How is Haiti doing?

I haven’t thought too much about Haiti since a 2010 trip down toward the earthquake-stricken zone. How is the country doing? I’m halfway through Haiti After the Earthquake┬áby Paul Farmer, one of Boston’s local heroes.

So far (in the book), the news doesn’t seem to be good. Farmer describes his hostility toward companies that ran factories there in the 1980s and paid what he considered to be unfairly low wages. He had similar complaints about the tourism industry. By the time of the quake, the factories had moved to Asia and tourism had shut down, but no high-wage employers came in to replace these industries. Farmer also attributes Haiti’s poverty to “unfair trade practices” by the U.S. but doesn’t explain what these are (perhaps our tariffs on agricultural products and subsidies for domestic agriculture?).

Foreign aid doesn’t seem to work out that well for Haiti. Farmer describes food aid programs that devastate the local agricultural economy, a U.N. group that keeps massive shipping containers on a hillside before a pre-quake hurricane (they wash into a river, smash into a bridge, and bring down the bridge, thus cutting off a heavily populated portion of the country), and a U.N. group that brings cholera to Haiti. Even when foreigners show up to do something useful they tend to displace Haitians. Farmer describes American, European, and Israeli medical personnel showing up to work in Haitian hospitals and clinics after the quake. For every foreigner who shows up, a Haitian employee leaves to check up on/assist his or her family. Farmer describes the earthquake as having been devastating to Haiti’s central government, with most of their ministry buildings flattened. He complains that foreign aid goes to non-governmental organizations and/or is directly spent by foreign governments (e.g., the U.S. government paying its own military personnel) rather than being funneled through the Haitian government.

The CIA Factbook shows Haiti currently growing at a healthy 3.4 percent real rate (well above the population growth rate of 1.1 percent). Global Finance says that Haiti suffered a 5.5 percent reduction in GDP during 2010 but made it all back up in 2011. The Economist in 2013 said that things weren’t going as well as hoped. By the numbers it looks as though the earthquake resulted in two lost years of growth, which of course is bad but not nearly as bad as the number of years of growth lost in various countries that have had financial meltdowns.

Philip Greenspun’s Weblog

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