Envoy shares renewal of Haiti

Ambassador says quake has offered chance to change
Jackie Ricciardi/Staff
Raymond A. Joseph, Haiti's ambassador to the United States, talks about how ESi's WebEOC software was used at the embassy to support the Haitian earthquake relief efforts.

One month after the magnitude 7.0 earthquake struck Haiti in mid-January, Haitian ambassador to the United States Raymond Alcide Joseph rode through his native homeland to view the devastation.


Though he's not ordinarily an emotional person, he cried, he told corporate emergency managers from around the world at a conference at Augusta Marriott Hotel & Suites on Thursday.

"Through my tears, a broad smile came to my face," Joseph said.

Two gentleman accompanying him asked why he was smiling. He told them they didn't see what he saw.

"I saw something that struck me. All the traffic lights were working. They had solar panels. Right then and there, I got my first lesson from the earthquake. I said, 'Haiti has to go green because we have enough sun to sell the whole world,' " Joseph said.

Haiti has suffered a great tragedy, but the earthquake is creating new opportunities and causing Haitians to look at their circumstances in a different way, he said.

"The whole world has come in solidarity with Haiti, supporting it. This has given us a lift in the midst of a misery," Joseph said. "Sometimes I think, why did it have to take an earthquake for everybody to wake up to the problems of Haiti?"

Joseph was a featured speaker at a weeklong conference presented by Augusta-based ESi, a global leader in crisis information management technology. The company created WebEOC, the world's first Web-enabled emergency management communications system, which was used to track missing persons, manage volunteers and accept donations.

Joseph said he saw the writing on the wall for Haiti when he visited his country in 2004. From the air, he looked over the city of Port-au-Prince and was "saddened because the city had become a monstrosity."

A city built in the 18th century had grown to more than 2 million people with the same infrastructure. When he landed, he went to see "the matchboxes that he saw over the hills," which had disfigured the city.

A former journalist, he wrote a column for the New York Sun, in which he stated, "Port-au-Prince is an ecological catastrophe waiting to happen." Because Haiti is located in a hurricane valley, he predicted a hurricane wiping out the country. Unfortunately, his prophesy came to be, though much worse than he expected.

"Now that this has happened, the silver lining is that nature has done for us what city planners and politicians could not do -- to disperse the population," Joseph said.

Decentralization is at the heart of Haiti's reconstruction plan, which will take the weight off Port-au-Prince. The earthquake only hit one-fifth of the country, but the country suffered an economic loss of 80 percent, he said.

In relief efforts, Haiti is encouraging people to distribute food, water and medicine outside Port-au-Prince where the people have dispersed. If this isn't done, the people will come back, and Haiti will have the same problems that it had before.

When rebuilding Haiti, it's important to make the country self-sustainable, said Youri Emmanuel, the counselor to the Haitian ambassador. The process needs to be owned and led by Haitians.

Haiti will focus on infrastructure, health, education, agriculture and tourism. In business, it will concentrate on services, manufacturing, real estate, construction and telecommunication.

"It's an opportunity to rebuild, but rebuild the right way. It wasn't the earthquake that killed the people. It was the lack of construction and principles of engineering," Emmanuel said.