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Michèle Pierre-Louis Headshot

My Pride and Hope for Haiti

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Port-au-Prince -- It is an image of apocalypse. The National Palace and the ministries that were the heart of Haiti's government are in ruins. The beautiful court of justice collapsed. Building after building, street after street.

Two weeks after the earthquake, the residents of Port-au-Prince make their way through heaps of rubble. There are still corpses in piles of debris. Survivors who still have homes sleep in the streets scared by the aftershocks. The lucky have mattresses. If they have food, they cook outside.

On these streets I hear people praying and singing. And I see solidarity.

People are not angry. They are upset because they are totally left to their own devices. The government, which suffered losses, is also traumatized. Its offices totally destroyed, it is unable to provide leadership.

An immense international aid effort is underway, but it has yet to touch most people.

Somehow I see a sense of pride emerging in Port-au-Prince. Pride in our self-reliance. People say we must dig ourselves out. Literally. Community leaders have been playing an important role trying to help get citizens organized and keep them safe.

The reports of unrest are exaggerated. In Haiti, it is as if people want to prove that we can take care of ourselves -- at least partly. Because of course we do need help. That help consists of emergency aid and a plan for moving our ravaged country forward.

The plan for Haiti should unfold in three phases: rescue, recovery and reconstruction. We are now at the end of the first. With international support, we still need to get help to the neediest: food, water and medical care.

The second stage needs should get underway urgently. We need to restore a system of public information to tell people what to do and what not to do. For example, what water is safe to drink and what street needs to be closed off because buildings are in danger of collapse.

Bodies need to be cleared away to ward off disease. We need to restore basic services and remove debris and unsound structures.

At the same time, we must tackle the problem of shelter. We need to get people into tents before the rains come. We have identified places outside the capital that can be used to house camps.

If people are relocated, they must have a basic way to earn some semblance of a living. We should press forward with cash-for-work programs, to pay people to pick up garbage. Instead of shipping in big rock cutters, we can use international aid to pay Haitians to break up debris with sledge hammers.

The third phase is reconstruction and development. That is our opportunity to start afresh with a view to mistakes we have made in the past.

The outpouring of generosity from all corners of the world even from those who can ill afford it is staggering. Without combined leadership from abroad and from Haiti itself however this help will amount to little.

Before the earthquake, our capital had mushroomed to a teeming city of three million people unable to support its residents.

Haiti with the donor community should consider a long-term plan of rebuilding with an eye towards developing the country more evenly so that citizens can prosper. A critical role for donors together with local communities, is to provide employment so people will have an incentive to relocate; Basic infrastructure needs to be built throughout but to thrive, Haiti needs other ports not just in the capital. It needs to build manufacturing centers to capitalize on the country's proximity to the United States.

As I sift through the ruins of my home, I have hope. I am more convinced than ever that we should put the country back together not as it was but as it should be.