Aid agencies and world leaders meet in Montreal Monday to begin the work of rebuilding Haiti amid hopes that the talk will be of more than bricks and mortar.
Intangibles such as the Haitian economy, education and health-care systems will be emphasized by groups such as the Red Cross and World Vision when they address dignitaries - including Haitian Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner - as well as other members of the informal group of nations calling themselves the Friends of Haiti.
"This meeting - convened on short notice in the immediate aftermath of the tragedy - will clearly and concretely demonstrate our commitment to Haiti's long-term reconstruction," said Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon, who is hosting the conference.
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If talks are too focused on the physical reconstruction of buildings and roads, "… what we'll have is new roads, but a society that's still largely dysfunctional," said Dave Toycen, president of World Vision Canada.
He will be proposing an approach to rebuilding based on lessons his agency learned in Indonesia after the 2004 tsunami. "I think we all see this as a strategic time to gather consensus to work jointly and see if we really can't move toward the Haiti that we've all be talking about for probably the last 50 years."
Eric A. Pierre, the Haitian consul in Toronto, said the international community has taken on a mammoth task. In the long run, he said, "they have to reverse 200 years of history."
"I don't see them accomplishing much except a photo opportunity in one day. There has to be sustained and continuous dialogue between Haitians and the Friends of Haiti. It's not going to happen overnight. It's going to take a long time."
During a meeting with Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Mr. Bellerive said "the situation is very different" from when he first visited Canada to discuss short-term plans for recovery. He said that he had new objectives and intended to discuss mid-term and long-term challenges at today's conference.
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"But we are fully conscious that the prime responsibility of the future lay on the hands of the Haitian government and the Haitian people."
The secretary-general of the Canadian Red Cross will be proposing a two-pronged approach that emphasizes both materials and the Haitian economy.
The agency will be hiring locals to build and run emergency shelters in Haiti, said Christina Lopes, a spokesperson.
"As much as possible we try to hire local workers and local people to give them back a sense of economic sustainability and dignity," she said.
Many people still need help with infected wounds, mistreated fractures and head injuries, and it will be months before these "semi-acute" needs are addressed, said Aslam Daud, a physician and chairman of Humanity First Canada.
Some people will need ongoing care, neurologists and psychologists to help them cope with the trauma of the earthquake.
"There are going to be lifetime impacts. Just imagine the person who has lost all his family members, how he or she would feel throughout his or her life?" he said. "That is also a part of the rebuilding thing."
With a report from The Canadian Press
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