Focus on Haiti

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.

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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.

2 thoughts on “Focus on Haiti

  1. This is a great tragedy and the loss of life will be great. We should all pray for the deceased, the suvivors and the relief efforts. My comments below may seem insensitive to some but it is based on experience.

    A pledge of $100M by Pres Obama (probably more to come) and the US military will bear a major portion of the relief, security, and probable long-term deployment (11,000 personnel by the end of this week) for this unlucky and poorly led country. There are some contingency funds but this will quickly be over-run. My past experience is that DoD acquisition program’s in a particular phase take hits to their current funding. I will not name which particular ones I suspect will get in-year cuts. Instead, I will generalize them. Programs which are not critical to the current prosecution of the war on terror are probably safe. Programs which are primarily “Powerpoint engineering” will take hits. Programs in advanced testing but not yet reached production or with delayed/stretched out production and not in the warfighter hands could have some cut cuts. Programs in production should take no hits unless there are some product improvements which are only in the engineering design phase. In the 90’s, missile defense programs took hits to cover similar disasters. NASA/TVA efforts may also feel some pain. This is a very attractive way of covering the $100M plus.

    Will the administration print more money or borrow more money to cover the disaster and rebuilding efforts? The American public has nobly pledged much thru private donations. Congressman Griffith will be under the gun, especially since he recently switched parties. Timing is everything. Oh, I forgot, committee assignments…hmm.

    How will Huntsville/Madison/surrounding communities feel this? If you are unemployed or underemployed and that defense program (or perhaps NASA program or TVA program) you have been waiting for is cut…you will not get that position. This will then be felt by all the commercial interests in the community. Your donation is very personal and deep. Let’s see…cash for clunkers, cash for caulkers, cash for ABC… Also, how this community goes so goes the taxes to Montgomery.

    The task for Congressman Griffith is to get on the phone with our state’s senators, Alabama’s US House delegation, and our local programs civilian/military leadership. He must develop a battleplan for the coming cuts. If he does not do this, we will suffer considerably and he will lose his seat.

  2. It is very sobering to see piles of bodies being treated like trash, though they must get them in the ground before this endangers others.

    As we always do, and I feel we should in events like this, America comes to the rescue. We are the most charitible people in the world and I hope we never change, even if it is seldom appreciated. It is simply the right thing for a Christian nation to do.

    Let’s keep them in our prayers and give if you can.