Wednesday, 27 January 2010

Help for Haiti?

The devastation in Haiti caused by the earthquake of January 12 has seen up to 200,000 dead and many more maimed.

Aid in the form of food, medical supplies, clothes and temporary accommodation, is needed as a matter of urgency. Thousands of peoples’ lives are depending on the smooth and rapid flow of cargo into the island to compensate for what the Haitians no longer have or had in the first place due to living in the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere.

Rumours of disagreements between the UN and the US Army about who is in charge of the aid operation are worrying. It is evident that aid is not reaching those who desperately need it quick enough. The charity Medecins Sans Frontieres has complained that a flight containing 12 tonnes of aid was turned away from the airport at the capital Port-au-Prince on three occasions by the US Army. They believe five patients died as a result of not receiving access to the supplies on board that flight. Furthermore the charity was forced to buy a saw from a local market so they could carry out amputations on survivors. Many Haitians have been left wondering where help is coming from, and what conditions will be attached.

What is the future for Haiti? The country was already in a mess with crushing poverty and massive debt. The IMF is reported to have offered an emergency loan to Haiti with strings attached, but that later, those strings were dropped. However, Haiti is hundreds of millions of US dollars in the red as it is. If the emergency loan is going to be partly used for debt repayments that can never be settled in full, then what is its point? I hope Oxfam's campaign calling on the IMF to cancel the Haitian debt brings some pressure to bear.

Will Haiti end up with unpopular, neo-liberal policies imposed upon its people during its recovery? Naomi Klein's Shock Doctrine provides the example of a mass privatisation 'experiment' in New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina as evidence of vultures being ready to tuck in when people are reeling in shock after a crisis. I hope that she is proven wrong in Haiti's case, the people in that country have already suffered too much turmoil, even before this earthquake.

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