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OUR OPINION: How to help Haiti now and beyond

First, Haiti needs help. Then, Haiti needs hope. Both are vital to the country's recovery. And as other examples around the globe have shown, both are within the world and Haiti's capacity to deliver. The "help" part is the easier of the two. In ...

First, Haiti needs help.

Then, Haiti needs hope.

Both are vital to the country's recovery. And as other examples around the globe have shown, both are within the world and Haiti's capacity to deliver.

The "help" part is the easier of the two. In fact, help already is on the way -- massive amounts of help, ranging from vials of pills to a U.S. Navy aircraft carrier, carrying personnel and tons of supplies.

Yes, the earthquake hammered Haiti's already-fragile infrastructure, collapsing hospitals and rending roads. Yes, the scale of the devastation defies belief. The quake killed at least 50,000 people, the International Red Cross estimates. One observer said Port-au-Prince, Haiti's capital, had been turned into a morgue.

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But the U.S. and the world have had lots of experience with delivering emergency aid. President Barack Obama pledged generous U.S. help, and the aid pipeline quickly began to flow. Private charities also turned toward Haiti and will deliver many planeloads and boatloads of aid.

The destruction is so vast that it's hard even to think about. If you look too closely at the photos and news footage, you risk falling into a pit of despair, or so it seems.

But look we must, in order to fully support the humanitarian efforts now under way. With the U.S. and world's help, Haiti's survivors can recover and start to rebuild.

That's the "help."

What about "hope"?

Even before the earthquake, Haiti was the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere and one of the poorest on Earth. Again, the misery is hard even to imagine:

"Three-quarters of the population lives on less than $2 a day, and a full 50 percent on just $1," one observer wrote this week.

"Only sub-Saharan Africa is poorer. In the crowded markets, biscuits made of mud and salt that are baked in the sun are sold to the poorest of the poor."

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There is one small ray of good news: Before the earthquake, Haiti had been on an upswing, enjoying renewed investment after a decade of being ignored.

For example, Holiday Inn closed Haiti's last chain hotel in 1999. But last week -- tragically, only days before the earthquake -- Choice Hotels, another international chain, announced plans to open hotels in Haiti.

"After years of instability and political infighting, the country is experiencing relative calm that is leading to tens of millions of dollars in investments in new hotels, expansions and renovations," the Miami Herald reported in its Jan. 8 story.

The passage is heartbreaking to read today. But at the very least, it shows that all is not lost. Haiti's woes are gigantic, but they're not insurmountable, at least in the long term. The country had started to rise before. It can do so again.

One last anecdote, this one concerning a different country: Chile. In the 1970s, more than 40 percent of Chileans lived below the poverty line. Today, that number is about 14 percent.

Chile today "is one of South America's most stable and prosperous nations," the World Bank's country brief reports.

The country "has established a record of committed economic reform, proactive social investments, clean, transparent public sector management, and stable, consensual governance. ...

"Chile has been the fastest growing economy in Latin America during the past 15 years, with an average annual per capita growth rate of 4.1 percent."

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And as a result, Chile on Monday -- the day before the earthquake struck Haiti -- reached a milestone of its own. It became the first nation in South America to join the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development, basically the club of the 31 developed nations in the world.

Chile can do it. Maybe Haiti can do it, too, given the right leadership, the right kind of help and enough time. Haiti, the U.S. and the world must try.

-- Tom Dennis for the Herald

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