The January 12th earthquake that has taken the lives of more than 200,000 people in Haiti has touched off a groundswell of global support for the Caribbean nation. Lehigh has also responded and is working to shed light on the challenges facing Haiti and its people.
In the past month, faculty, staff and students have hosted a number of events related to Haiti. The university has created an emergency Web site and encouraged people to contribute to relief efforts. A fundraising goal of $50,000 has been set.
Worldwide, billions of dollars in aid are being sent to Haiti in what has been characterized as one of the most ambitious global relief efforts ever undertaken.
No one debates the merit of that support, but questions have arisen about the delivery of aid, what it should be used for, and how it should be administered.
Now, the Lehigh community has a forum where people can share views on these topics and on Haiti’s economy, environment, history, culture and political system. A new university Web site, “Opinions and Deliberations,” is already spurring a lively exchange of ideas related to Haiti’s long-term development. Visitors are encouraged to submit their own comments or join a current open thread.
“Opinions and Deliberations” features an online poll regarding the organizations that are involved in Haiti’s redevelopment, as well as links to information on foreign aid and news stories from around the world. Campus events related to Haiti, including video footage and event podcasts, are also available.
Reconstruction on an unprecedented scale
According to The Miami Herald, 500 earthquake experts and engineers from 22 countries are looking at ways to rebuild the capital region. In a Feb. 9 article, Mark Schneider, a former administrator with the U.S. Agency for International Development, wrote, “I suspect that’s going to mean a long-term reconstruction project that is the largest ever imagined for a single country.”
Economist Jeffrey Sachs, Lehigh’s commencement speaker in 2008, has said that upwards of $3 billion each year will need to be channeled into Haiti over the next five years to cover reconstruction and development programs.
International aid is only part of the picture. Haiti has a troubled history that has long been shaped by foreign interests. Rarely has Haiti experienced the stability needed to expand its economy and provide opportunity for its people.
Before the earthquake, Haiti was the Western Hemisphere’s most impoverished nation—in contrast to the Dominican Republic, with which it shares the island of Hispaniola. Only 40 percent of Haitians enjoyed access to clean drinking water before the earthquake, according to the BBC. The nation had also neglected its rural economy, resulting in the explosive growth of the capital city of Port-au-Prince, whose population has more than tripled, from 750,000 to more than 2.5 million, since 1982.
The short-term outlook is uncertain for Haiti. The rainy season will arrive in a few weeks, and the hurricane season—always a cause for concern for any Caribbean country—begins in June. Civil unrest, environmental degradation, educational challenges, medical care, the collapse of orphanages and other issues also need to be addressed.
Join the discussion
These are just a few of the topics that faculty, staff and students examine on Lehigh’s new Web page. Faculty members who have offered perspective include:
Nandini Deo, assistant professor of political science
Jack Lule, professor of journalism
Bruce Moon, professor of international relations
Clay Naito, associate professor of structural engineering
Frank J. Pazzaglia, professor of geology
Iveta Silova, assistant professor of comparative and international education
Joel Sutherland, managing director of the Center for Value Chain Research
Todd Watkins, professor of economics
A few Lehigh students have weighed in as well. They are College of Education graduate students William Brehm ’08, Anuradha Sachdev and Mike Russell, as well as Hubert Dabgo ’12 and Ann Girdano ’12 of the College of Business and Economics.
“Opinions and Deliberations” will be updated as developments arise. If you would like to make a comment or propose a topic for discussion, please do so at the comments page.
Story by Tom Yencho
Posted on Friday, February 12, 2010