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Haiti disaster

January 14th, 2010

The Haiti earthquake looks to be one of the worst natural disasters in recent years. Lots of aid agencies will be involved in rescue and recovery efforts, but I’ll mention PLAN International which has been active in Haiti for a long time.

Remember also that, while earthquakes and tsunamis rivet our attention, hunger and disease are cutting lives short every day. Give what you can, whenever you can, to help.

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  1. melanie
    January 14th, 2010 at 19:54 | #1

    I was prompted by this disaster to have a quick look at the progress of Aceh since the tsunami at the end of 2004. It seems that it took about 2 years to reach the status quo ante – after the expenditure of roughly half the pledged c.$8 billion. Apart from getting back to normal, the main effect was an inflation rate well above the Indonesian average – which is more or less to be expected when big donors move in in great numbers. Low cost NGOs seem to be a better way to go.

  2. paul walter
    January 15th, 2010 at 06:30 | #2

    Poor old Haiti!
    As unlucky as the US, its big neighbour just to the north, has been fortunate.
    Iwonder if this northern hemisphere equivalent of Timor L’este will finally get some substantial help in finally getting it back on its feet.

  3. Doug
    January 15th, 2010 at 10:00 | #3

    Bearing in mind John’s encouragement to give I had difficulty getting on to the World Vision Australia web site last night because the site was busy. hopefully lots of people giving

  4. pablo
    January 15th, 2010 at 11:02 | #4

    A terrible fate for what may be regarded as a failed state. The US reaction with big numbers of ground troops (81st Airborne) suggests Obama is aware of the dangers in an inadequate response. Ten million people in a small decimated half of Hispaniola. Maybe a re-build of Port au Prinze from the ground up is required. Earthquakes are such great levellers in human misery and require the toughest decisions on the part of would be rescuers.

  5. Fran Barlow
    January 15th, 2010 at 11:10 | #5

    The problem here is that the infrastructure of Haiti is so fragile that even recovery efforts are hampered. We’ve al;ready had the first near miss between two C-130 transports at the overtaxed airport. Comms aere down. The land rtoute in is choked and of course people are out in the streets. Comms are down. And of course the government there was never that effective at the best of times.

    With the best will in the world, getting what is needed to whom it is needed by the last moment it is needed will surely be no easy thing. It’s entirely possible that as in the case of so many other non-anthropogenic ecosystem disasters, human system failure will compound the costs into something approaching catastrophic consequences, if indeed that is not already the case.

  6. paul walter
    January 15th, 2010 at 13:12 | #6

    You are part the way there Fran, et al.
    Haiti is a place with a past; a truly tragic history.
    The Western nations, most of all the US, never forgave the Haitian slaves from throwing the hapless French, circa 1800 during Napoleonic times. Worlds only successful slave revolution, and an example studiously not forgotten in more powerful places even unto the current day.
    Hence it remains a powerless failed state, without even basic facilities to cope with daily life let alone something as all encompassing as a major earthquake.
    Will be interesting to see if the US again turns back Haitian refugees, to drown in the”Wide Sargasso” sea as in the very recent past, when they have so favoured Cubans also claiming to be “refugees”at that time.

  7. O6
    January 15th, 2010 at 13:31 | #7

    Paul Walter is right about both the past and the present but Medecins Sans Frontieres http://www.msf.org.au can do a lot of good in Haiti, whatever the French may have done in the past.

  8. paul walter
    January 15th, 2010 at 13:35 | #8

    We bloody pray so, 06. They are a champion mob.

  9. melanie
    January 15th, 2010 at 21:10 | #9

    OK let’s start a contest. I gave $500 tonight to Oxfam who say they have 100 people on the ground already and my donation can provide water supplies to 50-60 families (what’s a family?) for 3 days. Peanuts really. JQ are you willing to keep a tally?

  10. Ikonoclast
    January 17th, 2010 at 07:19 | #10

    I wonder. Isn’t Haiti an example of an overpopulated country suffering resource depletion? Isn’t Haiti an example of what much of Africa is becoming, to be followed by Asia, South America and then the first world?

    Where will our aid come from when the whole world looks like Haiti? Look at Haiti clearly because that is the destination of the world due to over-population and resource depletion. Upon the release of Limits to Growth (1971) we should have commenced population stabilisation and a shift to sustainable energy. In retrospect, that shift looks politically impossible by virtue of the simple fact that we have not done it. This illustrates that we cannot direct human history to save own lives. Neither do I expect divine intervention to save us.

  11. Salient Green
    January 17th, 2010 at 08:10 | #11

    Haiti has a population of 9 million barely subsisting on a land area 40% of Tasmania’s. 95% of natural forests gone leading to desertification. In 1950 the population was 3 million.

    It’s so terribly sad the history of evil done by white people on Haiti. The Spaniards, the French, the Americans, the IMF and even their own people as corrupt leaders have all had a vile hand in the misery.

    The Haiti earthquake disaster will focus world attention on what in Haiti is an ongoing disaster and one can only hope that through this current intense misery, things will be done to bring about change in the future.

  12. Ikonoclast
    January 18th, 2010 at 08:34 | #12

    This abstract is apropos.

    Haiti’s Overshoot of Habitat Capacity.

    http://www.energybulletin.net/51200#_edn2

    While acknowledging Haiti’s colonial and slavery past it notes “Haiti also represents a vivid and tragic example of Catton’s “Overshoot” concept of when a population exceeds the long term carrying capacity of its natural environment.”

    Ten million on Haiti’s land mass is now non-viable. Here are the hard options.

    1. Do nothing but band-aid aid.
    2. Committ to massive aid indefinitely.
    3. Resettle about 5 million elsewhere and give massive aid to make a 5 million Haiti state viable and sustainable.

    Who do you think will ever take options 2 or 3, the only realistic options sustainably speaking?

  13. gerard
    January 18th, 2010 at 09:22 | #13

    You wouldn’t have to call it “massive aid”

    “Massive reparations” would be closer to the mark.

    Haiti: the land where children eat mud
    …France gained the western third of the island of Hispaniola — the territory that is now Haiti — in 1697. It planted sugar and coffee, supported by an unprecedented increase in the importation of African slaves. Economically, the result was a success, but life as a slave was intolerable. Living conditions were squalid, disease was rife, and beatings and abuses were universal. The slaves’ life expectancy was 21 years. After a dramatic slave uprising that shook the western world, and 12 years of war, Haiti finally defeated Napoleon’s forces in 1804 and declared independence. But France demanded reparations: 150m francs, in gold.

    For Haiti, this debt did not signify the beginning of freedom, but the end of hope. Even after it was reduced to 60m francs in the 1830s, it was still far more than the war-ravaged country could afford. Haiti was the only country in which the ex-slaves themselves were expected to pay a foreign government for their liberty. By 1900, it was spending 80% of its national budget on repayments. In order to manage the original reparations, further loans were taken out — mostly from the United States, Germany and France. Instead of developing its potential, this deformed state produced a parade of nefarious leaders, most of whom gave up the insurmountable task of trying to fix the country and looted it instead. In 1947, Haiti finally paid off the original reparations, plus interest. Doing so left it destitute, corrupt, disastrously lacking in investment and politically volatile. Haiti was trapped in a downward spiral, from which it is still impossible to escape. It remains hopelessly in debt to this day…

    150m francs in 1804 would be worth 21 billion today. Then add the compound interest. Whitey has been bleeding it dry for 200 years, punishing them for the offense of a successful slave revolt. Who thinks they’re going to suddenly turn around and give these billions back?

  14. January 18th, 2010 at 11:02 | #14

    @gerard

    Apart from the “foreign” part, which was of their own making by choosing independence and doesn’t affect the principle (pun unintended), there was absolutely nothing unusual about making them pay for their own freedom. In ancient times freedmen remained in a transitional dependency on their former masters until they could get clear of it, and when the serfs were freed in Russia it was under a debt to their former masters that they had to pay off. (Please note, I am only commenting on whether it happened, not on whether it should have.)

  15. Freelander
    January 18th, 2010 at 12:03 | #15

    @O6

    I agree. Even if they are “cheese loving surrender monkeys” and don’t even have a word for entrepreneur.

  16. Socrates
    January 18th, 2010 at 12:20 | #16

    I also donated $50 to Oxfam for Haiti but share the fears of others on this blog that a far more comprehensive solution is needed. The fact that many collapsed concrete buildings had no reinforcing steel indicates endemic corruption. It doesn’t even make economic sense – the money you save not putting reinforcing steel into a concrete building is less than the cost of the extra concrete you need.

    I had no idea the population was as high as 10 million either – surely a recipe for poverty in that land area. The history is indeed tragic, but regardless of who is to blame, this place needs birth control, education, infrastructure, and probably a few million less people. Now that it is a democracy, why does the US still block immigration?

  17. gerard
    January 18th, 2010 at 14:03 | #17

    You’re an impressive historian PML, and an even better troll

  18. January 18th, 2010 at 15:09 | #18

    gerard :
    You’re an impressive historian PML, and an even better troll

    How was that trolling, when I went to some trouble to point out in the last sentence of my comment that what I was bringing out only related to the historical practice of slaves paying for their freedom, and not to any of the other issues involved? It’s important to clear away inaccuracies like that, because otherwise the accurate parts risk being ignored once the inaccuracies have been spotted. Though I do think it would have been a good idea to stick the USA with a huge bill for independence in that peace treaty – after all, although they were entitled to their personal freedom from Britain, they also seized the land without compensation (they even welched on the limited compensation to expropriated and exiled Loyalists that was agreed).

    And history is also a guide to things to look out for in the present. For instance, there are now murmurings about “helping” Haitians to emigrate. History tells us just what can come out of that. If I see, say, offers to recruit them into the US Marines with an Iraqi government offer, say, to let them settle in Iraq with their relatives later, I’ll know what’s coming up – colonial North Africa all over again.

  19. melanie
    January 19th, 2010 at 20:34 | #19

    @Ikonoclast
    10 million on Haiti’s land area is undoubtedly lower density than 3-4 million on Singapore’s land area or 9 million on Hong Kong’s. Depends what you do with the land, doesn’t it.

  20. Lucas
    January 20th, 2010 at 09:15 | #20

    @Ikonoclast,
    “Isn’t Haiti an example of what much of Africa is becoming, to be followed by Asia, South America and then the first world?”
    South America is well endowed with natural capital and it’s a net exporter of it [1]
    Haiti is a geopolitical, institutional, social and ecological disaster.

    1- http://www.footprintnetwork.org/en/index.php/GFN/page/ecological_footprint_atlas_2008/

  21. Ikonoclast
    January 20th, 2010 at 11:05 | #21

    @melanie

    Singapore and Hong Kong are supplied with food and raw materials by large continental hinterlands. Haiti has no hinterland othe than the “hinterland” of aid.

    And in answer to Lucas. South America is well end endowed with natural capital… for now. Once it is all stripped out it will look like Haiti as already do large areas of former Brazilian rainforest. A continent can be stripped as well as an island… in the long run. In fact, a continent is just a big island when you think about it.

  22. Lucas
    January 21st, 2010 at 04:57 | #22

    @Ikonoclast,
    “Once it is all stripped out it will look like Haiti as already do large areas of former Brazilian rainforest.”
    Don’t you think that your analogy is a little bit extreme? Sure, any continent can plunder its stock of natural capital and end like Easter Island. But this reality is far far away in the case of South America:
    - South America hosts some of the most advanced developing countries [1]
    - South America isn’t overpopulated nor will it be [2]
    - South America is a net food exporter and home of two Ag superpowers (Brazil and Argentina)
    - Many Latin American countries are capable of sustaining a high HDI (mid-income, high literacy, long life) with a relatively low ecological footprint.
    - Many Latin American countries have exemplar conservation policies [3, 4]
    - Brazil is committed to the protection of the Amazon rain forest [5]

    1- http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Southern_Cone
    2- http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Overpopulation
    3- http://www.worldheadquarters.com/cr/protected_areas/
    4- http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2006/08/060804-castro-legacy.html
    5- http://climateprogress.org/2009/10/14/brazil%E2%80%99s-president-i-foresee-that-by-2020-we-will-be-able-to-reduce-deforestation-by-80-percent-in-other-words-we-will-emit-some-4-8-billion-fewer-tons-of-carbon-dioxide-gas/

  23. Grant Lavers
    January 23rd, 2010 at 11:06 | #23

    My wife and I have sent money(as much as we could afford). But my concern is the following:” You can give a man a fish, and he can eat for a day; but if you teach him
    how to fish, he’ll be able to feed himself! Until the people of Haiti start planting gardens, fruit trees, get back to work, the world can’t keep feeding them daily forever. We need to furnish them the seeds and farm equipment they need, teach them how,educate them, dig water wells that continue to give them water, etc. While this is being done, continue to help them.The world could temperarily evacuate the destitute, until the clean up is done.

  24. Bla
    January 24th, 2010 at 22:09 | #24

    my work is raising money in London so be there!

  25. Andy Anderson
    January 24th, 2010 at 22:11 | #25

    I feel so sorry for the poor people in Haiti i think they should get alot more help and fun raising for them.

  26. Freelander
    January 24th, 2010 at 22:27 | #26

    @Grant Lavers

    Yes. As a neoliberal, I can see your cause for concern. If they had gotten off their *rses in the first place, they never would have had an earthquake. You’re probably now regretting your generosity?

  27. gerard
    January 25th, 2010 at 14:02 | #27

    http://bradhicks.livejournal.com/436652.html

    The observation has been widely made that ordinary cities don’t collapse from an earthquake the size of the one that just hit Port au Prince, and ordinary countries have better and more widely dispersed disaster recovery teams of their own. Haiti, though, is special, and there’s a reason for that: From 1804 to the present, during all but a few years, it has been the official policy of Washington DC and of every European capital that Haiti must fail.


    Hispaniola, the island of which Haiti is the western half, started out special. By the time it was safe enough for the nobles to move in, there were exactly zero inhabitants left to enslave. When the native population of Hispaniola realized that they were going to lose, they fought to the death, and the last surviving women, children, and the elderly committed mass suicide rather than have their children grow up under European rule, and if I were a praying Christian, I would pray for their heroic, martyred souls every Sunday. So even before the island got divided up between the French and the Spanish, the slave caste of Hispaniola was 100% black, not the mestizo brown/black mix that most Americans think of when they think of “Hispanics.”

    But Haiti got even weirder, by western hemisphere standards, because it didn’t get its independence from France by having its white population rebel against European rule and enlisting their slaves to fight “for freedom.” No, Haiti is the only country in the western hemisphere to win its independence from Europe against the wishes of its white minority, to win its independence in a slave revolt. And that is why, unlike every other country and state south of the 40th north line of latitude, when Haiti got its independence, the entire white population of Haiti fled, taking everything they could pry loose with them. And, even more to the point, that is why it became official US policy all the way back during the Jefferson administration that Haiti must fail, a policy that has remained to this very day under every US president but two, Carter and Clinton, and under every British prime minister since then until now, and under every French president until the current administration: the world must never see, the world’s poor must never see, the world’s former and current slaves must never, never see a slave rebellion that works. Period.

    To that end, the US and all European nations declared war on Haiti as soon as it won its independence, and stayed that war upon the promise of a terrifyingly high danegeld: the Haitian people had to pay back France the full market value of every acre of property in Haiti and the full slave market value of every Haitian citizen, or else be the victims of a threatened genocidal war by the armed, mechanized might of the white world. They paid it. It took them until 1948, it took them working their fingers to the bone every single one of them and shipping every penny they earned by exporting all but starvation-level food overseas to do it, but they bought themselves. And were poised to succeed.

    And, well, we couldn’t have that. What if black Americans were to see a thriving, prosperous black country, just 70 miles off the Florida coast, doing just fine without any white rulers? The result could be unthinkable levels of violence, maybe even armed revolution. So in 1957, just as Haiti was starting to recover from centuries of deprivation, the US backed the private army of would-be dictator Francois “Papa Doc” Duvalier, and gave him clear marching orders: he was to sink Haiti back into debt that it couldn’t pay. The Duvaliers, and their successors from within his private murderous army, have consistently used weapons sent to them for free by the US government, and backed by invasion by the US Marine Corps whenever that wasn’t enough and democracy threatened to break out, to force the Haitian government to take out hundreds of billions of dollars in loans in the name of the Haitian people, and give at least 80% of that money to the Duvalier family and their followers. And every time they get close to paying it off, every time it even starts to look like some day they might pay it off, the Duvalierists (still!) take out more loans, and steal that money, too. Less than 20% of that money was used to build the roads and bridges and railroads and factories and food processing plants and schools and firehouses and other infrastructure that a modern economy needs. It was, quite intentionally, nowhere near enough: the Haitian people were told, on pain of re-invasion by the US and its allies, that they could not have any of those things until they paid off the Duvaliers’ loans, loans that they will never be allowed to pay off.

    So when the earthquake hit, they had almost none of those things, and the few that they had were shoddily built because that was all they were allowed to spend, and they died by the tens of thousands: murdered by America’s fierce determination to kill them rather than let them succeed.

    Nor will they be allowed to succeed after this, if our political class, yes, including Barack Obama, are not challenged: almost all of the “aid” we’re sending to Haiti is in the form of more IMF loans. And as anybody who’s studied the history of the International Monetary Fund and its “emergency stabilization loan” program will tell you, those loans come with murderous strings attached: none of that money can be used to build any of the public infrastructure or train or hire any of the government workers that would be needed to raise Haiti out of desperation and anarchy. It can’t be used to hire teachers to teach the Haitians to compete in a global economy. It can’t be used to build roads for them to get their goods to the port, it can’t be used to improve the port so that more countries can buy their exports, it can’t be used to hire and supervise truly professional police or the independent oversight boards and judges it would take to make it safe for Haitians to invest in and run their own businesses, that loan money can’t be used for any of the things. It can only be used to fund the expropriation of more food from Haitians’ own mouths, more assets from the island if any can be found, plus every dollar of those loans, back into the hands of the American and European governments and banks that lent it in the first place.

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