Here’s some background on Haiti, mostly from the CIA World Factbook, with many other sources used to round out the post.
Haiti comprises an area of 27,750 square kilometers, roughly 1/5 the size of Alabama. It is located on the western third of the island of Hispaniola, which it shares with the much more prosperous Dominican Republic. The population is about 9 million (half of whom are under 20 years old – people die before they’re 60). Alabama’s population is about 4.6 million people. The terrain is mountainous and almost half of the population lives in urban areas.
There are “inadequate supplies of potable water”, even though Haiti receives 54 inches average annual rainfall (Huntsville receives about 58 inches of rain annually). Haiti suffers from “extensive deforestation” of about 98% of the arable land (and “much of the remaining forested land is being cleared for agriculture and used as fuel”). The deforestation and poor agricultural practices contribute to soil erosion and desertification (imagine mountainous terrain like eastern Madison County devoid of trees and overflowing with sprawling cities of hungry people).
The risk of major infectious diseases is “high”: “bacterial and protozoal diarrhea, hepatitis A and E, and typhoid fever”, “dengue fever and malaria”, and “leptospirosis”.
Haiti’s GDP is about $7 billion; less than half of Huntsville’s GDP of about $16 billion. Natural resources include: “bauxite, copper, calcium carbonate, gold, marble, hydropower”. The US is Haiti’s largest trading partner (we buy 71% of their exports, they buy 34% of their imports from US). Haiti has 3.2 million cellphones. Haiti has 14 airports – 4 of them with paved runways. The only working Air Traffic Control tower in the country was destroyed by the earthquake. Haiti has 600 miles of paved roads and about 2,000 miles of unpaved roads.
“Haiti is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere with 80% of the population living under the poverty line and 54% in abject poverty. Two-thirds of all Haitians depend on the agricultural sector, mainly small-scale subsistence farming, and remain vulnerable to damage from frequent natural disasters, exacerbated by the country’s widespread deforestation”. To say there is widespread unemployment is an understatement: “more than two-thirds of the labor force do not have formal jobs”.
IMO the Government of Haiti is as deadly as the recent earthquake - the country has a history of dictatorship and socialist rule.
Haiti has a President, a Prime Minister (who selects the Cabinet), and a bicameral National Assembly. The leading political parties are the L’ESPWA (Front for Hope – an alliance composed of parties like ”Effort and Solidarity to Create an Alternative for the People”), FUSION (“Merging of Haitian Social Democratic Parties”), and OPL (“Struggling People’s Organization”). There are at least a dozen parties holding seats in the legislature (splitters).
Haiti’s national budget: “revenues: $967.5 million” and “expenditures: $1.162 billion”. Compare that to the City of Huntsville’s 2008 budget of about $285 million in revenue and $326 million in expenditures (it was a bad year for the City budget).
Haiti has “no regular military forces”, except for violent gangs usually associated with political groups. There are about 8,000 UN peacekeepers from the UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) who “maintain civil order in Haiti” (they’ve been accused of killing gang members along with the occasional civilian). Brazil contributes many of the MINUSTAH forces and the remainder are mostly troops from South American countries. The leader of the UN Mission, Tunisian Hedi Annabi, was killed in the recent earthquake (along with his deputy and much of the UN leadership in Haiti). There is “pervasive corruption” in the Government.
Haiti is a dangerous place.
The people of Haiti need help – give to the Red Cross or similar established charities.
But then, the people of Haiti needed help before this week’s earthquake. The place is a mess, and Haiti may become our long-term mess (as it has been for several times in history).
The US has the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson on station, along with an Amphibious Ready Group (LHD, LPD, and LSD plus escorts) and the 22d Marine Expeditionary Unit. These forces plan to be in Haiti for at least six months.