Saturday, January 23, 2010

On Haiti

An OpE I did for a local student paper... on Haiti

Here is the good news, this commentary won't be accompanied by photos of a crying black baby or a maimed granny. I'm sure those few who have watched TV programs other than ET or TMZ will have noticed that an earthquake hit Haiti a week or so ago, killing scores of people and destroying much of what was left of the dilapidated infrastructure of the country. I don't know whether you cried while helplessly watching the tragedy unfold. I did.

And yet, much of the mayhem that ensued outside Haiti sickened me in equal proportion. There we had aid agencies vying desperately for our hard earned cash. It goes without saying that they were all 'leading' or 'spearheading' the efforts in Haiti – when clearly there wasn't much leadership to be seen for about a week. It seems their TV commercials were faster produced than the actual humanitarian response. What's news? The aid industry is immensely lucrative. The monies donated in the aftermath of the tsunami in Southeast Asia have still not been spend. Do-gooders are still living off the interest generated from our (well, mea culpa, I did actually donate at the time) donations. Worse still, a lot of the donations will go this time around to ideologically motivated do-gooders. Religious organizations trying their best to convert Haitians to their particular ideology rightly see a unique growth opportunity. And yes, before you ask, they will donate rice and build a well. Their multi-colour brochures will show you that much, just in case you had any doubts. There will also be a generous amount of images of black babies randomly splashed across their fund-raising literature. The cash you're going to send will to a significant extent be utilized to grow their infrastructure and ideological power-base in Haiti, including for instance the building of schools aimed at indoctrinating Haitian kids in their particular religious beliefs. You can see how successful they have been, when you watch Haitian folks on the telly, who have lost EVERYTHING, and who thank their 'creator' for being alive, as opposed to BLAMING their 'creator' for inflicting that much pointless suffering even on innocent babies. The 'creator' inexplicably even managed to sink the local Cathedral together with his local CEO, it seems. So, here's my first message to you: Do NOT donate to aid organizations that also have an ideological agenda that goes beyond providing aid, unless you also happen to believe that abusing the desperation of the Haitian people in this manner is fair game. Be more discerning with regard to who gets your hard earned money.

Well, from what I gather from the news today, the gazilion $$ international effort aimed at rescuing people from the rubble translated into 150 or so people rescued. Good for those who were rescued. However, it is worth pointing out that the same $$ amounts could have preserved many more lives – even in Haiti – if they had been used differently. There is another important lesson in this and my second message to you: Ask yourself – before you donate – whether, in catastrophic circumstances and in terms of lives preserved, your particular donation, no matter how large or small it is, is likely to make the largest possible impact. Not every aid program is as good as any other (e.g. an US based aid organization's request that we donate for solar powered audio bibles seems frivolous). The same do-gooders cashing now in on Haiti have withdrawn any assistance from Somalia, a desperate and hugely violent country with about the same population size as Haiti. Darfur slipped off the do-good radar, and the list goes on and on and on. Shame Anderson Cooper couldn't make it there. I wonder whether we REALLY need a natural disaster a year to spur us into humanitarian action? What does this tells us about our common humanity? Nothing too confidence-inspiring, this much is certain.

Last but by no means least, do not loose sight of the bigger picture here. The same earthquake in Japan would not have led to tens of thousands of deaths (possibly many more than that). The reasons for the large number of deaths are directly linked to the poverty in that country. Building standards have been low to non-existent. The last hurricane that destroyed large parts of Haiti led to negligible international aid efforts. Nobody cared. And yet, a simple case for reparations can be made in favour of Haiti. Countries like its former colonial masters as well as the USA have interfered with the country's governance throughout its history. Surely this wretched nation is owed compensation for the damage the colonial powers' policies have caused. Compensation that is morally owed as opposed to a result of Bono type do-gooding. It will be interesting to see whether those countries that are largely responsible for the plight of the Haitian people will step up to the plate and do what needs to be done in order to repair the damage their policies have caused. Or will 'aid' be all that is left, organized by window-dressing organizations such as the UN (and its fleet of Toyota land-cruisers) and of course the international do-good industry.


  1. Filipe CalvarioJanuary 24, 2010

    Interesting text... recently I subtitles a video to Portuguese, asking for donations for a fundation's work in Haiti. It's Oxfam. Do you have an opinion about this organization, Udo?

  2. Filipe Calvario (from Brazil)January 24, 2010


  3. Oxfam is a secular aid organisation. It seems to have a decent track record, Filipe, at least based on my limited information.


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