A New Social Infrastructure in Haiti

By: Caribbean Journal Staff - May 28, 2012

By Ilio Durandis
CJ Contributor

In Haiti, the future looks so distant, yet it is touchable. It seems so far away, but its scents bring pleasure to the nose. The present is melancholic; the past makes us nostalgic, while the future, for most, is uncertain.

A few years ago, not many of us thought we could lose so many of our compatriots in less time than it is about to take to read this article. In fact, on the day of Haiti’s earthquake, mass casualties, colossal disappearances, inhuman burials, missing body parts and eventually becoming permanently displaced inside one’s own country were the least of our worries.

In a few blinks of an eye, the future left us with an undesirable present. We are stuck in a merry-go-round type of reconstruction process. The donors expect stability and good governance before they can make good on all their pledges, while the country needs the pledges’ money to try to create a stable and good governing society.  What gives? All the while, the society is clinging to the faintest of hope as it submerges in the abyss of hopelessness.

Deservingly, most of the reconstruction planning has been around rebuilding the physical infrastructure of the country. Aside of the lives lost, the quake destroyed the vast majority of public edifices, along with countless residential buildings. Politically speaking, it makes sense to focus on the physical infrastructure in the short term, but the long term reconstruction must start on the basis of building a new social infrastructure.

This social infrastructure ought to serve as the strongest foundation ever built, if Haiti is to rise from the dust, sand, and cement left behind from the quake. Haiti’s priority, two years since Destruction-Day, must shift from physical to mental. The leaders of the nation must plunge into repairing the nation’s fragile mental state, if the hope is to build a more just, prosperous and modern nation.

A price tag of over 10 billion dollars to repair what was destroyed physically by the quake. A so-called reconstruction plan that was designed in secrecy and segregation rather than openness, transparency and inclusivity runs the risk of sinking the country deeper into a fragmented state, where the insignificant elite will continue to live an above-average standard life at the expense of the majority living in unfathomable abject poverty, and also possibly create a n unsustainable middle class depending entirely on foreign non-governmental organizations.

This cannot be the type of society that the nation’s forefathers envisioned when they sacrificed their souls, blood and flesh for the freedom of their progeny. There are ways to reverse this curse and build a nation which all citizens can be proud of.

For starters, a social compact between the government and the people must be forged on mutual and agreeable respect of the law. There can’t be any sustainable reconstruction unless the laws are respected and agreed to by the vast majority. Debate or publication of the amended constitution is a cheap way to solve a malignant social deficiency. A constitution that cannot be enforced is unconstitutional. A simplified constitution is needed.

On education, success in the 21st century will not be counted on the numbers of children attending primary or even secondary schools, but rather on the percentage of them graduating from higher institutions of learning and their overall contribution to society.

It is not sustainable to have a society that takes more from social services than it gives back.

In this new social infrastructure, visionaries and thought-leaders are needed to reform and revamp the educational model of the country. To continue to spend money on failures is equivalent to building a city on top of an active volcano. Eventually, one day, an eruption will occur and everything will be lost.

The most important material in building this new social infrastructure would probably have to be job creation. In this case, it is not a matter of creating non-livable, low-skilled opportunities, but rather jobs that can bring transferable skill sets and come with a ladder, where someone working at the very bottom, through hard work and education, can rise up to management or other leadership positions.

This is what we would consider a job that uplifts people. When people are uplifted, their social conditions, without a doubt, will positively change.

A good combination of laws, the right education and inspiring jobs can change Haiti for the better. In the process, the foundation of a strong social infrastructure will be built and ready to support, maintain and innovate any physical infrastructure.

The blueprint for moving away from poverty, instability, corruption and oppression lies in the respect for the rule of law, investment in education, and promotion of an entrepreneurial society. Those things would not require billions for a nation of 10 million people, but it would definitely call for good leadership, great thinkers and undefeated determination to succeed for the common good.

Before the buildings are rebuilt, the people must become the number one priority. Everyone’s role in society must be defined, and no one should impede on someone else’s rights to live comfortably and with dignity. If there’s anything that ought to be learned from the quake, it’s that physical infrastructure can be rebuilt anytime, but replacing human lives and human capital are almost impossible. If lost time can never be recaptured, the loss of lives is irreplaceable.

Only a fool would invest in the context of a reconstruction without a strong emphasis on building a new social infrastructure. As one closes his or her eyes to rest, the future is slowly becoming the past.

The clock is ticking and tocking, and with each passing second, the social capital in Haiti is becoming less and less. In almost every process, the yield rate is usually lower than the starting materials.

The first priority should be building a new social infrastructure for Haiti’s longevity and sustainable prosperity.

Ilio Durandis, a Caribbean Journal contributor, is the founder of Haiti 2015, a social movement for a just and prosperous Haiti. He is a columnist with The Haitian Times.


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