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Waiting to Hear From My Family in Haiti

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I was at a conference on Capitol Hill on Tuesday when I heard the news of Haiti's earthquake. My heart sank as I thought of my aunts, uncles and cousins who still reside in Haiti. Before I learned the extent of the earthquake, I was already in a state of despair. Having an intimate knowledge of Haiti's history, I knew that the country's lack of infrastructure, disaster preparedness and acute poverty would make a bad situation even worse. I was not prepared for the long night of waiting to hear which of my loved ones made it, and which didn't.

Along with horrific television images, the following morning brought news that my Aunt and Uncle Duchatelier are alive, but that their home, and the primary school they built had collapsed and everything they owned had been destroyed. As I wait, pray and hope for the safety of my other family members, who I have yet to hear from, I am struck with the realization that Haiti's long struggle against poverty is now exacerbated, its needs now magnified, and the vulnerability of the Haitian people now more greatly exposed.

As we continue to hear about the devastation caused by the powerful 7.0 magnitude earthquake, our thoughts go out to the victims of this disaster and to those who are working to help the nation recover.

Disasters like this one are especially devastating when they strike places that are already struggling to provide the most basic of services for their populations. With weak government and private sector institutions, and with uncertain security conditions, Haiti is the poorest and least developed country in the Western hemisphere. Majority of Haitians live in poverty. The sheer scale of poverty in the country means that the government has limited capacity to meet even the simplest needs of its people, let alone address a disaster of this magnitude.

Haiti's lack of development -- which translates into a lack of government capacity for emergency preparedness -- magnifies the impact of this tragedy. In addition to creating a very real and immediate humanitarian tragedy, the earthquake and the struggle to navigate its aftermath will be an enormous setback to the hard-won gains that Haiti has achieved in recent years in securing a more stable environment and fighting poverty.

While disaster preparedness and long-term development initiatives may seem to fall at opposite ends of the development spectrum, they are in fact profoundly connected. Disaster preparedness plays a crucial role in the fight against poverty. Without it, gains against poverty are physically erased, and post-disaster countries face insurmountable challenges in getting back on track to meet their development goals. In Haiti, once the immediate disaster is addressed, it will be an uphill battle to return to its former state of development, let alone make further gains.

This situation demonstrates how investment in long-term development, especially in fragile and disaster-prone states like Haiti, could help countries deal with disasters, and also keep them on track to develop.

In spite of this disaster, a great aspect of Haitian history tells us the Haitian people are resilient and determined to better their lives. I am confident that with the help of strong partners around the world, Haiti will rise from its rubble and Haitians will live their motto: L'union fait la force (Unity is strength).

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