A Helping Hand for Haiti

This weekend, President Obama asked us to spearhead private-sector fund-raising efforts in the aftermath of the magnitude 7.0 earthquake that ravaged Haiti. We are pleased to answer his call.

Throughout both our careers in public service, we have witnessed firsthand the amazing generosity of the American people in the face of calamity. From the Oklahoma City bombings to 9/11, from the tsunami in South Asia to Hurricane Katrina, Americans have rallied to confront disaster — natural or man-made, domestic or abroad — with the determination, compassion and unity that have defined our nation since its founding.

After the tsunami, Americans gave more than $1 billion to help the people of South Asia. The recent earthquake in Haiti is estimated to have had an impact on nearly three million people — 30 percent of Haiti’s population. We know the American people will respond again. Just as any of us would reach out to a neighbor in need here at home, we will do everything we can to give aid, care and comfort to our neighbors in the Caribbean, now and in the months and years to come.

With advances in technology, giving to relief efforts is easier than ever before. Organizations like the Red Cross have been stunned at the amount of money pouring in through an innovative fund-raising effort that allows cellphone users to text a $10 donation that will be added to their cellphone bills. The State Department raised more than $1 million in the first 24 hours, with millions more coming in the days since the earthquake. This money is being channeled to reliable charities with long experience in disaster relief, ensuring that Americans’ contributions are put to effective use.

Our first priority will be to raise funds to meet the urgent needs of those who are hurt, homeless and hungry, and to ensure that the organizations and relief workers on the ground have the resources to do their jobs effectively. In the first two weeks, the needs are very simple: food, water, shelter, first aid supplies. Once relief workers have gone through all the rubble and every person — living and dead — has been recovered, once the streets have been cleared and communications and power restored, then Haiti is going to have to get back on its feet again.

It’s a long road to full recovery, but we will not leave the Haitian people to walk it alone. When the rebuilding begins, we will need even more support to make Haiti stronger than ever before: new, better schools; sturdier, more secure buildings that can withstand future natural disasters; solutions that address the inequalities in health care and education; new, diverse industries that create jobs and foster opportunities for greater trade; and development of clean energy.

There are great reasons to hope. For the first time in our lifetimes, Haiti’s government is committed to building a modern economy, and it has a comprehensive economic plan to create jobs. Haitian leaders have shown determination in confronting the challenges of AIDS, with strong support from private organizations and the Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief. Per capita, there are more nongovernmental organizations in Haiti than in any other country except India. The members of the Haitian diaspora, in Miami, New York, Toronto and other cities overseas, are involved in and committed to the future of their native country. And the world’s attention is focused on this tiny island nation that has been overlooked for too long.

Crises have the power to bring out the best in people, and we have seen many examples of this over the years, especially after the tsunami. Conflict in Aceh, Indonesia, was laid to rest while people focused on rebuilding together. In communities along the Indian coast, women who had lost their husbands learned marketable skills like arts and crafts and emerged better able to provide for themselves and their children than they were before the disaster.

We should never forget the damage done and the lives lost, but we have a chance to do things better than we once did; be a better neighbor than we once were; and help the Haitian people realize their dream for a stronger, more secure nation. But we need more than just support from governments — we need the innovation and resources of businesses; the skills and the knowledge of nongovernmental organizations, including faith-based groups; and the generosity and support of individuals to fill in the gaps. Visit www.clintonbushhaitifund.org to make a donation and learn more about our efforts. It’s the least we can do, and the least the people of Haiti deserve. At our best, we can help Haiti become its best.

Bill Clinton, the 42nd president of the United States and George W. Bush, the 43nd president of the United States.