Haiti – “A Real Motha For Ya!”

Don’t know if Mr Nicholas D. Kristof over at the NY Times will ever read this – but here goes…

Haiti, Nearly a Year Later

Ultimately what Haiti most needs isn’t so much aid, but trade. Aid accounts for half of Haiti’s economy, and remittances for another quarter — and that’s a path to nowhere.

The United States has approved trade preferences that have already created 6,000 jobs in the garment sector in Haiti, and several big South Korean companies are now planning to open their own factories, creating perhaps another 130,000 jobs.

“Sweatshops,” Americans may be thinking. “Jobs,” Haitians are thinking, and nothing would be more transformative for the country.

Let’s send in doctors to save people from cholera. Let’s send in aid workers to build sustainable sanitation and water systems to help people help themselves. Let’s help educate Haitian children and improve the port so that it can become an exporter. But, above all, let’s send in business investors to create jobs.

Mr. Kristof  – I have been working on various projects in, and for Haiti now for 10 months. I have been there a number of times to meet and work with Haitian officials. By and large I have had the same experience with the Haitian people as one of your commenters, CK (#46), who said:

These are an entrepreneurial, industrious people. However, I can tell you that individuals can’t clear the rubble in any reasonable time frame. I spent 4 hours with 200 people trying to clear out the rubble in one large, collapsed building. We were in lines of 4 passing down the bricks and stones. We didn’t finish. An excavator and dump truck could have done the job in 30 minutes. No one was being paid for that work, and given the workload of day-to-day survival, I think that most people can understand that clearing by hand for nothing that brings clean water and food to families isn’t particularly viable. Though plenty of people are trying…

To be honest – seeing the Haitian people’s perspicacity on my first trip there reduced me to tears.

Your idea to “send in investors” is a good idea…

Except for one little thing.

To create any sort of modern business in Haiti (or anywhere else in the world today) you need functional infrastructure. I mean in terms of the United States and other first world countries it isn’t asking for much to have reliable electricity, clean water, high speed communications, passable roads, specialized facilities, and a large cadre of educated people.

Haiti has none of those in adequate supply. Which means few investors.

You are right that simply sending in doctors, food, and aid isn’t going to ultimately result in creating a better country…

But it keeps people alive until those of us working on building the infrastructure can get the core stuff done from which some sort of economy can be leveraged. And no, Mr. Kristof – you don’t build a septic plant handling 2.5 million people in two months… Or even 12 months. Or power plants, or an electric grid, or an internet backbone, or marine ports, or airports. Some of these projects are on the scale of years.

You don’t train 5 million illiterate people to be Rocket Scientists in 6 months.

Ain’t that a “Real Motha For Ya!

It’s going to take 5-10 years… Maybe more.

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One Response

  1. Great commentary. You are right on the basic infrastructure needs. But Haiti or any third-world country will just need a basic fundamental plan. Basically, Americans have to understand that progress will not happen over night.(Iraq) Finally, this could be a great rehabilitation project for the Obama administration, slowly reviving the U.S. as a beacon of hope.

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