Haiti: Where irony never sleeps.

slum dwelling Haiti


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Damage from earthquake in Haiti

Poverty entails fear and stress and sometimes depression. It means a thousand petty humiliations and hardships. J.K.Rowling, (speech 2008)

One of the most depressing stories in the aid saga is that of Haiti. Ten million nightmares wake up from the darkness of dreams to meet a new horror each day. Unless you were born into it, you could not hope to cope with the ravages of life in this small Caribbean country.

Before 1990, Haiti had been under the murderous control of the Duvalier family for 30 years. When that regime was toppled a military dictatorship replaced it. The people have had little respite from corruption, hunger and death and, then came the hurricane.

The devastation left behind by the quake of 2010 was 300,000 dead and 1million homeless. A big country would have felt the pain and the anguish but would have found the resolve to re-construct. Haiti, a small nation of approximately 10m, wrapped in a prolonged history of poverty and dependency must find it difficult to stand up, much less to rebuild.

The unrelenting pounding of hardships leaves little hope of rescue and of waking to a brght tomorrow.

  • An estimated $8 bn of damage.
  • 80% live below the poverty line.
  • 54% in abject poverty.
  • 40% depend on subsistence farming.
  • Between 2009/10 all of Haiti’s debts were written off.
  • By 2012 Haiti has amassed a new debt of $600m.
  • Much of the forestry has been cut down.                           

It’s a catalogue of horrors.

The true nightmare for Haiti is the lack of hope for the future. In 2011, Haiti, exported $690m of goods – in the same period imports were an estimated $3,280m. Of course that differential of income is not sustainable, especially when you consider that, ‘The government relies on formal international economic assistance for fiscal sustainability.’ (CIA) In essence without foreign help Haiti cannot climb out of the mire. After the earthquake the international community pledged over $4.5bn for reconstruction but it hasn’t all arrived!!!

Is securing boatloads of aid the answer to Haiti’s problem? In short the answer is an emphatic NO! The problems go much deeper, the whole nation is sorely fractured. The country appears to be a cesspit of corruption and has a myriad of political parties all jostling for any tangible degree of power. In this environment gangs are a means of survival and the more ruthless the higher the pay off. The UN has recently described the human rights situation as: ‘catastrophic.’

There’s an old saying, ‘it never rains but it pours’ and so it is with Haiti. The people were still trying to pick themselves up, when the cavalry arrived in the form of the UN and disaster rode with them. Cholera, has claimed in excess of 7,500 lives and with 600,000 ill and counting. The Guardian newspaper reports that, ‘it is beyond reasonable doubt’ that the UN caused it. Haiti, it seems needs a new water/sanitation system costing -up to $1bn. The cost of keeping the UN troops is estimated at $1bn. (Guardian) Remove one and fit the other seems like a no-brainer to me. The UN is pulling out some troops. What will they do with the money saved?

In August 2012 came the howling wail of Issac in the North destroying some 40% of the crop and many cholera treatment centres. When you consider that 80% of the people depend on agriculture for their living this was indeed a disaster. With little infrastructure, roads like mud lanes, and no irrigation programme a disaster soon becomes a nightmare. Oxfam reports, ‘no coordinated strategy to avert widespread crisis and neglect.’

And just to compound things, Sandy showed up and blasted the South/west of the country causing severe flooding in places. Plantations of numerous crops ruined and over 50% of the people affected.

It’s the daily grind that beats you down, living in tent towns, being forced to move around when the law demands. Crime out of control, with rape a daily occurrence and violence forever there. Murder pours scorn on their already deep trauma. The cost of funerals far exceed what the poor can pay and, loan sharks on the desperate prey.

What can be done?

Mario Joseph, a human rights lawyer makes two telling points:

‘part of the problem is these NGO’s.’

‘…there’s been an improper distribution of the aid that people have sent to Haiti.’

We have to give some credence to the man on the ground who has taken up many cases.


Typical politician

The situation may seem insuperable as the country is imitative of a pre-industrial society which is in need of being dragged into the 21st century. Achieving political consensus will be a bigger mountain to climb than Everest. Moi, is the first word a baby politician speaks. Yet change is as essential as the sun in Haiti. Tears from the Liberal hearts will dampen a wet rag as they wipe from their hands any positive solution that may hurt a fly.

Each donor nation must accept responsibility for the aid/ loans it passes over. This will entail that country administering a given area of development. Example; USA, takes on the role of re-afforestation, brings in experts from its own forests and works with and trains locals. After a period of 20 years it can pack up! Any other charities NGO’s can feed into the deal but must accept USA as administrator. Groups of donors can band together but must have a national policy and one admin nation. E.g. France agriculture, Germany education etc. Using this strategy would make monitoring and evaluating the spend and efficiency sound. It should also limit corruption and waste.

It may take some ruthless entrepreneurial leadership to force change, but this would be at loggerheads with the ‘guilt clause’ of the Liberal elite. They will probably prefer to toss dosh at the problem and keep their distance. However, if it is not sustainable you fail the people. You end up just kicking them in the teeth! Titbits!!

An obvious candidate for change is farming; the setting up of co-operatves to maximise crop yield and bring modern methods would help. Or enclosure may be necessary to force change. It cannot continue at subsistance level.

Re-afforestation is a must. Properly administered on a long term basis.

Housing: a serious development plan that covers the country as a whole. Not a patch work of charities doing their own thing.  No temporary shacks that a huff & a puff will blow down. One donor nation in charge!

Mineral wealth: allow established companies to operate and run the mineral deposits on a non profit basis for 20 years. Then sell to the highest bidder.

Corruption: this must be tackled by the setting up of a new police force. With careful use of gathered intel- deal ruthlessly with organised crime.

I may be blowing in the wind but, but, but, peeing in a lake never caught a fish.