For the second half of this month, the flag of Haiti has been in the header on our blog. And that’s mostly because of the damage and death caused by Hurricane Matthew.
An estimate three days ago put the cost of damage to the island and its fragile infrastructure at nearly $2 billion. And this goes on top of the $6 billion in damage that occurred due to an earthquake in 2010.
I have a soft spot for Haiti in my heart. My brother was a schoolteacher there in the early 1980s, and I visited there in the summer before I started high school.
I saw there the abject poverty in the cities, where malnourished children had red-tinged hair because of the lack of minerals in their diet. I saw sewage in the streets. I saw poorly-wired electrical grids. And I also saw how the other half lived; privileged people eating richly in nightclubs, smoking cigars, and imbibing rum as if it was going out of style.
Churches and charities have tried over the last 100 years to help the people of Haiti, but it’s hard to say that much progress has been made. It is still one of the poorest countries in the world.
The question that has been eating at me for the last 35 years is, “Why?”
If our civilization can create technologies to multiply crop yields, why can’t this be applied to some of the very arid and overused soil in Haiti? If Detroit and Tokyo can create vehicles with all sorts of gee-whiz-band gewgaws, why can’t most Haitians get around? If rich people can spent millions of dollars on political action committees, why aren’t they spent on charities directly benefiting Haiti? If the western world is starting to prioritize education for all, including those in the poorest nations, why hasn’t Haiti begun to catch up?
I’m amazed that nobody has embarked on a long-term Marshall Plan in order to provide the people of Haiti with tangible help: housing, technology, education, and a disaster-proof infrastructure designed to withstand earthquakes, floods, and Category 5 hurricanes.
As was very clearly shown in the aftermath of the 2010 earthquake, Haiti has an enormous infrastructure problem. As much as nations wanted to send food and supplies to the country, there were not enough runways to let transport planes land and offload goods. The roads are not good enough to allow large transport trucks to get anything to the hinterlands or to areas far away from the airports.
I guess the West is learning the same lessons it did in the 80s when it wanted to send food aid to Ethiopia, only to find out that the tractor-trailers it sent were unsuitable for the highways in the country.
But that’s no excuse to do nothing.