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Congresswoman Barbara Lee introduced The Next Steps For Haiti Act which would create a professional exchange program designed to improve critical sectors of the Haitian economy from education, health, energy, transportation, to disaster preparedness. The bill is intended to help expand Haiti’s capacity to absorb development aid and improve the welfare of the population.
The need for the legislation is significant. Haiti is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere and most sectors of its economy face significant challenges. The recent 40 percent rise in global food prices and subsequent 50 percent rise in the cost of Haiti’s staple foods since mid-2007 has placed additional stress on the economy and has severely impacted the Haitian people. Unemployment and underemployment are rampant in Haiti with estimates suggesting that two-thirds of the country’s 3,600,000 workers are without consistent work. In the area of education, Haiti faces severe obstacles due to access, equity, quality, and institutional capacity as evidenced by the fact that less than 30 percent of the children who enter primary school will reach the 6th grade. The health sector is also in vital need of support. The average life expectancy is only 53 years old. Less than half of the population has access to clean drinking water and 28 percent have access to adequate sanitation. Haiti also has the highest incidence of HIV/AIDS outside of Africa—rate of 4.5 percent of the population. The country also lacks adequate management plans for natural disasters. Over 90 percent of the country’s forests have been cleared for fuel, thus flash floods and mudslides across the country have damaged farmland and contributed to increased poverty.
“There are many Haitian Americans living in the US today who have technical expertise in a wide array of areas such as agriculture, education, health care, and infrastructure development, who want to return to Haiti and assist their people. My bill would create a mechanism to facilitate this knowledge transfer in order to meet the needs and goals of the Haitian government and the Haitian people.
“I plan to work with all of colleagues here to ensure this bill moves forward in order to address the vital needs of the Haitian people.”