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Opinion: Haiti Relief; WHO Response To H1N1

Long-Term Rebuilding Strategy ‘Vital’ To Haiti

An Economist editorial examines the relief and recovery efforts in Haiti and the “vital” importance of planning for rebuilding the country “before the world’s generosity turns to cynicism. Fortunately there is a blueprint, drawn up by Haiti’s government and presented to donors last year. It calls for investment to be targeted on infrastructure, basic services and combating soil erosion to make farmers more productive and the country less vulnerable to hurricanes. The pressing question is who should do it and how.”

The editorial asserts that setting up an authority to govern the development “is the best idea around. The authority should be set up under the auspices of the U.N. or of an ad hoc group (the United States, Canada, the European Union and Brazil, for example). It should be led by a suitable outsider (Bill Clinton, who is the U.N.’s special envoy for Haiti, would be ideal, perhaps to be followed by Brazil’s Lula after he steps down as president in a year’s time) and a prominent Haitian, such as the prime minister. … Some will object that this would undermine a democratically elected government. But there is not much left to undermine” (1/21).

WHO’s Insistence On Sticking To Pandemic Plan Caused Trouble

“[D]espite the appeal of a conspiracy theory,” behind the WHO’s handling of the H1N1 pandemic, “we believe the fundamental error [by the agency] was a rigid adherence to pre-existing pandemic plans,” write Richard Schabas, Ontario’s former chief medical officer of health, and Neil Rau, an infectious diseases specialist, in a Globe and Mail opinion piece. The authors examine how the WHO’s decision to declare H1N1 a “pandemic,” followed by the call for mass immunization led to the agency to “overshoot” the pandemic, while also acknowledging the benefits of the WHO’s initial response to H1N1. “It was once said that no plan survives the first five minutes of any battle. What this means, of course, is that any plan can be quickly superseded by events,” the authors write. “The good public health leader, like the good general, needs to put more value on utilizing new information and less on simply following orders. This is the real lesson of H1N1” (1/21).

Washington Post Examines Long-Term Rebuilding Effort In Haiti

A Washington Post editorial examines the need for international donors to commit to a long-term rebuilding effort in Haiti. “The rebuilding effort should provide a badly needed initial stimulus for the country’s supine economy. … At the same time, helping the Haitian government with administrative, technical and reconstruction expertise is critical both to safeguard Haiti’s sense of sovereignty and as an investment in the future. In the long term, no superstructure of international donors, no matter how well intentioned and coordinated, will be successful without the partnership of a functioning Haitian government.” The editorial concludes, “Establishing systems of accountability in the disbursement of aid and nurturing Haitian civil society will also help minimize the corruption for which Haiti has become notorious” (1/21).

PAHO Should Lead Broad Reconstruction Of Haiti’s Health System

In light of next week’s ministerial meeting in Montreal, Canada, to plan for Haiti’s reconstruction, Valerie Percival, of the Carleton University’s Norman Paterson School of International Affairs, and Frederick Burkle Jr., of the Woodrow Wilson Center, write in Globe and Mail opinion piece that “[d]onors need to ensure that the Pan American Health Organization … can assume the leadership role outlined in the humanitarian cluster approach. While the United Nations bureaucracy deservedly has critics, it is the best option to co-ordinate donors, militaries and hundreds of NGOs.” The article outlines recommendations for rehabilitating the country’s health care system, saying that the reconstruction plan “should build on a vision articulated prior to the earthquake – the development of a Haitian health system capable of delivering universal access to a basic package of health services,” Percival and Burkle write (1/20).

Business Investment Needed As Haiti Rebuilds

New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof writes about some of the problems vexing Haiti, including deforestation and debt, and misperceptions some people have about the country. According to Kristof, “Far more than most other impoverished countries – particularly those in Africa – Haiti could plausibly turn itself around. It has an excellent geographic location, there are no regional wars, and it could boom if it could just export to the American market. … So in the coming months as we help Haitians rebuild, let’s dispatch not only aid workers, but also business investors. Haiti desperately needs new schools and hospitals, but also new factories. And let’s challenge the myth that because Haiti has been poor, it always will be” (1/20).

Previous Humanitarian Efforts Can Improve World’s Response to Haiti

Though “disaster response is tailored to the details of each emergency as it unfolds on the ground … reports from previous relief efforts – like the response to the Asian tsunami that killed some 225,000 people in 12 countries in 2004 – give a picture of practices that allow relief efforts to work quickly and effectively, as well as those that result in waste and delays,” Laura Freschi, of the Development Research Institute at New York University, writes in a Forbes opinion piece. In reflecting on Haiti, Freschi outlines the importance of coordination among government agencies, the U.N. and NGOs, as well as the need for organizations to work together to assess the needs of the people on the ground and communicate those needs to the rest of the world. “No one wants to hold up life-saving interventions to conduct a study, but making decisions based on political or media pressure, rather than on a comprehensive survey of needs – as donors admitted to doing in post-tsunami evaluations – leads to waste,” she writes (1/18).