Abby Maxman is the country director in Haiti for CARE, an international relief organization that has been trying to help rehabilitate Haiti for 50 years.
The country is still struggling to emerge from an annus horribilis -- rampant violence that followed former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide's departure early in 2004, spring flooding that killed 2,500 and a September hurricane that killed 3,000. Haiti is the poorest country in the western hemisphere, and things are not getting better. Juan Gabriel Valdes, the United Nations' special representative for Haiti, recently said the country could "self-destruct" if it doesn't get the international assistance it needs.
Maxman sat down with ABC News ahead of a U.N. Security Council visit to Haiti last week, the first visit by the council to any Central American country, to discuss Haiti's problems.
How do you keep attention on Haiti when you have to compete with, say, Iraq, and an international donor conference for Darfur?
I spent 10 years in Great Lakes, the Horn of Africa, the Middle East and southern Africa. And coming to Haiti, what has left me almost speechless at times is the fact that -- when I come here to New York for example -- I don't have jet lag. It took me three hours to get nonstop from Port-au-Prince to here and it takes me 90 minutes to get to Miami. And when I walk around some of the slums in Gonaïves and see the conditions people are living in, it is unacceptable in any place on Earth. And then the reality that we are 90 minutes from the United States and even from a pure policy, say, of containment, shall we say -- as oversimplified as that is -- we're neighbors. It's not quite Cuba, but it's pretty close. And it's an outrage how some people are living no matter where they are.
For me, there's a moral imperative and a humanitarian imperative that is so compelling. I don't know why we're all not standing on top of roofs screaming. I feel that way as well about the Sudan and other countries -- I don't want to minimize ... It's amazing. It defies my understanding.
There seems to be a lack of political will. How do you cope with that?
The unfortunate thing about political will -- it tends to be in response to attention, which tends to be in response to acute crisis. And therefore the missing ingredient when we're in chronic low-boil crisis is ... the media attention that sustains pressure.
Walter Lippman once said "News is what protrudes from the ordinary." How do you convince the media -- and the international community and its main donors -- that this violence isn't "ordinary?"
I think people become numb ... to chronic crisis or to kind of this low-boil suffering that continues. And resources -- people living up to the pledges that are made ... Roller coaster is the image, or certainly the graphic, that you would see in terms of international aid and commitment ... How do you make that into a reality, that sustained and increased commitment -- not just financial but political will to support long-term processes, policies from bilateral organizations, multilateral -- everybody. So it's been just: the acute crisis, everybody responds, acute crisis ends, transitions to the chronic crisis, which becomes "normal" or accepted, and everyone leaves, and you have that same vacuum and the potential for an explosive situation.