At around 5pm local time yesterday, a 7.0 magnitude earthquake hit the Caribbean island of Haiti, leaving hundreds dead* and presidential palaces and a UN building destroyed. The country, which neighbours the Dominican Republic in the Caribbean Ocean, has political pressures, after half a century of misrule. In 1961, the voodoo doctor Francois Duvalier took control of the country. Under the dictatorships of him and his son, nicknamed ‘Papa Doc’ and ‘Baby Doc’ respectively, thousands were killed, and many more seeked refuge in neighbouring Caribbean islands.
The legacy of that brutal regime is there is a great social divide between the poor Creole-speaking population and the wealthy French-speakers who populate the towns and cities. The body politik in the country is now run by a combination of gangsters, drug traffickers, corrupt government officials and a quasi-independent military.
The capital of Port-au-Prince will today be waking up to survey the wreckage of the disaster. The country is in tatters, devastatingly after nearly a decade of democratic rule. The United Nations are rallying together to pour aid into the area, to rebuild some of the lost infrastructure and provide temporary housing for the now thousands of homeless. Is aid the best solution to the problem?
Aid gives countries a complete stripping of their pride and independence. It creates a divide between the ‘providing’ nations and the ‘needy’, turning these states into ‘charity cases’. The Western world has profitted from this two-tier system by making money in the form of interest from loans offered in the past. While it may seem like the only natural thing to do in time of national disaster, one has to ask, where will this money go?
Development aid is lost through a black hole of inefficient or corrupt governments, funding military manufacturing industries to arm the ‘big boys’ in the middle east and beyond, civil war or merely stockpiled and never used.
Africa has not coped with the fast economic growth of the past thirty years. At the beginning of the 1980s a coffee farmer had to produce 50 sacks of coffee beans in order to buy a tractor. By the end of the 1990s this figure had jumped to 140 sacks.
Similarly stories of poverty stalk Haiti, most notably in its capital. Aid can sometimes ‘be too much of a good thing’. Our international aid funds need to remain committed to the deep-rooted problems of poverty in other parts of the world.
I am not saying we ignore the problems Haiti is facing, but it is bigoted and patronising that the Western world think they could solve the problems of developing countries by ‘throwing money on the problems’ they face. It is the job of charities. Hope for Haiti will respond to the Haiti crisis within the next 24 hours, here is the link: http://www.hopeforhaiti.com/ I have just given a fiver.
* Updated: 19/01, hundreds of thousands have horrifically lost their lives
25/01, official death toll is now 150,000 and rising