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Sean Penn on 1st Anniversary of Quake: 'Haiti Cannot Wait Any Longer'

4 years ago
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A prominent group of humanitarian activists gathered on Monday at The Brookings Institution, the Washington think tank, for a discussion on recovery efforts in Haiti one year after a devastating 7.0 magnitude earthquake decimated the small island nation and its capital city, Port-au-Prince. The speakers addressed many of Haiti's most pressing crises, which now include a deadly epidemic of cholera, routine sexual violence against women and girls living in refugee camps, and a national infrastructure that remains largely in shambles.

Sean Penn, the Academy Award-winning actor who runs a 55,000-person tent camp outside Port-au-Prince, opened the event, taking aim in his remarks at gridlock among nations distributing aid money to earthquake relief efforts. In March, the United States, along with 47 other nations and international partnerships, pledged $9.9 billion to help rebuild Haiti, $2.1 billion of which was designated for use in 2010. According to the U.N., however, only $1.2 billion in pledge money was dispensed this past year.

"How would it be if we were to do a redo of the donors conference, with caveats?" Penn asked. "A conference which would allow the Haitian government and the Haitian people to hold donor nations' feet to the fire by requiring not cash -- but tangible components of reconstruction?"

All of the speakers -- who included Paul Weisenfeld, a senior official at USAID, the foreign aid arm of the U.S. government, and Claude Jeudy, the national director of Habitat for Humanity in Haiti -- emphasized the need for significantly stronger efforts to rebuild the Haitian infrastructure, which was notoriously tenuous even before the earthquake in 2010. Haiti still lacks building codes, and many residences before the earthquake were constructed without adequate foundations -- or into the sides of hills vulnerable to mudslides.

Haitian Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive said in July that rebuilding efforts stalled in early 2010 as a result of the government's decision to use the majority of its resources for hurricane preparation.

The speakers also addressed the country's growing epidemic of cholera, the deadly diarrheal disease, which began in October and has since claimed the lives of at least 1,344 people, according to the Haitian government. "In an environment without proper public infrastructure for water, it spreads like wildfire," Weisenfeld said. "And Haiti is unfortunately a terrible place when you add cholera into the mix."

But despite the continued suffering from the cholera outbreak, Weisenfeld explained that there is some cause for optimism in the fight against communicable diseases in the country. "We can look back and think that some things did go right," he said, citing the successful distribution of over 800,000 mosquito nets, which help prevent the spread of malaria.

More than one million people still live in refugee camps throughout Haiti. In the sprawling tent cities outside of Port-au-Prince, living conditions are often unsanitary and dangerous. Cholera remains an ominous concern in the camps, where crowded living areas and contaminated food and water facilitate the spread of the disease. On Wednesday, Amnesty International released a report indicating that hundreds of women and girls had been raped in the camps, which gangs terrorize at night armed with razor blades and knives.

"After they left, I didn't do anything," a woman named Suzie, who had been raped in one of the camps, said in the report. "I didn't have any reaction. Women victims of rape should go to hospital, but I didn't because I didn't have any money... I don't know where there is a clinic offering treatment for victims of violence."

For the crisis in Haiti to improve, Penn explained, the rest of the world must cast conventional wisdom aside.

"Here is a cliché that you often hear in the N.G.O. community: 'Don't give them fish. Teach them to fish,'" Penn said. "Of course we have to support Haiti with training... but that can also can be the smokescreen that leaves hundreds of thousands in unsanitary camps through next year's hurricane season.

"Haiti cannot wait any longer," Penn continued, nearing the end of his remarks. "We cannot let the sense of optimism... that Haiti can recover and transform into a self-sustaining nation fade out of impatience, frustration or complacency."
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Get the right people to fix the problems; The US has some of the best builders/developers in the world. You want housing get a housing developer, use materials ready available in Haiti (concrete & masonry) set a hiring/training requirement of 80% Haitian labor at end of 6-month 50% of them must pass 1st-level trade school test, long term goal develop Haitian journeyman/contractors in all construction trades. Quality control - set up simple field testing equipment. NGO & Government official get clear title to land, decide who will live in new community and get out of the way. Keep money locked in a bank and disperse as work progress. (like banks do in the US) Kept it simple. All financial records open book. The goal is train Haitians to rebuild Haiti. Give Haitian employable skills & a job.

January 12 2011 at 6:38 PM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to sdb6010's comment

I think that these ideas have a lot of merit. Some kind of action needs to take place. Poor water and sewerage is unacceptable. And also the disease that follows. Just living in tents should be temporary.

I would hope that a movement could begin in this country wherebyve thousands of haitians relocate here and live with Americans. We could show them how to get jobs and train them. I for one would adopt a family of two or three. How many people are here with me? I applaud Sean Penn. Who's going to speak out?

January 12 2011 at 9:27 PM Report abuse -2 rate up rate down Reply

Well, when the money our gov't borrowed from our social security and it's put back in, jobs created as promised, taxes and gas prices not going up and everything else, we shouldn't send one single dime out of our country.

January 12 2011 at 11:30 AM Report abuse +25 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to differentfunorl's comment

what happen to all the money that was donate and the fund raisers that gave money to Haitians . the government should be to blame and we should have the army go over and straighten things out if we dont all the poor souls of haiti will be in the same place and suffering more.the government of haiti is corrupt and needs to be ousted,.

January 12 2011 at 11:24 AM Report abuse +22 rate up rate down Reply

Senn Penn has a tent city in Haiti for a year. Why hasn't he built a more substantial building? If he wants to hold feet to the fire, he should hold his own there. Why is this news? I feel sorry for Haiti but the old saying that God helps those who help themselves rings true. There was an 8 pt earthquake in Chile - you don't hear them whining. I realize that this is a sad situation but we need to take care of Americans first.

January 12 2011 at 11:19 AM Report abuse +24 rate up rate down Reply

Think global, act local. If you want to help people, help the people in your backyard, or down the street before you go looking to other nations.

January 12 2011 at 10:57 AM Report abuse +40 rate up rate down Reply

Although I sympathize with the suffering all around the world, we nee to solve our own problems first. How many millions of dollars have we sent overseas while our Social Security system goes broke? How many sovereign countries do we subsidize while our health care costs go out of sight and bankrupt our elderly? Why do we adopt children from who knows where when we have so many American kids in the system? We need to clean our own yard before we go into somebody esles.

January 12 2011 at 10:57 AM Report abuse +34 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to amayesinc's comment

I totally agree with you amayesinc. Lets fix things here at home first! Besides, handouts really don't help anyone outside of the moment and can cause entitlement and dependence in the long run. This is just another example of how giving a man a fish only feeds him for a day whereas teaching him to fish he eats for a lifetime.

January 12 2011 at 11:08 AM Report abuse +23 rate up rate down Reply

I guarantee that investors could go in there and create another vacation resort area if the corrupt government was removed and people there worked together to help themselves. Look at the Dominican Reprublic --same island and yet a completely different place.

January 12 2011 at 10:55 AM Report abuse +24 rate up rate down Reply
cutie pie

I went to Haiti in October for a mission trip......I believe the Haitian Government is to blame. So many items were still at the airport.....and many "donate" items were being sold on the side of the road....very sad.....

January 12 2011 at 10:52 AM Report abuse +33 rate up rate down Reply

I just heard that alot of the problems are being caused because of the tremendous amounts of rubble that must be removed so that a re-building of the country can begin. I want to know why the over two billion dollars in aide from around the world isn't being used to start at the project? Wycleff Jean was being interviewed yesterday on CNN and reports that there is no government in place to start the project. My heart goes out to the people of Haiti. Level heads must prevail and trust needs to be established if there is to be success in restoring and imporving this impoverished nation.

January 12 2011 at 10:51 AM Report abuse +8 rate up rate down Reply

Sean can pay for it himself

January 12 2011 at 10:46 AM Report abuse +23 rate up rate down Reply

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