The earthquake struck Haiti almost a year ago. We all saw the images. Death and destruction reigned; humans bowed to the might of nature.
And one year later, it hasn’t gotten any better. A cholera outbreak has surged in the capital of Port-au-Prince. According to Voice of America, approximately 270,000 people are expected to contract the disease. Poverty is still overwhelmingly the norm—most citizens must survive in slums and camps. Natural disasters, like the recent Hurricane Tomas, still ravage the nation, increasing the risk of infection and further compromising the country’s already fragile infrastructure.
But haven’t foreign countries distributed humanitarian aid to help alleviate all of this for years? Haven’t both non-governmental organizations and governments spent millions of dollars trying to jump-start Haiti post-earthquake? There seems to be a large discrepancy between the money we are spending and the results. What happened?
The reasons for the dragging recovery are numerous, but some are not as obvious as others. Take the Haitian health care system, for instance. Ironically, international health aid has actually hurt Haitians. Medical groups swooped in to assist immediately, spreading free health care to most of the population. Though this was necessary in the beginning and helped significantly in the short-term, the abundance of free health services damaged the Haitian health care system in the long-term. Haitian-run hospitals are few and far between, and Haitian doctors and nurses are out of work. Free foreign medical aid has diverted most patients, stealing them from the native Haitian health industry.
What the country needs instead is a national care system bolstered by humanitarian aid. No country can become sufficiently functional without a sound economy, and the health care system is the ideal place to start. Instead of perpetuating foreign influence on Haiti’s medical system, in effect damaging the productivity of the country’s own health industry, why not focus more on training native Haitians in performing medical procedures?
Not only does humanitarian aid need to be channeled towards a new health care system, it also needs to be directed into jobs, police forces, and businesses, to thrust Haiti into the global market and promote safety and capital for the nation. The facts, cited in Foreign Aid and Foreign Policy by Louis Picard, are startling: Unemployment rates range from 50 percent to 70 percent, and 95 percent of those who are employed work in an underground economy. The country’s private sector still consists mostly of farmers and microbusinesses. National politics are extremely unstable, and the Haitian government seems incapable of carrying out economic and social initiatives.
Sure, foreign countries are quick to distribute medical supplies, food, water, and other aid to help alleviate suffering when disaster strikes. But the seemingly perennial destitution of Haiti shows us that this somewhat generic humanitarian mindset doesn’t help in the long run. I hope the U. S. has learned from its past “adventures” abroad that a country will not become stable and rich unless it is able to sustain itself and its citizens are able to contribute substantially to maintain its sustenance. Let’s not make the same mistakes over and over again.
Suchin Gururangan is a first-year in the College.