Tuesday’s earthquake was yet another tragedy for a country already shattered by adversity and misfortune. Yet Haiti continues to rally against all odds, with amazing courage. And Haiti is not alone. The international community has launched a major mobilization, and the United States and France — which shares close ties with Haiti, transcending our shared history and language — take a major part in this movement of solidarity. To help them recover from this catastrophe — the worst of the many disasters Haiti has experienced — France and its partners must do everything in their power to rebuild this island nation and help restore its strength and energy.
Although this is a dreadful time, we must prepare to seize this opportunity. Stubbornly and fearlessly, we must reach toward hope. I last traveled to Haiti in September, and I remember the lively discussions with my cherished friend, U.N. mission head Hedi Annabi, who died Tuesday at his post, and with Haitian President Rene Preval, on the future of the country. This week I have been working with counterparts such as Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton. I know that despite its poverty and political failings, Haiti has everything at its disposal to finally achieve its transformation into a country of the future. The United Nations, international aid organizations, the European Union and all its partners — particularly the United States — are mobilizing to help Haiti reestablish itself. Its population is dazed but determined to survive. And the sad truth is that when everything has been destroyed, anything becomes possible.
Today, all our efforts must aimed at saving those who can be saved and at bringing emergency relief to the population, so many of whom are now homeless or hungry. But it is not too soon to think about reconstruction: lasting, practical and political reconstruction that will ward off the demons of the past. The international community must be resolved, as France is, to help the Haitians for as long as is needed to rebuild their country and to convince them — through actions, not just words — that their future is in their hands.
France proposes to hold, as soon as possible, a conference on reconstruction and development that would represent a starting point for Haiti’s renewal. This conference, to be hosted jointly with the United States, Canada, Brazil, the European Union and all others that wish to join us, must be up to the extraordinary challenges Haiti faces.
We will base our actions on the damage assessments provided by Haitian authorities, the United Nations and other international institutions. Such an assessment must be carried out in the next few weeks and should be based on an analysis of Haiti’s long-term requirements, if we are to put forward an ambitious reconstruction plan, not just for housing and infrastructure but also with regard to public institutions. Regional cooperation is critical. I believe that we must involve nongovernmental organizations and the Haitian diaspora; reconstruction will require all of us to work together. Our work must amount to more than a pledging conference: We aim to put Haiti on the path of enduring economic growth and social development.
The suffering of the Haitian people has generated an extraordinary surge of generosity from individuals and governments the world over. But our attention and efforts must go beyond immediate humanitarian relief. We must engage the Haitian people and help them on their path toward a new future.
Bernard Kouchner, France’s minister of foreign and European affairs and co-founded Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders)