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Chewing on the News

June 9, 2011

I have always had an interest in politics and current events, so it only seems natural that I am keenly interested in what has gone on and is going on in the country I now call home.  I am known for being someone who has strong opinions and is not afraid to express them.  There are those who hold that politics is not an appropriate subject for polite conversation, but in the context of a blog I believe it is entirely appropriate to express political opinions.  I highly suspect that there will be those who disagree with my perspectives, but if I make you think, I have achieved my purpose.

I have chosen a few news items from the past few weeks and summarized them.  I believe each speaks to the situation in Haiti.  I make no apologies for my editorial bias.  After each I have added a question that came to mind as I read the article and a relevant quote.  Anyone who reads my blog knows I love those.

Playing the Numbers Game

In the wake of Haiti’s earthquake, a report was commissioned by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAid) to establish how much rubble needed to be cleared, and how much housing needed to be built or repaired.  A leaked copy of the first draft of the report revealed that the authors estimated the death toll at between 46,000 and 85,000, much lower than the official figure of 316,000 released by Haiti’s government.  The report puts tent camp population at a peak of 895,000 and estimates that no more than 375,000 people still remain.  The UN International Organization for Migration, however, stands by its census figures of 1.5 million occupants at peak with 680,000 still in the tent-and-tarp camps, saying it has “absolute confidence” in its numbers.  The report also disputes the US Army Corps of Engineers’ estimate of about 20 million cubic metres of debris, stating the total is less than half that amount.  Now USAid has said there are “internal inconsistencies” with the report and is questioning the statistical sampling methods used by the authors.

Question:  Is it just me or does this smell of someone trying to wriggle out of making good on promises of aid?

 

Figures don’t lie, liars figure.

                                             –Mark Twain

The Blame Game

A UN panel found that “evidence overwhelmingly supports” the conclusion that last year’s cholera epidemic began when a south Asian strain of the disease was introduced into the Artibonite River by Nepalese troops at the UN base at Mirebalais, But it maintained that it is the Haitians who live in the area themselves that are responsible for their own sickness since they “should not have been using the river for drinking or washing.”   (It should be noted that cholera had never before been detected in Haiti.)

Question:  Isn’t blaming the victims considered bad form?

“Le ou malere, tout bagay samble ou,” says a Creole proverb.

When you are poor, everything can be blamed on you.

Dispossessing the Dispossessed

At 6 AM last Wednesday morning, machete wielding police and security agents descended on a tent camp in Delmas in Port-au-Prince, hacking through about 200 tents and scattering the occupants.  This is the latest in a string of forcible evictions, carried out without notice.  Figures from the International Organization for Migration show that almost one in four camp dwellers are living under the threat of evictions.  Haitian officials maintain that the camps are being abused by people who have a place to live but move into the tents in the hope of getting aid.  The camps have also become a base for criminal gangs.

Question:  Shouldn’t somebody have looked into where these people were going to go before evicting them?

Poverty is a weapon of mass destruction. Homelessness is a weapon of mass destruction. Unemployment is a weapon of mass destruction.

–Dennis Kucinich, Ohio Congressman

Piling Disaster Upon Disaster

Twenty-three people are dead and more than a dozen injured as heavy rain triggered flooding and mudslides that destroyed houses in the Port-au-Prince area.  There are concerns about people living in makeshift housing being extremely vulnerable as the hurricane season begins.  There are also concerns that houses destabilized by the earthquake will crush other homes as happened over the weekend in Petionville , a Port-au-Prince suburb.  The rain will also almost certainly aggravate the cholera situation.  East of the capital, residents living near Lake Azuei, Haiti’s largest lake, have been evacuated as heavy rains have caused the lake to overflow its banks.

Question:  Hasn’t Haiti already received its quota of disasters?

Sometimes it takes a natural disaster to reveal a social disaster.

–Jim Wallis, editor of Sojourners magazine

For a brief discussion of what should be learned from the Haitian experience, read 5 Lessons from Haiti’s Disaster from Foreign Policy Magazine.  The article is a few months old, but the points it makes are timeless.   In my opinion this is a winner.  You can access it at

http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2010/11/29/5_lessons_from_haitis_disaster

For an excellent recent article on the role of the US in the agricultural economy of Haiti, read Exporting Misery to Haiti:  How Pigs, Rice and US Policy Undermined the Haitian Economy.  It is available at

http://hondurasoye.wordpress.com/2010/01/19/exporting-misery-to-haiti-how-pigs-rice-and-us-policy-undermined-the-haitian-economy/

 

This is the beginning—from “I” to “we”.  If you who own the things people must have could understand this, you might preserve yourself.  If you could separate causes from results, if you could know that Paine, Marx, Jefferson, Lenin were results, not causes, you might survive.  But that you cannot know.   For the quality of owning freezes you forever into “I”, and cuts you off forever from the “we”.

                                                                           –John Steinbeck, The Grapes of Wrath, Chapter 14

J

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