In the devastating earthquake of Haiti, on January 12, approximately 220 000 people died, 300 000 were injured and more than million were left homeless. The severity of this natural disaster has posed great challenges to the international community and many countries have responded to appeals for humanitarian aid, pledging funds and dispatching rescue and medical teams, engineers and other support personnel. Communication systems, transport facilities, hospitals and electronic networks were damaged by the earthquake, which has also slowed down the rescue efforts.
Even though the need for humanitarian aid will continue very long time, there is also a need for longer term plans to bring the country back to life. Haiti's Trade and Industry Minister Josseline Colimon Fethiere has estimated that at least every fifth job has been lost because of the earthquake. Haiti is the poorest nation of the Western hemisphere and the disaster has caused immense impacts to already previously fragile Haitian economy.
The United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) wishes to show its solidarity to the people and the government of Haiti by supporting the Caribbean regional tourism actors to rebuild the tourism industry in Haiti. Caribbean region's tourism industry is expected to grow between three and four per cent internationally this year, and Haiti would need a share of this tourist flow.
UNWTO regional representative for the Americas, Carlos Vogeler says that the tragedy and devastation in Haiti brings an even greater opportunity for tourism to become the vehicle to improve that country's economy. "I think it is quite evident that Haiti has not been able to position itself in the tourism arena as many other countries in the Caribbean have, and today, looking at the devastation, I think that tourism can be an excellent vehicle to help in the recovery," he tells to the Sunday Observer.
Vogeler says that with the country having lost a lot of its infrastructure, there is the opportunity to rebuild from scratch in many areas. He is careful to point out that the UNWTO will be working alongside the Haitian authorities to make it all happen. "The first thing we intend to do is touch base with the Haitian authorities and discuss the plans with them and have them actually lead the plan, because they are the ones who will have to take the decisions about what it is that they want," he says.
In this context, it is essential to understand and acknowledge what has happened in the tourism areas still recovering from the tsunami in 2004. In Haiti, the model of privatization of beaches and displacement of the local communities had started already before the earthquake. Continuing this kind of tourism development would not help to rebuild Haiti in sustainable way, but the opposite.
Text: Emily H?ckert
Photos: nick hobgood and www.treehuggers.com