Sunday, December 19, 2010

Haitian Aid

A year after a devastating earthquake struck the Island of Hispaniola, Haiti has done next to nothing to help the million internally displaced still living in squalid refugee camps. A year after the disaster, with international aid pouring into the country at an unprecedented rate, Haitians have been confronted with a cholera outbreak. The country is in a situation of hopeless triage; where first to turn to ameliorate the misery of its people?

Yet the estimates of the Haitian government itself is that there are over four thousand foreign aid groups operating within the country of ten million people. And then there is the work of the United Nations and its famed peacekeeping contingents long stationed in Haiti. After the initial successful emergency co-ordination post-earthquake providing medical attention, food, potable water and tents, everything appears to have gone slack.

One-tenth at least of the population still lives in those inadequate tents. The indigent poor and the homeless have seen no signs that matters are about to improve for them. There is no employment, cholera has struck 100,000 people and people are dying by their thousands. But all is not entirely bleak in Haiti. Not for the island's wealthy class, nor for the countless foreign aid groups.

Foreign aid, humanitarian aid groups have become an industry unto themselves, a growth industry and a profitable one. International funding for these groups is never at a too-low ebb, for Haiti's plight strikes the consciences of people the world over, particularly in the Americas. The government is as useless as it always has been. The recent election was a fiasco, and spurred violent protests.

The aid groups speak of building schools, hospitals, sanitation systems, public housing. All the infrastructure of a state that the state itself generally engages in. But of the millions upon millions of international aid sent to Haiti, much of it unaccounted for, and assumed to have made its way into personal bank accounts, not much appears to be deployed for a nation-building purpose.

The well-funded international aid groups are making life extremely pleasant for the country's wealthy class, buying high-priced vehicles from Haitian dealers, shopping at Haitian-owned upscale markets, while making apartment rentals pricier, exacerbating the situation for ordinary Haitians. Luxury hotels and restaurants are doing very well, thank you.
"You wonder where all the money is going besides seeing all the blans driving new four-by-fours", wryly observed one Haitian aid worker.
As for the Nepalese UN peace troops, their mission is questionable. To maintain order and security, certainly. But Haitians do not appear to have invested much belief in their presence. Accusing them of having brought the cholera bacterium to the island to begin with, and spreading it through dumping human waste in a riverway. Which may very well be a canard, since the Haitian authorities have done the very same thing with Haitian waste.

Yet the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention did determine that the cholera strain appears to have emanated from South Asia. And the UN troops remain deeply unpopular: "They don't need to be here. they don't give us work. they don't know what they're doing. They march out three times a day. They're looking for women."

This is Haiti, awaiting rescue from its existential dilemma of ignorance, poverty, corruption and misery.

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