Another disaster in Haiti: we name the guilty parties
- Haiti Support Group press release, 21 September 2004
<b><p>So far the total number of fatalities caused by the recent heavy rains and flash-floods in north-west Haiti stands at around 600, but the final tally is sure to be far higher.
This is the second major disaster this year, in addition to numerous other deadly but less well-reported floods. The news is terrible, but it is not enough to wring our hands and say 'poor Haiti'. Nor is it sufficient to call on the international community to provide more and better humanitarian relief. We must look at the reasons why Haiti is prone to these catastrophes.
Both the flash-floods in the south-east in May, and now these in the north-west, are a direct consequence of the over-farming and deforestation of the country's hills and mountainsides. When heavy rain falls, the water cannot be absorbed, and instead cascades down valleys and ravines, sweeping away anything and anybody it its path.
The problems of soil-erosion and deforestation are well-known, and so is the only possible remedy - land reform. Yet over the course of almost three decades, the country's economic policy has been dictated by international finance institutions, such as the World Bank, the IMF and the Inter-American Development Bank, and not only has land reform never appeared on their agenda, but no national government that has proposed it has received any encouragement to carry it out.
Instead, successive governments have been obliged to carry out neo-liberal economic policies which give no priority to the countryside whatsoever, even though some two-thirds of the population live there.
Billions and billions in international aid has been lent to Haitian governments,
but the focus has remained on governance, security, elections and support for the private sector. Next to nothing has been done to support the agricultural sector - no land reform, no subsidies for fertilisers or storage facilities, no reforestation campaign, no irrigation projects, no protection from cheaper imports, etc. etc.
Is it any wonder that Haiti's peasant farmers overwork their small plots, and cut down trees to raise cash from charcoal production?
Even now, after neo-liberal economic policies in Haiti have been shown to have failed over and over again, the current government - with the support of the international finance institutions and the European Commission - is continuing to ignore the needs of the rural population. At the international donors' conference in Washington DC. in July, yet again the focus was on support for the urban private sector.
The attitude of the current interim government was summed up when, shortly after the May 2004 flood disaster, Prime Minister Gerard Latortue said perhaps the solution would be to employ former soldiers to shoot peasants found cutting down trees.
By, once more, doing everything to preserve the dominance of the country's immensely rich elite, and nothing to support the peasantry, the international community is complicit in the loss of life and misery caused by this, and future, natural disasters in Haiti.
Contact:: Charles Arthur - firstname.lastname@example.org
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Solidarity with the Haitian people's struggle for justice, participatory democracy and equitable development, since 1992.