid was doubled last year and now amounts to $800 million. However, this is not enough and the more fortunate people of the world need to work together to do more.
I’m sure you’ve heard the saying "give a person a fish and feed him or her for a day; give a person a fishing pole, fand feed him or her for a lifetime." Well, the Haitians are hungry for a future, a chance for prosperity, and we must work towards that
rather than tying over their hunger with quick fixes for stability.
Bill is showing us how to take action and The Clinton Global Initiative, a separate program of the William J. Clinton Foundation, has actually helped make a decent start, as noted in this press release:
During their trip to Haiti, President Clinton and Secretary-General Ban toured the sites of two commitments formed as a result of President Clinton’s Call to Action on Haiti at the Annual Meeting of the Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) in September 2008. Global leaders, business executives, and philanthropists made more than 20 commitments that directly concentrate on strengthening long-term recovery efforts and are valued at more than $130 million.
But these efforts can be expanded upon. The first problem that must be addressed is the lack of faith in the governing body because of corruption and instability. As soon as this is addressed, foreigners will feel more comfortable investing in Haiti and help the economy pick up. While the Haitian politicians need to take responsibility and action for their own country, as a global community we can help speed up the process by sending in a team of international government leaders. The team would help the Haitian government set up the type of system that they think would be best for the future of the country, but also provide insight and knowledge on how to go about this the best way from the successes and failures of other countries. The team will act as consultants and work horses on a committee led by the most educated Haitian leaders. They will live in Haiti until the project is complete and also be charged with the task of helping to create a corruption free government. The legal and political documents of the country will be revised and the team will help enforce them while they are there. The key to the success of the government strengthening will be to do what the Haitian leaders think will be the best for the country, but also to offer outside advice and opinions as appropriate, and act primarily as the vehicle for implementation and enforcement.
Another vital area that needs improvement is the agriculture sector. About two thirds of the population farms for a living, yet is so inefficient that they are nowhere close enough to producing enough food for the country. An article in The Economist provides some shocking statistics:
Though more than half of Haitians work in farming, they produce less than half the country’s food needs. Haiti’s agriculture is the least productive in the world, says Joel Boutroue of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). A hectare of rice paddy in Vietnam will produce 20 tonnes of rice a year, whereas a Haitian hectare yields just one tonne.
So accompanying the government team should be a team of agricultural experts who work with the Haitians to develop sustainable farming improvements, but using the limited technology and resources the country already has. Improvements in agriculture will also help prevent the total devastation that has resulted in the last few years every time Haiti is hit by a hurricane or large storm and the cities are covered in mud.
Clinton has done well at calling attention to the matter and getting some action started, but this time he needs to go all the way. If he truly dedicates and focuses his efforts on rallying international support to help Haiti , whether through his foundation, the U.N., or other channels, we have an opportunity now to help put together the pieces of one of the poorest countries in the Americas. But budgets are already tight, and success is not going to result from increasing foreign aid. We need leaders with knowledge and skill to devote their time and talents. The Clinton Global Initiative is based on commitment, something Bill may have had difficulty with in the past, but here is his chance to lead the way and show that he has changed, and join with his wife in working for change.