The former Prime Minister of Haiti has called for Haiti to seize the opportunity to implement positive changes in the aftermath of the disastrous earthquake that hit the country in January 2010.

Speaking to nearly 200 people at Progressio’s annual lecture in London on 11 October 2010, Michele Duvivier Pierre-Louis said that a plan is needed – and fast – to ensure ordinary people know what is likely to happen to them in the medium and long term.

Ten months on from the earthquake, Ms Pierre-Louis spoke of the frustration felt by many Haitians, particularly those who remain without permanent shelter in the 1,300 makeshift camps. In particular, she called for greater involvement of Haitian civil society organisations, saying many felt they had been excluded from reconstruction plans.

Outlining her hope that Haiti could seize the opportunity to implement positive changes as a result of the disaster, Ms Pierre Louis called for the national government to be supported in overseeing a process that meets the needs of the Haitian people. She highlighted the role of higher education in building the skilled labour force that is key to longer term prosperity. In addition, she said her country needed to decentralise services away from the capital Port-au-Prince and fight against the “historical exclusion” of certain sectors of society.

“Haiti is not a lost cause or a basket case,” Ms Pierre-Louis said, adding: “We have a rare history – a unique history – and a vibrant culture. We have to look to the future, but the weight of this [disaster] is still on us.”

Ms Pierre-Louis spoke of the devastation caused by the disaster in which more than 300,000 people died. She recalled the scale of the human tragedy in which almost every Haitian lost friends or relatives – as well as the crippling effects of ruined businesses and buildings. “Nobody was prepared for this,” she said. “We were all at a loss.”

Ms Pierre-Louis, who is on her first visit to Britain since January’s earthquake, thanked the people of Britain for their generosity following the earthquake. “The international response has been incredible,” she said. “We are extremely grateful for that. The people of Britain raised over £100 million. This is such an important and incredible movement of solidarity which really touches us and we thank you.”

Photo: Michele Duvivier Pierre-Louis (left) and Progressio Executive Director Christine Allen at Progressio's AGM in London on 11 October 2010 (photo © Geoff Crawford/Progressio).