FEBRUARY 12, 2010 5:06PM
Haiti: Where "helping" doesn't always help
...With starvation looming, you might think that Haitian earthquake victims need all the assistance they can get. And yet, as Bryan Schaaf from Haiti Innovation pointed out just before the January 12 earthquake, Haiti’s chronic nutrition crisis is not due to a lack of food but (among other problems) to a lack of cash. Swamping the decrepit Haitian market with donated foodstuffs actually damages the country’s food security even further by encouraging Haitians to keep planting specialty crops such as vanilla and coffee for export while allowing their own staple food production and natural environment to go to ruin.
If anything, when it comes to food the developed world has been “helping” Haiti far too much in recent decades, treating it as if it were still a white-owned colony. Schaaf notes: “While I lived in Haiti for two and a half years, it is plausible that I did not have a single bowl of Haitian rice. Haiti was once capable of meeting its own internal demand for rice, although now the markets have become flooded with (often heavily subsidized) rice from the United States, Japan, Argentina, Japan, and so on.” All it takes is a bad harvest, a spike in inflation, or – in this case – yet another natural disaster to send Haitians into starvation and total dependence on foreign handouts. Far better, Schaaf concludes, to donate cash to reputable foreign aid organizations such as the World Food Program and UNICEF, which can use part of the money to purchase immediate supplies and then invest the rest in long-term redevelopment programs such as infrastructure and soil conservation...