January 26, 2010

Panel Debates Ways to Hasten Haiti Recovery

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In the aftermath of the magnitude 7.0 earthquake in Haiti, Cornell faculty and students gathered to discuss a range of topics related to the disaster and its aftermath. Medical deficiencies, the apparent ignorance of American media and questions about rebuilding the country, along with other concerns, were examined in the Public Panel on “Haiti and the Current Crisis” at the Africana Studies and Research Center last night.

The panel identified two goals for its discussion: address the earthquake and the events that had occurred, and consider the ways that the United States, as well as Cornell itself, can respond to the crisis.

Since before the earthquake, Cornell has been working with a group in Haiti that helps treat patients with HIV and other infections by giving out treatment and medicine, according to Alice Pell, vice provost for international relations. Yet, in the earthquake’s wake, the group made the decision to help those most in need by dedicating resources to aiding those with broken bones and other serious injuries as well—seriously depleting an already slim inventory. The organization’s two greatest needs are funding to help rebuild their clinic and blood donations, particularly O-negative, Pell said.

“A committee will be established to look long term at ways Cornell can help resolve some of the problems,” Pell said. “[There] will be an ongoing dialogue across campus … There’s a tremendous amount of work that needs to be done and we can’t let people forget … what needs to be done here.”

Prof. Muawia Barazangi, seismologist and expert on earthquakes, discussed the type of earthquake Haiti experienced.

“This is not the first quake in Haiti, and it will not be the last.” Barazangi said. “[There is] nothing special about Haiti except its location,” he said, pointing out that Haiti’s position on the earth puts it at a high risk for tectonic plate activity. Barazangi also explained that aftershocks are common due to the earthquake’s high magnitude. The largest aftershock, with a magnitude of 6.1, was fortunately a several miles away from Port-au-Prince, he said.

“The city [of Port-au-Prince] is not built to withstand anything, hence the destruction,” Barazangi explained. He believes that research and studies need to be done in order to try to protect Haiti and the rest of the world from future catastrophes.

Panelists addressed a wide range of topics surrounding the disaster, including media coverage and Haiti’s government response.

Natalie Leger Palmer grad said she was generally impressed with the literature and journalism surrounding the recent events. But, she added: “What troubles me the most about the disaster, other than the obvious … is the utter ignorance that surrounds the Associated Press [and other American media].”

“Americans, wake up and learn [your] history!” Palmer declared.

Crystal Felima grad noted that more developed countries are not as adversely affected by natural disasters, and affirmed that Haiti needs to think more about “government, responsibility and accountability” when looking toward disaster management. Urgent concerns included the upcoming hurricane season as well as the chance of rain and tropical storms in the coming months.

“We need to continue [to raise] awareness,” Felima said.

In order to avoid dependency on foreign aid, she suggested that Haitians “tap into local participation,” which she said was “a great way for the Haitian people to communicate their needs.” However, Felima also warned against the dangers of band-aid missions –– which may only serve to temporarily help a problem –– instead, advocating a focus on long-lasting development that could be sustained.

One of Palmer’s ideas involves rebuilding the State University of Haiti and instituting an exchange program between students.

“We don’t all have to be the same [and] follow the same path of development,” she said. “We need to re-script how we imagine things so we can escape traps.”

Questions were also raised in the panel regarding the efforts of former presidents Clinton and Bush to raise money for Haiti relief.

“[It’s] sad that they can only find…corrupt ex-presidents [to raise] aid,” Barangazi said.

The issue of whether the Haitian government should be put in charge of the aid efforts was also raised.

“[Ideally,] the government should be in charge,” Palmer said. However, she admitted that the Haitian government may not be stable enough to handle such a large scale endeavor after such massive catastrophe.

The final question Felima posed was one that all the speakers had touched upon: “Is there really hope for Haiti?”

Though some speakers had their doubts about how quickly the situation in Haiti could be stabilized, others remained optimistic.

“The real question is, are the Haitian people valuable? Are they worth the investment?” Felima asked. “All people who are disadvantaged… are worth every investment.”

Original Author: Cindy Huynh