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Rebuilding Haiti

02/23/2010 4:00 PM Bartos theater
Cherie Moit Abbanat, Lecture, Department of Urban Studies and Planning and the Department of Architecture, MIT; Michel DeGraff, Associate Professor of Linguistics, MIT; Erica James, Associate Professor of Anthropology at MIT; Dale Joachim, Visiting Scientist, MIT Media Lab

Description: In the aftermath of the January 2010 earthquake, four panelists with strong personal and professional ties to Haiti share their insights about the different paths to rebuilding and reconstructing the country.

Erica James begins with a view of Haiti's history of "ins_curit_", a term used to describe "cycles of political violence, crime, and economic deterioration that have accompanied periods of political and economic upheaval, foreign occupation, dictatorship, and continued environment decline." She believes the transition from emergency to reconstruction must deal with the challenges of repeated cycles of psychosocial trauma.

Her concern is that international organizations, in attempting to alleviate the suffering of earthquake survivors, will give rise to practices that undermine the effectiveness of their interventions and create even more victims and victimization-unintended, and unwanted, consequences of their help. For James, the issues of population management-the regulation and distribution of resources, identity, and accountability-are important considerations in reconstruction and rehabilitation efforts.

Cheri Miot Abbanat taps into her American and Haitian networks to find out what survivors need and want immediately to help rebuild their lives and their country. While governments and NGOs bring in traditional support-technology, medicine, food, housing-Abbanat suggests first "seeing it with Haitian eyes." She asks that aid organizations respect what is already in place in Haiti: homegrown knowledge, the language, what already works. Although fragile, existing support systems could be bolstered by international aid organizations instead of being replaced by them.

Dale Joachim recognizes that "technology doesn't solve everything, but it solves a lot of things." His vision for rebuilding Haiti focuses on energy, the environment, and communications. By addressing Haiti's serious energy imbalance and by "bootstrapping" the public health, education, and rural enterprise systems with a robust communication infrastructure, the path to reversing the breakdown of the environment-in particular, Haiti's massive deforestation-will lead to far greater long"term recovery for the country overall.

Using a series of overheads comparing several different countries of similar sizes and densities, he shows how the imbalance in Haiti's energy input/output has a pervasive impact on the Haitian infrastructure. Resolving the energy problem will help resolve issues of education, deforestation, and public health concurrently.

Michel DeGraff uses language and linguistics "as a lens on [Haiti's] history." Without recognizing and resolving the complicated socio political stratifications created by language and economics, Haiti will be "rebuilt for the 5% who have always been well off," leaving the other 90%-those who speak Creole-no better off than they were before.

DeGraff asserts that Haiti still suffers under brutal class and race inequities brought about, in part, by the power held by those who speak French over those who speak Creole. He believes that by changing the school system, which has been used to maintain these inequities, and by using Creole as the language of all Haitians, the system of language apartheid would be minimized and allow more Haitians access to economic power.

A Q&A session follows.

Host(s): School of Humanities, Arts & Social Sciences, Center for International Studies

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