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Irina Bokova and Michaëlle Jean

Adrian Wyld

One year after the earthquake that killed an estimated 300,000 people and transformed Port-au-Prince and several communities into ruins, Haiti continues to be buried in chaos. This situation is unacceptable.

More than a million people are still living amid rubble, in emergency camps, in abject poverty; cholera, meanwhile, has claimed thousands of lives. As time passes, what began as a natural disaster is becoming a disgraceful reflection on the international community. Official commitments have not been honoured; only a minuscule portion of what was promised has been paid out. The Haitian people feel abandoned and disheartened by the slowness with which rebuilding is taking place.

In the space of 12 months, the humanitarian crisis has become a moral crisis. For Haiti, it is not simply a matter of rebuilding roads and caring for the sick. The situation speaks to our values, to our fundamental ability to ensure equality, justice and the right to dignity, and it requires us to honour the promises made.

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Haiti requires neither charity nor handouts. The country needs sustainable investments in those areas that form the backbone of any society: youth, education, culture. Haiti needs us to give Haitians the means to be key players in the rebuilding that affects them first and foremost.

The majority of the Haitian population is under 25. These young people represent an opportunity for the future; we must seize it. It would be criminal to leave orphans and children to their own devices to grow up frustrated and discouraged. What the youth of Haiti need is a quality, universal system of public education. They want to acquire knowledge and skills. They want to work, to be part of the solutions.

Education is the foundation for any sustainable rebuilding. It provides the means and the reasons for investing in society. In Haiti, 40 per cent of children do not have access to education. That situation can't be changed by rebuilding schools. We must train the teachers, a third of whom have only a college education. Continuity must be established between elementary and secondary school, which only 10 per cent of students attend.

Haitians have demonstrated their immense resiliency, which is rooted in their strong and dynamic culture. Education and culture are essentially all that remain when everything else is destroyed, and they are what determine a people's ability to survive. The Haitian culture is a treasure to be developed. The Jacmel region, for example, has the potential to become a cultural and tourist centre. Its artists and craftspeople, its carnival and historic sector, are cornerstones on which to build.

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization has redoubled its efforts in the past year toward literacy, the training of teachers, and the establishment of school statistics. We have trained masons in anti-earthquake techniques and created vocational training centres. The urgency is to rebuild the education system. We are looking at long-term goals - at least 20 years - and costly ones, at least $5-billion to provide quality primary education for everyone. These are difficult goals to implement - so all the more reason to begin early and to set high standards.

Haiti has experienced a succession of aid programs with no coherency, co-ordination or long-term strategy. The people of Haiti were not sufficiently engaged with those projects, despite the fact that experts have known for a long time of the need for them to be deeply involved if the programs are to be effective.

All of that is true. Just as it is true that there are other problems, there is the economic crisis, and there is always an excuse to do nothing. No one is in a position to lecture, and there are no miracle solutions. Each person needs to look inward and do better. What is certain is that Haiti needs a very long-term commitment to specific projects, with an obligation to produce results, working in close collaboration with Haitians. Under these conditions, Haiti can become a symbol of renewed international co-operation and of the emergence of a new ethic of sharing.

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We are urgently calling on governments and the leaders of civil society, in Haiti and elsewhere, to combine their efforts, to assume their responsibilities and, especially, to keep their promises. Some of the founding ideas of modern political communities can be traced back to the people of Haiti: the victorious fight of slaves for freedom. This legacy demands that we do more and that we do better, so we do not add a moral failure to the human tragedy.

Irina Bokova is director-general of UNESCO. Michaëlle Jean, the former governor-general of Canada, is UNESCO's special envoy for Haiti.

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