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Haiti's agony

But this week we are distracted by events on another island. And rightly so. Haiti's history mirrors that of Ireland in some respects. The Haitians had to fight for their freedom and given that this was a freedom from slavery still practiced elsewhere, including the United States, this particular Haitian version of freedom was not universally welcomed at first. Quite the contrary.

Haiti's woes over the years have been due to many circumstances and the nation's sad story is far more a series of lows rather than highlights. Lately though, after years of repression, coups and natural disasters, there were some signs of improvement, this in large part due to the sustained presence of the United Nations and international aid organizations, including the Irish agency, Concern Worldwide.

Last week's earthquake pretty well wiped away what progress has been made and Haiti has been revealed to the world, again, as a society where the people themselves are more resilient than anything else, not least a less than functioning government and an infrastructure incapable of dealing with much in the way of typical stress, never mind an earthquake measuring seven on the Richter scale.

So once again Haiti is in the world headlines for all the wrong reasons. There has been talk of "rebuilding" Haiti but really what is there to rebuild? If anything good emerges from this latest disaster it has to be something entirely new. And that implies a long-term commitment by the United Nations, the United States, the European Union, the Haitian people themselves and others to model from the ground up a society and an infrastructure for the 21st century, not the 18th.

It's hard indeed to think of Haiti's latest agony as an opportunity. But that's really the only way of facing into the present situation. What emerges from the rubble and the deep sadness of it all has to be something better than before, much better.

If otherwise, the world is simply going to wash its hands of the place and turn its attention to other things.

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