Next steps for Haiti relief

Debt relief is key to moving forward for the devastated nation.

Two weeks after an earthquake left much of the Haitian capital Port-au-Prince in rubble, it is clear that in itself, no amount of short-term food aid or medical assistance will be sufficient to restore even a modicum of daily life in what was already a desperately impoverished country. The destruction is so complete that much of HaitiâÄôs essential infrastructure and institutions will have to be rebuilt entirely. International leaders met in Montreal earlier this week to begin a shift away from emergency services and toward a long-term commitment to reconstruction. History suggests that such aid should be forthcoming and not become an added burden. After a series of slave rebellions resulted in an independent Haiti in 1804, France ultimately recognized its former colonyâÄôs sovereignty in exchange for what would now be billions of dollars in âÄúcompensationâÄù for its lost slave profits. The Haitian economy languished under these payments until 1947 as its overpopulated land became deforested and infertile from generations of meager subsistence farming. More debt accrued during three decades of dictatorial rule by the Duvalier family, much of it for their own luxury. Since their ouster in 1986, the country has been making debt payments equivalent to $1 million a week âÄî an unthinkable fortune in a country where the vast majority scratch out a living on less than $2 per day. Still, roughly $800 million in debt remains. Ensuring that history does not once again repeat itself will require both final cancellation of HaitiâÄôs remaining debt and an enormous amount of direct aid âÄî in grants, not loans âÄî to build a stronger, more resilient Haiti.