Thursday, January 21, 2010
Disaster always seems to bring out the best in people. It also has an odd way of exposing society's ills. Americans know this all too well. We've already seen what happens when disaster strikes in the absence of preparation.That was Hurricane Katrina. And while the disaster did illicit an outpouring of money and rescue efforts (eventually), the governments delayed response, and the fact that the victims were mostly Black was appalling. The issue of race in America burst forth with the same intensity as the levees. And like Katrina, I'd argue that the Earthquake in Haiti has again put the pathology of race front and center.
To say that a 7.0 earthquake causes devastation is a gross understatement. Haiti is a nation living pay check to pay check with absolutely no money to spare for a rainy day. Haiti is devastated on any given day. It is hell on earth in the wake of a 7.0 earthquake. And as we watch endless b-roll of a ravaged Haiti, a horrific mix of death and debris, at some point we have to start asking difficult questions. Really, why is Haiti this poor? Why is there no infrastructure? And why is Haiti at the complete mercy of foreign assistance?
Some say it's payback.
These folks, many of them Haitian themselves, would argue that Haiti has been paying the price for its independence since 1804, by being blacklisted (pun sort of intended) from the global economy. When the French left, so did the rest.Today Haiti depends on international assistance, welfare checks, for bit of economic viability it has. The country suffers from a severe trade deficit, an absence of foreign investment, and vast unemployment. To make matters worse, it suffers stigma that has prevented the growth of it's tourism industry even though tourism flourishes in contiguous Dominican Republic.
Over the last two centuries, the country's once proud political heritage has eroded into a litany of corruption, coup and the conspicuous absence of progress. Limited resources in any nation gives rise political instability. Survival instincts kick in, much like they are on the streets of Haiti now.
But maybe there's a silver lining in all of this.
Finally, the world is paying attention to Haiti. Haiti needs help and I do believe that First World nations will rise to the occasion. Already, the World Bank has pledged 150 million dollars of assistance, though that will without a doubt come with stipulations. Establishing order in chaos, clearing the rubble, burying the dead, bringing sustenance to the victims... Recovery will be a long, winding road but it will happen. Maybe not at the pace that some of us would like, but the First World, particularly America, will step up to the plate. We shine in moments of global disaster.
But the real recovery would happen after the aftermath. It will be interesting to see whether global powers remain and help Haiti establish a viable private sector. Will they open doors of trade and diplomacy? Will they give the impoverished island a chance to survive and thrive in the aftermath of chaos? Or will they pack their heavy artillery and trot home, content to add new tales of heroism to the history books, and once again sustain the legacy of neglect.
That will be the ultimate test of humanitarianism.