A Better Week for Haiti - And With These Reforms, a Far Better Future

The renewal in Haiti could outshine even the vast improvements to health, education, and housing we've seen in places like Indonesia following the 2004 tsunami.
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The needs of Haitian children and families remain great. But this was a good week for Haiti by some measures: More medical care and relief supplies are reaching those who have lost so much, and the World Food Program, with the help of Save the Children and others, is on the brink of distributing a two-week supply of food to 1.6 million people.

In the short term, it's critical that we continue reaching earthquake survivors with food, water, shelter, and medical attention. The American people have been incredibly generous in their support, so far donating more than $500 million to relief organizations. The other good news of this past week is the international community's stated commitment to build a stronger Haiti in the long term.

At the Montreal conference on Haiti Monday, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, as well as foreign ministers from the European Union and 14 other countries, pledged to build "a new Haiti that meets the legitimate and long-held aspirations of the Haitian people for their country."

I have no doubt that a new Haiti is coming. If we act smartly, the renewal could outshine even the vast improvements to health, education and housing we've seen in places like Aceh, Indonesia following the 2004 tsunami and the generous public response to that tragedy.

I returned from a trip to the devastated city of Port-au-Prince this week, determined to push forward with Save the Children's own long-term plan to build a better future for Haitian children. But I'm similarly determined to push for the principles that will allow Haitians, governments, and humanitarian organizations to, together, make the most of a unique opportunity to rebuild a country that has long struggled.

In the past, U.S. foreign aid to Haiti has resulted in achievements such as helping cut the child mortality rate in half in less than 20 years. But Haiti has remained impoverished and, so it's clear, we must do much better. We can, if the United States adopts key reforms in how it engages abroad. Business as usual will not get us where we all want to go.

Drawing on Save the Children's recent study Insights from the Field: Haiti, I believe four key reforms are needed to fulfill the promises of the Montreal commitment to rebuild Haiti:

1) Invest in Haitian Institutions. Rebuilding infrastructure matters, but promoting human development matters even more. We must help equip Haitians themselves to deliver quality education, health care, and other services in the long-term.

Encourage the Private Sector's Development. This will create the economic engine Haiti needs to sustain and build upon international investments.

Empower One U.S. Agency to Oversee all Development in Haiti. President Obama wisely empowered Rajiv Shah, the new administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), to oversee the relief response in Haiti. USAID should also lead our development efforts, so that the fractured efforts of the dozen U.S. agencies engaged with Haiti are better coordinated and cohesive, and so, more effective.

4) Increase Accountability Through Transparency. Right now, you'd be hard-pressed to find out how much the U.S. spent on health programs in Haiti last year. It's essentially impossible to keep track of all the development spending across many U.S. agencies, let alone hold those carrying out the programs accountable. U.S. citizens and Haitians should be able to know who got how much money to do what, and follow up to see how it was done. In Haiti, just like anywhere else, more accountability will lead to better results.

In his State of the Union address this week, President Obama highlighted the 10,000 Americans helping Haiti recover and rebuild. America engages in the world and takes actions like these, he said, "because our destiny is connected to those beyond our shores" - and more simply - because "it's right."

It is clear from the outpouring of public support for Haiti that Americans agree. Now it's time to make sure the United States leads the international community in doing the very best it can with the resources and public support available. Together with the Haitian people, we can build a better Haiti for those who have endured so much.

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