The Canadian Imagination

What it means to be Canadian; examining and reworking Canada as a nation.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Haiti, revisited

The rescue work has ended, the first needs of the emergency are over: and quietly, inevitably, Haiti has drifted out of world headlines and out of our thoughts.

The need has not gone away. Sanitation, reliable food supplies, permanent shelters are still close to non-existent. Most Haitians who survived the earthquake near ground zero are still living in tent cities.

At Haiti's request, Canada has concentrated its relief efforts at Jacmel, where Governor-General Michaƫlle Jean's parents were born. Canadian soldiers repaired and are running the airport at Jacmel, the only airport in the immediate region capable of handling C-130s other than Port-au-Prince's Toussaint L'Ouverture International Airport. We finally found a use for our DART team. (If this disaster had passed them by as well, we might well have been advised to start asking just which part of "Disaster Assistance Response" was actually accurate.) The DART is currently operating a water purification centre and a field hospital. The first post-earthquake baby was born there on January 28. Its previous support vessel, HMCS Halifax, left Haiti two days ago.

To pay for all this, the Canadian government has pledged $135 million in aid, $85 of that for emergency relief. As of this date, private donations by Canadians have reached $154 million, approximately $4 for every Canadian man, woman, and child. (This does not include donations made through other channels. None of mine are included in this total.) Of these private donations, Ottawa will match $129 million: tax dollars, of course, but taxes well spent.

(In a different context, I might have advocated for our next major outlay of generosity to be toward improving the living conditions of our aboriginal people on reservations. It is not that there is not a very great need for change, here, but that gets much more complicated than it looks on the surface. For one very basic question: who will be in charge of the allocation?)

It seems we can have the will to give, where the need is clear and splashed all over the headlines. I ask again: can that will persist for as long as it will take to carry Haiti into a true rebirth?


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