The next president of Haiti was already facing a catalogue of woes: nearly one million homeless, a civil service crippled by January’s earthquake, a new superstructure of international aid workers covering the country in matching white SUVs.
Now Haiti’s next president will also have to contend with cholera. More than 1,300 have died from the disease over the past few weeks. But cholera is not just the latest challenge; it is also a powerful symbol here, for what’s gone wrong in the past, and for what must change if Haiti wants to move forward.
Today, 18 hopeful Haitians will face-off for the job. If no candidate receives more than 51 per cent of the vote, the top two candidates will compete in a January run-off.
Haiti’s problems are old, but the candidates’ dreams feel new, and each has painted a unique vision for the future – some lovely, some pragmatic, some impossible. No matter how small his or her chances, every one in the field seems buoyed by the promise of change.
Wilson Jeudy, the mayor of Delmas, a neighbourhood of Port-au-Prince, says in 10 years he hopes to see “a new Haiti, where people won’t be naked in the ghettos.” Textiles entrepreneur Charles Baker says in 10 years Haiti needs “a government for the people and of the people. We will give the country a government, since we don’t have one.”
The Reverend Jean-Chavannes Jeune has what he describes as a 4-P programme for Haiti, to make it “prosperous”, “pleasant”, “pwop” (proper), and “popular”. “I dream we will again be the Pearl of the Antilles,” he says. “When someone talks about Haiti, they won’t just see the environment, the insecurity. They will know Haiti is a big country, on a cultural and historic level.”
Cholera is likely to stand in the way of many of such dreams – including stability, healthcare and tourism. As the Associated Press first reported, UN troops in Haiti are under scrutiny after a Nepalese soldier appeared to have inadvertently imported cholera. The UN, as well as the international community, has backed off an investigation into the matter.
To stem the spread of cholera and ease suffering from it, the UN requested $164m (€123m) from the international community, but has received only 10 per cent. Where money for aid is scarce, funds for development and infrastructure are even more remote. Of the $5.8bn (€4.3bn) pledged for post-quake rebuilding by the international community, less than 20 per cent has been dispersed.
To properly address cholera, Haiti needs clinics and hospitals, sewage systems and houses. It needs steady, focused attention, as well as support. Most of all, it needs confidence-inspiring leadership.