Aid and Development in Haiti

Posted on February 9, 2010 by David Creech

This week’s post will be a collection of thoughts I’ve been having about the still unfolding tragedy in Haiti.  As you may guess, I have been watching the news and the Web with particular interest as the situation has developed.

By now we are all familiar with the country–how it is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, how it shares the island of Hispaniola with it relatively wealthier neighbor, the Dominican Republic, and how that the disparity between the two countries is at least in part the result of U.S. policies (for a great informative piece on the history of Haiti, click here).   The earthquake was especially devastating because of the extreme poverty and its proximity to the main population center.

In the aftermath of the earthquake, we have seen many things that demonstrate the difficulty in providing effective aid.  The total loss of infrastructure has made it difficult to deliver aid in the first place.  We have seen people trying to work around the infrastructure, like the (well-meaning, I hope) Baptist missionaries trying to smuggle non-orphaned kids to the Dominican Republic.  This has now decreased the effectiveness of other agencies doing legitimately good work (such as the private air lifts that previously took 15 critically injured children a day to hospitals in the United States to receive treatment–since the arrest of the missionaries, they have taken three children total, leading to the death or permanent injury of at least 10 children).  There was also the debate about who would pay for the treatment of the critically wounded coming to Florida hospitals that led to a halt to airlifts.  (As an aside, this was for me one of the real tragic stories in the whole affair–we have the means to provide immediate aid, but we are worried about costs.  I recognize that nothing is free, and that Florida does have other financial obligations, but it just felt wrong to put money ahead of lives.  Your thoughts?)

To close this post, looking ahead, we need to make sure we maintain our commitment to the people of Haiti.  There have been rumblings of forgiving Haiti’s debt and I, for one, think this would be a good thing to continue to advocate for.  Our continued financial support can do much good, especially since many of our partners work very close to the ground.  As to the desire to go down to Haiti, which I find myself fighting, unless you have a particular skill to offer, it is much better to pray and advocate and give.  Haiti lost a lot of its skilled labor force (they were the ones inside the buildings–the doctors, the lawyers, the teachers–when the earthquake struck), and now has many unemployed, unskilled hands that need work and the money that comes from work.  We should be very slow to take that away from them in our desire be a part of the action.

-David Creech

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