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Rebuilding Haiti begins with Haitians

Despite support from the international community, the country has been unable to resolve its problems

Last week, Haitian president Michel Martelly announced that the country's long-overdue elections would be held on October 26 of this year. Given the recent controversy over the repeatedly delayed elections, this is a huge and positive step forward – though concerns remain, particularly given the president's decision not to involve the Conseil Electoral Provisional (Provisional Electoral Council, CEP) to supervise the process.

Four years ago, an earthquake struck Haiti, decimating much of the country's infrastructure – and leaving the government ill-equipped to deal with the ensuing fallout.

Haiti was lucky enough to benefit from neighbors dedicated to assisting in its recovery. The US government pledged some $2 billion to our reconstruction efforts. And the United Nations committed further aid and a years-long stabilization force engaged in the reconstruction effort. Still, that process is far from over. Infrastructure remains sorely lacking. Haitians remain displaced. Much of the reconstruction remains on hold or in progress.

The past three-and-a-half years have seen 700,000 reported cases of cholera and over 8,500 deaths from the disease

One of the most devastating aftereffects of the earthquake is the cholera epidemic that has wracked Haiti for the last three-and-a-half years. Before the earthquake, Haiti hadn't seen a single case of cholera for over two centuries. The past three-and-a-half years have seen 700,000 reported cases and over 8,500 deaths as the disease spread like wildfire, taking root in the Haitian water supply. The devastation wrought by cholera can hardly be overstated – and yet in Haiti, we find that treatment and prevention remain at far too low a level to see meaningful change in the near future.

Cholera will not go away on its own. With just one in five Haitians enjoying access to sanitation, Haiti’s dilapidated post-earthquake infrastructure makes the country prime territory for the spread of the disease, which travels most rapidly through the contamination of the water supply. And the country remains sorely in need of hundreds of millions of dollars in aid that simply hasn't materialized fast enough. We have already missed the opportunity to get ahead in the fight; for any real progress against cholera, the government will have to dramatically increase its efforts – particularly in access to vaccination, treatment, and proper sanitation.

But the raging cholera epidemic and the unacceptable delays in post-earthquake reconstruction are not the only problems Haiti is facing. A political crisis years in the making has hampered the government’s ability to lead its citizens through so challenging a time, mired in the sort of painful political divisiveness the 1987 constitution hoped to avoid.

According to a law passed in 2008, January 13 of this year marked the deadline for the country to hold already overdue elections that would elect one-third of Haiti's Senate. A failure to meet this deadline would render the country's legislature defunct, failing to meet its 16-member quorum.

A new law was approved in December that allowed for the extension of that deadline, keeping the Senate in session by allowing senators due to face elections to remain in office until new elections are held. And though the shutdown of the legislature was narrowly avoided, many remain worried about the implications of this ongoing situation for the health of Haitian democracy – and for the separation of powers so critically enshrined in the constitution.

Deficiencies in housing, education, sanitation, economic stability and security all continue to bog down a government mired in crisis

This is, unfortunately, not the first time the Haitian government has failed to meet its own electoral deadlines. And that history presents both a challenge and an opportunity.

First and foremost, the solution the government hammers out in the coming months must be in line with the country's constitution. In the context of this crisis, we might learn from Haiti's history that a consensus-based solution will be the most durable and viable as the country moves forward.

Only once elections are held might we hope for the restoration of faith in Haitian democracy – and this will be best achieved by means of an inclusive solution to the crisis.

What's more, such a process is our best bet for avoiding similar crises in the future.

These are, without a doubt, the most visible of Haiti's challenges. But they are not the only issues the country is facing – far from it. Deficiencies in housing, education, health and sanitation, employment and economic stability, and security all continue to bog down a government already mired in crisis.

Even with the support lent by the international community, Haiti has proven unable to meet these challenges and overcome them. And given the extreme divisiveness plaguing Haitian society, this is not altogether surprising.

There will be no solution to these problems until Haitians work toward a greater sense of national unity. Only then might we, as a people, build up the positive will and drive to tackle the endemic troubles facing Haiti.

If we continue along our current, highly divided path, Haiti will continue to flounder. But if we can come together, Haiti can achieve the success it is already working so hard to earn.

Jean Henri Ceant was a candidate in the Republic of Haiti presidential elections in 2010

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