15 FEBRUARY 2010


The devastating earthquake in Haiti and the tragic loss among U.N. colleagues serving there inspires a more dynamic commitment to the reconstruction and revival of that founding member of the United Nations. As Secretary General Ban Ki-moon pointed out, the dearest wish of our fallen colleagues would be that we carry forward the work they so valiantly performed. Even farther. Now that the role of "stabilization" has been tragically overtaken by the need for basic revival, the performance and credibility of the U.N. is visibly at stake. The success of whatever efforts the Secretary General undertakes in that direction deserves practical support. The designation of former U.S. President Bill Clinton as Special Representative could prove to be the best or the worst decision taken; but that depends not on Mr. Ban, but on whether Mr. Clinton places his full weight and maintains a full-time span of attention on the emergency at hand. The Secretary General is interested in results. To get results, he needs the right strategy, the appropriate executive mechanism, and the dynamic individuals to implement it.

The task in Haiti is daunting. A whole new country is to be rebuilt. MINUSTAH is totally outdated. Serious assistance to Haiti requires full-time supervision. Former U.S. President Clinton has done a commendable job drawing needed attention. His prestige and his enthusiasm make up for some inevitable shortcomings. The Clinton-Bush Fund also helps. The outpouring of support from around the world is impressive. Although one or two movie stars hogged the limelight, many others gave generously without much publicity. The most surprising was supermodel, Brazilian Gisele Bundchen, who gave the largest single contribution -- $1.5 million to the Red Cross. Actress Sandra Bullock, another surprise, followed with $1 million. So did Ted Turner. Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie offered a similar amount plus flying in a portable hospital. The most talkative Madonna produced only $250,000. John Travolta flew in with a plane load. Artists Alicia Keys, Christina Aguilera, Bono and Sting performed to raise funds. Stevie Wonder was outstanding in drawing pledges. George Clooney led the telethon of Hope for Haiti.

Despite such an array of impressive artists with wide public following, we need to be leery of media shooting stars like the controversial rapper of Haitian descent, Wyclef Jean, who has a charity called Yele Haiti, but had NO PEOPLE ON THE GROUND like the Red Cross, the World Food Program, UNICEF and OXFAM. The rapper's operation is accused of being very personalized; some claim he cuts his own "performance" fees out of contributed funds. It may be tempting for the U.N. Secretary General to accept any offer at these difficult times. But as he will be the first to indicate, this is a very serious issue of survival and revival.

With the U.N. potential role wavering between success and failure it is crucial for the Secretary General to ensure a full-time leadership with a hands-on approach; not just an impressive Special Representative. Former President Clinton could certainly help substantially; but he has to be very clear that he will need to make the time and show the inclination to pursue a task requiring daily focused attention. Certainly, an experienced heavyweight is required. But equally essential is a full-time commitment. Relevant offices within the U.N. system, like the one headed by Sir John Holmes, Under-Secretary General for Humanitarian Relief could be ideal in extending support for the task. UNICEF, WFP, Red Cross, every willing and helpful group could play a role; provided plans are clear.

What is needed is not just a galaxy of stars but a combination of heads and shoulders to work together with the people of a country that was once a guiding light in asserting human dignity.

There are so many options open to the Secretary General. There are also lessons to learn from past experiences like the Asian Tsunami. From his initial reaction, we hope he will seize the challenge -- and the opportunity -- to ensure delivery of results not only on stage but on the ground.

As he knows, Haiti is not Hollywood.

And, come to think of it -- BEWARE OF OVERHEAD EXPENSES.