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Originally printed in the South Florida Sun-Sentinel

by Kendrick Meek

After returning home to Florida from Haiti in the aftermath of the debilitating earthquake that struck the island nation, my spirit was shaken.  Stuck in my mind is the image of a 2-year-old girl, pulled alive from the rubble after five days by a Miami-Dade Urban Search and Rescue team, while her father, grieving for his wife lost in the earthquake, looked on in disbelief.

That is Haiti right now; the sorrow of death and joy of life are fused as one, and in my embrace of this father, I mourned and celebrated with him within the same instant.  

Though the ground is no longer shaking in Haiti, the earthquake is far from over.  

As the United States and our international partners work together to bring swift relief to the Haitian people, let me offer a few observations on what is needed for a sustained long-term recovery and rebuilding effort.

Amid all the devastation, hope is still alive in Haiti because nations, organizations and individuals have heeded the call to serve those in need. In Port-au-Prince, Israeli Defense Force rescuers worked alongside Florida search and rescue teams, while the 82nd Airborne coordinated the efforts of faith-based relief organizations. Southern Baptist missions, local relief organizations, faith groups and the Haitian Diaspora found ways to reunite family members despite near-impossible circumstances.  In the midst of tragedy, there was unity.

This international cooperation should remain the foundation of all long-term recovery planning. The people of Haiti will only be able to rebuild their country with the help of a coordinated effort by the international community and the United States. The devastation is so widespread that rebuilding would be nearly impossible without a targeted international effort. The rainy season in Haiti is arriving, and temporary but sustainable tent cities must be built to provide shelter for Haitians made homeless by the earthquake.  

Last month's Donors' Conference at the United Nation committed serious financial resources, delineated responsibilities between international actors and the Haitian government, and established clear benchmarks for all stages of recovery planning. The donor nations pledged $9.9 billion over the next three years to start the rebuilding process.

During Haiti's previous natural disasters, relief work was duplicated by well-intentioned international actors. Coordination among nations and non-governmental organizations must drive the recovery effort.  

Our efforts must focus on building Haiti's capacity to steer its own rebuilding effort. The recovery process demands innovative engineers, architects and other skilled professionals. We can do this in the United States by supporting educational programs that harness the knowledge of the Haitian Diaspora to train Haitian engineers and development experts of the future.  

As we help Haiti, we must look to the Haitian Diaspora in Florida as a model. The earthquake united the Haitian American community to act as never before. Strangers and friends alike united to collect donations, volunteer time and expertise, and offer support and prayers to neighbors in need. Many Haitian-Americans will return to Haiti to give back to their native homeland.

There is no silver bullet. The full recovery process will take years. We must be prepared to provide expertise and assistance for the long haul. Haiti will not return to normal anytime soon, but the United States will do its part to support and rebuild Haiti in the times ahead.

If we are not successful, Florida will feel the first effects of failings on the ground in Haiti.  With a clear and coordinated plan from the international community and with Haiti itself taking the lead, I am confident that a bright future lies ahead for the Haitian people.

Kendrick Meek represents Florida's 17th congressional district.

Originally posted to Kendrick Meek for Florida on Mon Apr 05, 2010 at 10:54 AM PDT.

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