First things first – please consider helping out via The American Red Cross, World Vision, Yele, or other organizations. You can also text “Haiti” to 90999 on your mobile to donate $10 through the American Red Cross. There are a number of other Charities which can provide assistance listed via Charity Navigator (highly recommended link there).
The devastation caused recent 7.0 magnitude earthquake beneath Haiti’s capital city of Port au Prince is heartbreaking – I’m simply thunderstruck by the pictures coming out of the small, enpoverished island nation. It’s so bad even the President is homeless:
I’ve been to Haiti (albeit it as a youth), and what struck me then is how “crowded” or overpopulated the city of Port-au-Prince seemed in comparison to the other national capitol on Hispanola. All told, estimates are that a third or more of Haiti’s population was based in Port-au-Prince and the surrounding Gulf of Gonâve areas. When you consider that any remaining standing buildings are considered risky to inhabit, It’s entirely possible thus that nearly 33% people in the country are now homeless. Twitter is the only means of communication at times. The government and law enforcement have both ceased to function (although it never did function effectively, even before the quake). Electricity and water have collapsed completely. Basic social services exist only as international relief efforts.
Sadly, I have to wonder if Haiti as we’ve known as a sovereign country may no longer exist.
From the reports I have seen, my tentative conclusion is that the country as a whole is currently below the subsistence level and will remain so for the foreseeable future. Hundreds of thousands of people have died, the U.N. Mission has collapsed, the government is not working (was it ever?), and hundreds of thousands or maybe millions of people are living in the streets without reliable food or water supplies. The hospitals and schools have collapsed. The airport is shut down. The port is very badly damaged. The Haitian Penitentiary has collapsed and the inmates — tough guys most of them — are running free for the foreseeable future. There is no viable police force or army. In other words, it’s not just a matter of offering extra food aid for two or three years.
Very rapidly, President Obama needs to come to terms with the idea that the country of Haiti, as we knew it, probably does not exist any more.
Some wonder if we may have the first ever UN governed country in the world. Rubbish. The UN has difficulty running itself effectively; a country is out of the question. I don’t see Haiti becoming a protectorate of the United States (as have Puerto Rico and Guam for example) either. The real question is what’s to stop everyone from fleeing and depopulating Haiti to the point of economic non-sustainability? As far as I can see, nothing is. We may be seeing the next massive refugee crisis, right on the heels of Sudan.
To make matters worse, Haiti is nearly entirely deforested and has no resources to speak of to collateralize a rebuild. Below is a satellite image taken on the border of Haiti (left) and the Dominican Republic (right). It’s pretty easy to demarcate the borders: one side is green, the other is not.
You can see another example on Google maps for yourself here.
Haiti’s rebuild will almost certainly have to take place under the direction of outsiders, with resources provided by outsiders. What does that mean for a country’s future (not to mention sovereignty)? One of the biggest reasons the tiny island nation is as poor as it is is due to a history of indebtedness to outsiders. Back in 1838, France would not recognize Haiti unless indemnities were paid for lands of former slave owners taken over after the revolution. Eager to gain acceptance, then President Boyer accepted a 150 million franc debt to pay this indemnity to acquire formal recognition. This debt saddled the economy of Haiti for over 80 years and was not finally paid until 1922. Quite a hole to dig themselves out of, among many things keeping Haiti poor. Now it appears history is about to repeat itself. Even assuming the funding is granted without payback, how do we funnel funding to critically needed investment rather than immediate consumption? Haiti’s past heads of state make up an all-star roster of corrupt leadership. You’ll notice most them are out in less than a year.
Looking at the bigger picture however, this isn’t just a Haiti specific problem. Indonesia needed the same after the tsunami wreckage. There may be other catastrophes in the future which may lead to inhabitant relocation or reconstruction if climate change predictions are to be believed. What’s needed is a formalized, documented, funded, audited, and international “Marshall Plan” which is ready to fire off in response to a sudden ecological disaster which throw a country’s future existence into question. Far easier said than done of course, but now is the time to start that conversation before the next Haiti surfaces.
Haiti discussions on Twitter: http://search.twitter.com/search?q=haiti
Photographer in Port-au-Prince: http://twitter.com/Haiti