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What we can do to help Haiti, now and beyond

Men remove the body of a girl from the rubble of a building in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Jan. 13, 2010, a day after a 7.0 earthquake struck the area.
Men remove the body of a girl from the rubble of a building in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Jan. 13, 2010, a day after a 7.0 earthquake struck the area. (AP Photo/Miami Herald, Patrick Farrell)

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By Bill Clinton
Thursday, January 14, 2010

As I write, we don't know the extent of the damage wrought by the earthquake that rocked the coast of Haiti on Tuesday. But a tragic number of people have been killed or injured, and early estimates indicate that nearly 3 million people -- almost a third of Haiti's population-- may need aid, making this one of the great humanitarian emergencies in the history of the Americas.

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I met with U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon on Wednesday and with other key U.N. leaders to discuss Haiti's immediate and long-term needs. Those who are still alive under the rubble must be found. The bodies of those who have died must be taken away. Power must be restored and roadways cleared. But what Haiti needs most is money for water, food, shelter and basic medical supplies to bring immediate relief to those who are homeless, hungry and hurt.

The entire United Nations system is working hard to meet these needs and to regroup on the ground in Haiti after the collapse of our headquarters building and the loss of many of our colleagues. The U.S. government has pledged its full support to the recovery effort, as have the governments of many other nations. Nongovernmental organizations and ordinary citizens have offered to help. Even small contributions will make a big difference in the aftermath of such destruction.

But after the emergency passes, the work of recovery and reconstruction will remain. Since Hillary and I first traveled to Haiti in December 1975, I have been captivated by that country's promise and peril and by the persistence of hope among its people even in the face of abuse, neglect and poverty. Already, the Haitian government and citizens, the Haitian Diaspora, neighboring countries and allies, NGOs and international groups were committed to a plan for long-term development. These efforts will need to be amended because of Tuesday's disaster, but they cannot be abandoned.

As president I worked to end a violent military dictatorship in Haiti and to restore Haiti's elected president to office. Last June, I accepted the role of U.N. special envoy for Haiti to help implement Haiti's long-term development plan by increasing foreign government assistance and private investment and by coordinating and increasing the contributions of nongovernmental groups involving more members of the Haitian Diaspora. This work helps create more jobs, better education, better health care, less deforestation and more clean energy for a nation in desperate need.

We made a good beginning, and before the earthquake I believed that Haiti was closer than ever to securing a bright future.

Despite this tragedy, I still believe that Haiti can succeed.

First we must care for the injured, take care of the dead, and sustain those who are homeless, jobless and hungry. As we clear the rubble, we will create better tomorrows by building Haiti back better: with stronger buildings, better schools and health care; with more manufacturing and less deforestation; with more sustainable agriculture and clean energy.

Establishing this foundation for a better Haitian future will require assistance from governments, businesses and private citizens. The people of Haiti deserve our support. Those eager to help can donate through the U.N. effort, my own foundation or by text message (text "HAITI" to 20222 to donate $10 to U.N. relief efforts).

In the coming days, stories of loss and the triumph of the human spirit will be told. They will call us to help -- not just to restore Haiti but to assist it in becoming the strong, secure nation its people have always desired and deserved.

The writer was the 42nd president of the United States and is the U.N. special envoy for Haiti.


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