“If the mountain won’t come to Mohammed, then bring Mohammed to the mountain”. According to an ancient tale, Mohammed finally thanked God for not complying with his wish – moving the mountain would have caused countless deaths as the rocks tumbled down to reach their new location.
The international community should return to these words of wisdom when discussing how to co-ordinate aid efforts in Haiti. The best way to deal with the crisis in the short term is not to move mountains of aid to Haiti, but to move Haitians to outside locations where they can receive the support they need. Each country at the United Nations summit in New York in March should commit to receiving a specific number of displaced Haitians as short-term visitors during the initial phase of the reconstruction of Port-au-Prince.
This makes simple economic sense. It is much more effective to bring the sick to functioning hospitals, the hungry to working cafeterias and the homeless to existing shelters than to spend enormous amounts of time and energy on improvising makeshift equivalents. It is vastly more expensive to fly out daily sufficient bottled water, food and medicine from London, Paris, New York and Mexico City than to fly needy Haitians into each of these locations.
This strategy would allow aid efforts in Haiti to focus on long-term goals. Today the central concern is how to get enough tents to shelter the hundreds of thousands of homeless before the hurricane season starts in May. Instead, the international community should concentrate all its resources on the significant challenge of developing a sustainable urban development plan for Port-au-Prince.
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