Like many people throughout the world, I have looked on with a heavy heart at the plight of Haiti. Anything an individual can do seems insignificant in face of the challenges, but do things and give and give we must. I’ve read the latest reports that rebuilding Haiti will take $14 billion, says the Inter-American Development Bank. According to the BBC, aid pledged by governments, agencies, organizations and individuals is approaching $1.8 billion. The American Red Cross reported that as of Feb.10, it had received $255 million for Haiti relief and recovery efforts. Two billion against 14. The size of the Haitian economy is only $10 billion a year. This amounts to a massive shortfall.
The IADB study says that the Haitian earthquake is likely to be the most destructive natural disaster in modern times, when viewed in relation to the size of the Haiti's population and its economy – much more destructive than the Indonesian Tsunami of 2004, and causing five times more deaths per million inhabitants than the second-ranking natural killer, the 1972 earthquake in Nicaragua.
Before the earthquake Haiti was the Western Hemisphere’s poorest country. Once, according to the Guardian,”Haiti had been the world's richest colony, providing half the globe's sugar and other exports including coffee, cotton, hardwood and indigo that exceeded the value of everything produced in the US in 1788. However, by the early 1780s, half of Haiti's forests were gone, leading to the devastating erosion and extreme poverty that bedevils the country today.”
The Guardian continues: “In 1825, crippled by a US-led international embargo that was enforced by French warships, Haiti agreed to pay France 150m francs in compensation for the lost "property" – including slaves – of French plantation owners. By comparison, France sold the US its immensely larger Louisiana Territory in 1803 for just 60m francs. The amount for Haiti was later lowered to 90m gold francs. Haiti did not finish paying the debilitating debt – which was swollen by massive interest payments to French and American banks – until 1947.”
In the 122 years it took Haiti – the world's first black republic and the only nation born of a slave revolt – to pay off the debt to France, the principal and interest had reached $21 billion. President Jean-Bertrand Aristide had commenced a reparations and restitution campaign, but was ousted in a coup.
On a visit to Haiti last week, French President Nicolas Sarkozy promised €230m in aid for Haiti, canceled the island's debt of €56m, and acknowledged wounds of France's brutal colonization. This is a start but a drop in the bucket compared to what France and other nations have extracted from Haiti over the centuries.
In a somewhat bitter irony, Bloomberg and others have reported that the earthquake may have opened up oil deposits that have been long speculated to be under Haiti.
My hope is that governments do the right thing by Haiti and its people, instead of ripping them off like they have for centuries. In the meantime, give give give – to UNICEF, American Red Cross, International Committee of the Red Cross, Oxfam, Médecins Sans Frontières, World Vision, Mercy Corps, your Church.