Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Thoughts on Haiti

As if being the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere wasn't enough yesterday an earthquake measuring 7.0 on the Richter scale hit Haiti near the capital of Port Au Prince.

It is not known how many people have perished but it is believed to be in the thousands.

It is also believed that up to 3 million people in Haiti may be directly affected by the earthquake. That is staggering when you consider Haiti's population is slightly over 9 million.

Needless to say, Haiti is going to need help and lots of it.

But naturally the biggest worry is whether foreign aid will get to the people who actually are in need of it.

The CIA World Factbook describes Haiti as a country with "pervasive corruption."

Next month it will have been 24 years since Baby Doc Duvalier was forced from office. Since February 1986, power has changed hands 15 times. Haiti's current President René Préval has been in office since May 2006. He previously served as Haiti's President between 1996 and 2001 and was that country's first elected President to serve out his entire term without a military coup. Although Préval is very close to Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez he has not delved into anti-American rhetoric and has maintained good relations with the United States.

While the days of the Tonton Macoute might be over there is still significant political violence in Haiti. UN peacekeepers have been present in Haiti since 2004 following the ouster of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide. The UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti is set to expire in October although I would be surprised if it wasn't extended under the circumstances. The blue helmets are largely Brazilian of whch at least several of whom were amongst the dead yesterday.

This morning President Obama made this statement regarding the situation in Haiti. The U.S. Agency for International Development is overseeing relief efforts on behalf of the federal government.

I am sure that Americans will also assist with this relief effort whether acting as volunteers or by contributing financially as our citizenry has in past natural disasters such as the 2004 Tsunami. If you are interested in assisting this effort but are unsure about which organization to send donations then I would suggest consulting Charity Navigator.

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