March 3, 2010

Local ties to Haiti good route for aid

— Even before the earthquake struck, Maine people were working hard to help the people of Haiti.

Church groups from several different denominations have been actively engaged with counterparts in the poorest nation in the hemisphere. Portland residents have forged a sister city relationship with Cap-Haitien, a city in the northern part of the island. And Portland-based Konbit Sante Cap-Haitien Health Partnership supports medical programs.

In the weeks and months ahead, all of those networks will have to be put to use. After suffering a natural disaster, Haiti is facing a humanitarian one and Haitians will need our help.

President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have pledged that the official response of the United States would be an all-out civilian and military effort, involving rescue and humanitarian care. Former presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush will coordinate the relief effort, in a similar partnership to the one that Clinton shared with his predecessor, former President George H.W. Bush on Asian tsunami relief. For the last year Clinton has been the United Nations' special envoy to Haiti and his experience, both as president during a Haitian political crisis and with the previous humanitarian effort, will be crucial now. But with an estimated 3 million of the Haiti's 9 million people needing assistance, the government responses will not be enough.

Philanthropic efforts will also be required, both in the immediate aftermath of the quake and the long slow process of rebuilding a nation that already was in tough shape.

The need is so great that no good intention can afford to be wasted.

People should listen to the aid groups and supply what they really need. Right now, although there are shortages of medical supplies and more work than people to do it, they are not asking now for goods or volunteers who are not experienced in disaster relief. The best way to help, at least at this point, is to send money.

Which is where existing relationships with non-governmental organizations like the Red Cross, Konbit-Sante and faith groups are so important.

Time are tough in this economy for many Maine families, but the devastation of Haiti is beyond anything that we could imagine happening here. Haitians will need the support of their friends in Maine, now and in the future, relying on the strong ties that already exist. It is an effort that should last long after this disaster disappears from the front pages.


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