Job shortage adds to Haiti’s misery

Saturday, January 30, 2010 – Globe and Mail
ANNA MEHLER PAPERNY

PORT-AU-PRINCE — In a folding chair among the mattresses and laundry lines outside the wreckage of his family’s house, Olivier Jean-Rénauld is writing his résumé.

The 33-year-old computer science graduate and his friend Chéry Luckson are applying for jobs with Médecins Sans Frontières, which has put out calls for logistics workers to help with the NGO’s massive aid effort. The jobs are part-time, Mr. Luckson acknowledges. But when no one has a job and the country’s already faltering economy has effectively ceased to exist, it’s better than nothing.

The agencies charged with reconstructing Haiti have pledged they’ll create jobs in the process, addressing the multitudes of people who lost their livelihoods in the quake, as well as their homes.

Jobs were the star of President René Préval’s press conference this week – rejuvenating Haiti’s economy has to be central to the rebuilding process, he said. Lewis Lucke, head of the U.S. relief and recovery program, said he expects the reconstruction process – from clearing roads of rubble to rebuilding Port-au-Prince almost from scratch – to create tens of thousands of jobs.

But as Haiti’s already shaky education system lies literally in ruins, with both its buildings and its human resources decimated, the head of the country’s largest university says it will take a lot more than aid jobs for Haiti’s people to re-establish themselves economically.

“There are people who have been decapitalized; they need work,” said Jean-Vernet Henry, rector of Port-au-Prince’s Université d’Etat. “Humanitarian aid won’t rebuild a country.”

Before the earthquake, Prof. Henry’s university boasted 25,000 students. He would like to see it not only recover but expand, with satellite campuses elsewhere in the country.

Already, Haiti’s best and brightest are leaving in ever-growing numbers. Mr. Luckson, whose sociology studies at Université d’Etat were cut short in his fourth year, hopes to get out of the country as soon as possible.

“I want a job that’s stable,” he said, casting an arm toward the broken city behind him. “You think I can find that here?”

Without jobs, Haiti faces the prospect of a massive brain drain of the very people it needs to recover. Since the earthquake, Port-au-Prince’s foreign embassies have been besieged by people seeking to emigrate.

For one man waiting outside the Canadian embassy yesterday, the quake and its multiple aftershocks are one more reason to join his wife in Ottawa.

“I’m scared all the time,” he said, refusing to give his name for fear of jeopardizing his application. “Why stay?”

Countries such as Canada and the United States, flooded with immigration applications, have made it easier for Haitians to enter the country. The United States has received 639 applications for its temporary protection status, which grants Haitians temporary safe haven during which time they can apply for work permits.

A Canadian immigration spokeswoman said yesterday it’s too early to say how many immigration applications Canada has received since the earthquake. But Immigration Minister Jason Kenney said he expects as many as 5,000 under the fast-tracked family reunification program, and the cases of 217 orphans that were ongoing before the quake are being expedited.

But while immigration may seem an attractive option to those who survived the earthquake, it may not be the best thing for the country as a whole.

“There’s going to be greater out-migration. … [The thinking is,] ‘There isn’t that much left here, so why stay?’ ” said Susan Pozo, a professor of economics at Western Michigan University who has studied Haitian migration.

“[But] the people who leave are probably going to be the people who have more resources, who have more human capital. And I think that will be detrimental for Haiti in the long run.”

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