Friday, January 22, 2010

Haiti: A Global Tragedy

Haiti has a population of approximately 9 million people. Almost 60% of its population is between 15 and 64 years of age. 39% is under 15 years old. Around 5% of its adult population has been infected with HIV/AIDS. 90% of the island nation’s children suffer from some form of waterborne diseases and/or intestinal parasites. The World Health Organization reports that Haiti suffers ten times the number of tuberculosis cases of its Latin American neighbors. On average, 30,000 Haitians combat malaria annually.

Haiti is the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere, with the average Haitian earning a paltry $2.00 per day (ranking 149 out of 182 per the United Nations’ 2006 Human Development Index). It’s GDP per capita is a mere $790.00. It’s not surprising then to learn that 80% of the population lives at or below the poverty line. The illiteracy rate for Haiti stands at 50% (compared with nearby Cuba which has a literacy rate of 80%). The combination of poverty and lack of education has forced many families in the country side to sell their children in a form of slavery as unpaid household servants whose sole compensation is basic shelter and food (one estimate puts the number at 225,000 children).

The government is Haiti has consistently been regarded as of the world’s most inefficient and corrupt with such notorious examples being former “Papa Doc” Duvalier, who raped his people of an estimated $504 million dollars from 1971 through 1986. President Aristide similarly stole millions from his people and pushed Haiti into a nation of government sponsored drug trafficking and pyramid schemes. But it wasn’t only fellow Haitians who were robbed and brutalized by these Stalin wannabes.

Haiti has been the beneficiary of billions of dollars in global aid (so much so that it officially counts for approximately 35% of the country national budget). The largest donors are the United States, Canada, and the European Union. Of the 4 billion dollars donated between 1990 and 2003, $1.5 billion came from the people of the United States. Yet despite the charity of the Western Nations, Haiti’s debt remains an estimated 1.3 billion dollars as of 2003. Of course, none of this takes in consideration the additional devastation as the result of the two most recent earthquakes, which could top $4 billion dollars in additional aid. Now, let’s contrast this to the Dominican Republic, which shares the other half of the island.

The age structure and population of the Dominican Republic is similar to that of Haiti, but that’s pretty much where the similarity ends. The economy of the Dominican Republic is one of the strongest in Caribbean, and serves as an anchor tourist destination for all the major cruise ship lines. Its golf courses are almost legendary. In fact, the US State Department reports that the Dominican Republic has the second largest economy in Central America with the most rapidly developing middle classes in the region. The country’s GDP for the year 2007 per capita was $9,208.00. Having said that, its strong economy has been marked by a history of mismanaging its natural resources.

In examining the country’s health, 1.7% of the population is infected with HIV/AIDS, and like its neighbor Haiti, the country suffers from malaria, airborne diseases, and dengue, which comes from mosquitoes. The Dominican Republic has a much more successful education system than does Haiti, with more graduates from primary schools. However, while Haiti has to deal with its acute poverty and often enslavement of many of its children, the Dominican Republic has become a launching point for much of the drug traffic bound for North America (particularly cocaine). It’s also a haven for money laundering. Lastly, because prostitution is legal, the nation has become an increasing “hot spot” for child prostitution, especially in the poorer parts of the country.

Although not free from corruption, the government of the Dominican Republic has not suffered from the gross abuse that its Haitian neighbors have endured. It is perhaps because the Dominican Republic has a more stable government that it has been able to develop a much more stable infrastructure, which includes a more successful educational system, which in turn has created the means to develop middle class and a potential way out of poverty for those fortunate enough to have an education.

In conclusion, it appears to this writer that the people of Haiti need to rid themselves of their would-be tyrants and install a seriously reform oriented government dedicated to developing its economy. Since Haiti and the Dominican Republic share the same island, the natural resources are similar. Haiti needs to look to its neighbor (and other neighboring island nations) and develop a coherent plan to turn the nation into a tourist destination. In turn, it needs an all out commitment to creating an educated population in order to attract transnational corporations. A more educated population will also go a long way towards improving its health situation (although it has to get pass some antiquated and harmful religious notions first). Both Haiti and the Dominican Republic have problems with immigration, especially illegal immigration. This is not good for either nation’s long term economic outlook, or the countries forced to cope with the outward effects of what is essentially an internal problem.

(Sources: CIA Facts; Wikipedia)

More Haitian News

Speaking of Haiti, it seems France is at it again. This time America is being accused of “occupying” the island nation and manipulation of the local airport. France’s International Cooperation Minister, Alain Joyandat, has even asked the United Nations to investigate. Brazil and Venezuela naturally joined in. No big surprise there. However, the Haitians seem rather pleased with American efforts. It seems that we are the only ones with the technical resources to manage such a global effort. Perhaps Frances needs to complain less and do more. You know the old adage---put up or shut up. Speaking of which, it seems there has been one problem at the airport which has been causing a serious disruption to relief supplies being landed, and that’s the media.

World news organizations have been landing planes of reporters, camera crews, satellite equipment and their related equipment. The media loaded planes have been keeping air traffic controllers busy dealing with them (and where to put them on an already overcrowded runway) rather than the important stuff, like planes with relief supplies, doctors, food, medicine, and needed infrastructure equipment. Since we’re always accused of controlling the situation, perhaps in the future we should control media presence in crisis areas as well. Set up one official media outlet to release news and footage to the other media outlets until the situation is stabilized. This is supposed to be about saving lives, not ratings.

On a related matter, kudo’s to the Israelis! Israel dispatched a trauma medical unit to Haiti which not only got there just about before everyone else, but it set up shop and was treating victims while even the US was still trying to get its people on the ground. The Israeli trauma unit has multiple tents for everything ranging from minor scraps and broken bones, to maternity and much more serious injuries. It even has a well provisioned pharmacy and surgical unit. Unfortunately for the Israelis, but fortunately for the Haitians, Israel is well versed in dealing with mass causalities.

Poll Results

We asked in our last poll if you kept your New Year’s Resolutions. 60% of you said that you usually did while the remaining 40% of you said “never!” No one ever admitted to keeping them all the time! I have to admit, I’m among the 60% of you. I make a list every New Years Day of major projects that I want to do during the upcoming years. On special occasions (birthday, anniversary, etc), I pull it out and review it. Typically I get about 80% of my projects accomplished.

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