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Posted January 29, 2010

After the Cataclysm, Give the Surviving Haitians Strength and Hope 

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Men carry an injured woman in front of the presidential palace after an earthquake in Port-au-Prince January 13, 2010. More than 250,000 people lost their lives in the major earthquake that destroyed the presidential palace, between 5,000 to 8,000 schools, hospitals and hillside shanties in Haiti. The initial base estimate of the monetary damages: US8.1bn.


CAMBRIDGE, MA, Jan. 29 - During their remaining number of years in this world, the surviving Haitians, who will soon enter the prime of life, probably will not see again the like of the 7.3-magnitude January 12, 2010 earthquake (detection) that killed an estimated number of 250,000 people, the vast majority of them their fellow citizens.

It is not necessary to say the same for the reduced number of citizens of the quasi-island nation of the same name who are or will soon be of pensionable age since its 8.7 million inhabitants' (more than half of them are under 18, the age of full legal responsibility) average life expectancy is surprisingly 52.

But for Haitians who are now younger, when they come to thinking about the approximately 250,000 of their fellow citizens and others injured they will, too, with great sadness, for many years, remember that more than two million people were left without shelter, forcing them to seek refuge in the open, principally every barely available public square, and ultimately endure the indignities of hunger.
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Survivors of the earthquake look at the bodies of victims on a Port-au-Prince Street (Reuters Photo) videoMass Graves
Even if today's young generation of Haitians are determined to make sense of their collective material conditions, they will find it extremely hard, if not impossible, to do since nearly or all of their hard-earned possessions, including the homes, for example, anticipated to be inherited from their parents, if any, were destroyed.

So, too, those same young Haitians will not forget the horrors brought by the largest earthquake on their destitute, troubled nation 's barely functioning government, famously ineffective government as the total destruction of nearly all of its offices - from the 97-year-old national palace to the ministry of finance and economy to the edifice that served as the tax collection department (Haiti's equivalent of United States' Internal Revenue Service) principal office - and the death of untold number of public servants suggest.

The previous earthquake, but of lesser magnitude, known to have visited Haiti, about 38 years after it became a sovereign nation (Original version of its declaration of independence), killed at least 5,000 people, then about half of the population of the northern major city of Cap-Haitien. In the aftermath of so, the government was forced to move the capital to its current location.

When it looks as if things cannot possibly get worse in Haiti, they do.

The after-effects, even in the distant future, of a catastrophe of major proportions are never pleasant. They can also pose a moral question, to be specific. Contrary to the practice of Haitians accompanying the bodies of  passing family members, those of friends to their final resting places, sadly mass graves swell as doctors fear the next health risk could include outbreaks of diarrhea, respiratory tract infections and other diseases among hundreds of thousands Haitians.

Regrettably, today a lot more Haitians are unable to command sufficient resources needed to satisfy their basic needs, to further prevent the unwanted transmission of crushing poverty from generation to generation from becoming a lot more a way of life. So long is the list of victims it includes doctors, nurses, teachers, students, engineers scientists, attorneys and many others - all in a nation long with a reduced number of real professionals.
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A U.S. soldier arrests a suspected Haitian looter in Downtown Port-au-Prince, Haiti January 29, 2010. (Reuters//St.Felix Evens)    
What Makes a Nation?
I don't solely mean a piece of land, where unfortunately an earthquake struck and buildings collapse, people die. I also mean a piece of land sufficient enough to accommodate thousands or millions of people, and the vast majority of its citizens or nearly all of them are not without basic education and healthcare services - two of the objectives of development.

What is the meaning of a nation if economics, institutions and development do not translate into the lives of the vast majority of citizens, in the positive terms, even if the collective optimal level of success achieved is determined to be de minimus?

Since the citizens of Haiti (United Nations' Human Development Report/2009), on the average, do not have access to pipe water and electricity, the sunny small corner of the Caribbean, where regrettably economic, political and social institutions exist only in name, the argument is that it cannot honestly consider itself as a nation. And the lack of the later attribute, electricity, one of the prerequisites for development, has long convinced many that Thomas Edison has yet to arrive at destination.

FOREIGN AID/REMITTANCES Over the past two decades, Haiti has received more than $5 billion in foreign aid.  In 2006 alone, according to estimates forwarded March 7, 2007 by The Inter-American  Development Bank Multilateral Investment Fund (MIF), Haitians living abroad sent a total of $1.65 billion to their homeland. Still, long before the earthquake it was fast becoming a lot more contagiously dirt-poor.      

A friend once confined in me that the day when Haiti will be transformed into a museum devoted to the study of failed states was fast approaching. He sincerely was not urging an obituary. But what honestly prompted him to offer such an assessment was because the tropical nation lacked on something, and it still does, as simple as providing basic sanitation services, including the removal of detritus from its long dilapidated streets; the money (it is defined by Adam Smith as "The obvious and simple system of natural liberty) allocated for so in the plethora of annual budgets, those of city halls and mostly minuscule, was stolen; it was instead used to purchase ultra-luxury automobiles for government cronies and their co-mistresses (My quality of life, Your quality of life). Some of them had not yet attained the age of consent. Sure in a nation, where the rule of law supersedes the authority vested in public servants, including the president, those alleged tort-feasors (wrongdoers) would most likely be taken out of the circulation and face the bar of justice.
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School children in the impoverished Cite Militaire neighborhood of Port-au-prince.

ALLEGED GRAND-SCALE PUBLIC CORRUPTION A few months ago, US$197 million mysteriously disappeared from Haiti's public purse - one of the latest acts of public grand-thievery in the dirt-poor Caribbean nation's government catalog of economic crimes (videoHaiti's curse of generalized corruption). The large amount of money, even by the size of the U.S. economy, as usual has yet to be accounted for. Sure there is reason to believe that the poor Haitians will always be with us, but there will be a lot more of them as members (the last of the primitives)of the Haitian government get richer, by way of entrenched corruption (Haiti, still in bad company). This is in line with the widespread view among Haitians, both in Haiti and the many diaspora communities, who continue to urge the international community not give even a dime of foreign aid monies to the Haitian government.

The next thing a nation wants is to be increasingly caught up in a dependence and dominance relationship with rich lands. The less-developing mountainous country that is Haiti hours before the earthquake depended for at least 70 percent of the money needed to help pay for the items of its niggardly annual budget. And since the extreme violence-issued government of Rene Preval (the de novo president's education), reputed for his gross incompetence, does not know what kinds of economic and other policies (a package of policies) to adopt to generate the urgently needed tax revenues and subsequently reduce the metrics of poverty, it is easy to understand why dependence on foreign aid monies, a conditioning situation, is fast becoming a lot more the norm.  
Economy of Haiti
  • Currency: Haitian gourde  
  • Fiscal year: 1 October 30 September
  • GDP: $11.59 billion (2008 est.)
  • GDP growth: +2.3% (2008 est.)
  • GDP per capita: $1900 (2007 est.)
  • GDP by sector: Agriculture (28%); industry (20%); services (52%) (2006 est.)
  • Inflation: (CPI)8.9% (2007 est.)
  • Population below poverty line: 80% (2003 est.)
  • Labour force: 3.6 million
  • Labour force by occupation: Agriculture (66%), industry (9%), services (25%)

    Unemployment:    Widespread      

  • Unemployment/underemployment; more than two-thirds of the labor force do not have formal jobs (2002 est.)
  • Main industries: Sugarcane, flour, textiles, cement, light assembly, industries based on imported parts


    Exports $491 million f.o.b. (2008 est.)


  • Main export partners: United States 72.9% Dominican Republic 8.8% Canada 3.3% (2007)
    Imports: $2.095 billion f.o.b. (2007 est.)
  • Main import partners: United States 41.2% the Netherlands Antilles 14.9% China 4.7% Brazil 4.4% (2007)
  • Gross external debt$1.4 billion at peak; debt canceled in September 2009[1]
    Public finances
  • Revenues: $820.6 million (2008 est.)
  • Expenses$965.2 million (2008 est.)
  • Economic aid$150 million (FY04 est.)                                 
*All values, unless otherwise stated, are in US dollars. 

*Information is based on public domain material, The World Factbook, published by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), a U.S. government independent intelligence agency.
Policy Options: Some Basic Considerations, to, Hopefully, Help Shape the Long-Term Future of Haiti, in the Positive Terms
"I have set you life and death. Therefore, choose life," wrote Alfred de Vigny.
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Darlene Etienne, 16, leaves the French hospital to be airlifted to the Siroco, a French navy vessel after being pulled alive from the rubble of a building in Port-au-Prince by a French rescue team. Former US president Bill Clinton made an emotional appeal Thursday for the world not to forget Haiti, as doctors treated a 16-year-old girl miraculously pulled from the rubble of its killer earthquake.(AFP/FRENCH RESCUE SERVICE/Laurent Roch)
Whatever the prevention program of a life that is not the equal of fast increasing dehumanizing poverty, its specific components must, to begin with, include: The availability of basic life-sustaining goods such as food and shelter.

Yet, particular attention to the progressive creation of economic opportunities such as jobs and significantly reducing the long unacceptable illiteracy rate of 85 percent - the later, mainly in the long-term. Both will, hopefully, serve not only to improve citizens' material conditions but also to enable capable, successive duly elected governments to pay for the cost (economic) of needed additional public goods as their revenues increase.

What's more? Few other things have been more, and more universally believed, than that of children of peasant background get the rough end of life in Haiti. The availability of economic and educational opportunities to citizens will not solely free a significant number of the estimated 250,000 boys and girls (Restaveks or house slaves), who under normal circumstances would instead be in school, from servitude but also adults to the forces of ignorance (Bourik Congo, an unpleasant Haitian Creole expression coined by Yves A. Isidor) and human misery.

All of the above painful issues addressed suggest that the largely denuded Caribbean nation (less than 2 percent of its land is covered with trees) has reached rock bottom.
The Role of Cities
Some of society's most important decisions concern the distant future. Whether you are referring to cities in less developing lands, those in the developing nations, or, say, the ones of the developed or industrial world, admittedly they provide cost advantages to producers and consumers, by way of what are called "agglomerations economies." Consider the devastated dirt-poor nation of Haiti's capital city of Port-au-Prince. If other good is to come, in an enduring way, of the tragedy, outmoded building codes, incredibly government gross incompetence, and, yes, too, spectacular grand-scale corruption, will first have to cease explaining the strong (statistical) relationship between the long unwanted pattern of rural-urban-migration and the explosion of urban shantytowns.

Cities will increasingly become the main players in the global economy.           - Kofi Annan, former secretary general of the United Nations and Nobel laureate for Peace

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A woman pushing a shopping cart speaks on her cell phone as she walks among the fully stocked shelves of the Star Market Wednesday, Jan. 27, 2010 in the upscale Port-au-Prince neighborhood of Petionville, a little over two weeks after the Jan. 12, 2010 earthquake.(AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Ryan Remiorz) More: Quake Accentuated Chasm That Has defined Haiti
The task of rebuilding (many prefer to rather employ the term building) the nearly eviscerated capital city will be costly. Also, there is the nearby city of Leogane, the epicenter of the fierce earthquake - 20 miles west of the capital city of Port-au-Prince; its estimated population, 134,000. It is where 90 percent of the buildings were destroyed, and as many as 500 nuns, priests and students' lives were terminated, after the cement wall of their school, Sainte Rose de Lima, collapsed in the earthquake. After other affected cities and towns are proportionally included in the grand "package reconstruction project," the final economic cost, if all of these come about, will most likely be in the vicinity of $15 billion - the biggest bill in history. And it will take decades for work to be successfully completed. Where will the money come from as the credit crisis continues to trigger a downturn? The later, one in catalog of the major (macro) economic problems - double-digit unemployment rate, huge budget deficit, fast increasing nation indebtedness, to name only these ones - in the rich world. No one yet has a sure answer to this very important question.

This project, of unprecedented nature and size, will be possible only if the international community dugs deeper than ever into its pockets. Otherwise, in particular the rapid ponderous initial search and rescue response, followed by the relief effort which seems to be going reasonably well given the enormous difficulties (these, not limited to logistical concerns and government minimal involvement) to overcome will unfortunately be given the very image of futility.
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We have a collective responsibility to uphold the principles of human dignity, equality and equity at the global level. As leaders we have a duty therefore to all the world's people, especially the most vulnerable and, in particular, the children of the world, to whom the future belongs.          - United Nations, Millennium Declaration, September 8, 2000

destroed buildingman sits    
More than 75 percent of Haiti's capital will have to be rebuilt, after the devastating earthquake that leveled swathes of the city, the UN deputy special envoy for the stricken Caribbean nation said Thursday.

Envoy Paul Farmer revealed the extent of the damage to Port-au-Prince following the 7.0-magnitude quake on January 12 as he addressed the US Senate Foreign Affairs Committee in Washington.

Asked by the panel's chairman Senator John Kerry how much of the city needed rebuilding, Farmer replied: "The majority of it. Seventy-five percent."

Farmer called for a "recovery fund" to finance the reconstruction of the shattered country, and said the monies could be maintained by the Inter-American Development Bank or similar institution.

"We need to commit funds and also to disburse them," the envoy said. "Such an account could be managed... with partners such as the UN and, of course, Haitian leadership... to design and implement recovery plans coordinated at central and local levels," he said, adding that the effort also would include the United States and other leading nations.

The extent of the crisis is so "massive," he said, "that we need the international community. (AFP)

AP Photos
Given the possibility of an exodus of Haitian boat people, the largely number of hopeless citizens succumb to the temptation of unreservedly social and political unrest, and unprecedented drug trafficking by drug lords without border, with the United States as their ultimate market, Haiti, a nation that measures history by dynasties, kleptocracies and revolutions, with alarming certitude, will most likely be seeing as a growing menace to many fragile democracies in the Americas. After all, those are the nearly insurmountable problems that the international community wants to see occurring - even for a reduced duration of time.

The writer, Yves A. Isidor, who teaches economics at the University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth, is the spokesperson for We Haitians United We Stand For Democracy and executive editor of, a democracy and human rights journal.

                                       , the scholarly journal of democracy and human rights
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