Published January 11, 2011
When the 7.0-magnitude earthquake struck Haiti on January 12, 2010, at least 220,000 people lost their lives, and millions were displaced from their homes.
By the one-year anniversary of that humanitarian disaster, the American Red Cross, alone, expects to have spent and signed agreements to spend $245 million to meet the most pressing needs of earthquake survivors.
Hundreds of millions more dollars have poured in through government and nongovernmental aid. Former Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush have lent their names to a charitable relief effort. The question is: has it made a difference? Can Haiti be restored and if so, to what? What Haiti was before the hurricane was a nearly failed state with political corruption and a good deal of religious quackery.
An Associated Press story last year detailed the problem with housing which was difficult enough for the poor before the disaster, but is impossible now. The AP story told of Dominique Tombeau:
“Nine months after the schoolteacher's concrete home collapsed in front of his wife and 4-year-old son, the family and three in-laws are stuck under a plastic tarp that pours down water when it rains. All he wants is to move up, to a working man's apartment in the tree-lined suburb of Petionville. But every place he can even consider costs double or triple the $43 a month he used to pay in rent, even though he and everyone he knows has less money than ever.”
For Mr. Tombeau and untold thousands of others, Haiti’s housing market is in shambles. An estimated 110,000 homes and apartment buildings were destroyed, increasing demand and with demand, increasing prices for what little housing remains available. More than 1.5 million homeless people now compete for new ones at the bottom of the housing market. Demand for housing for foreigners from the United Nations and aid groups add to home price escalation.
The earthquake reduced the pool of available homes in Haiti. The result, according to the AP: “There are not enough houses, and not enough money for people to rent the ones still standing. More than 1.3 million Haitians live in squatter camps, facing disgruntled landowners and violent evictions, with no international or government plan to move or house them. The prices have everyone stuck.”
Few jobs, a damaged economy and infrastructure, little affordable housing for the poor and so many other challenges raise the question: is it worth it? Can any amount of aid and aid workers “fix” Haiti’s endemic problems?
It would seem from history and recent observation that the answer is “no.”
Several weeks after the earthquake I wrote on this Foxnews.com web page that the only “solution” would seem to be sending Haitians to other countries where they might assimilate into established and stronger cultures. These could be French-speaking nations so that language would not be a problem. Displaced Haitians would receive education and be taught life survival skills in order to function in a new environment. Wouldn’t governmental and charitable money be better spent on such a goal, rather than continuing to pour it down a bottomless pit each time a disaster strikes the island?
Charity and government aid have not helped Haiti help itself. At some point it would seem prudent to ask whether more of the same type of help will produce anything better than more of the same results. Dumping more money and effort into a failed state when it doesn’t substantially improve conditions is foolish and wasteful. Perhaps a referendum could be held and Haitians asked to make some choices.
Would they prefer to:
1) Remain in Haiti with conditions as they are, or not much better, for years to come?
2) Move to another country where they would be taught basic skills, receive an education and have an opportunity to better themselves and their children?
There don’t seem to be many other choices given the history and structure of Haiti. Does anyone have any better ideas?
Cal Thomas is America's most widely syndicated newspaper columnist and a Fox News contributor.