Friday, November 05, 2010

Haiti is suffering and we are not responding adequately

Ten months ago an earthquake in Haiti killed an estimated 240,000 people and left one million more homeless. More recently cholera has broken out in a portion of the country, with 440 deaths so far; not only is the epidemic not controlled but there is fear that it will get into other camps and into the capitol, Port au Prince. A tropical storm hit yesterday flooding parts of the southwest of the country, leaving tens of thousands as refugees.

The United States apparently has provided $1.1 billion in immediate disaster relief. Almost another $1 billion was promised months ago, but has not yet arrived. Part of the problem apparently was that while the Congress quickly passed the appropriation legislation, it took longer to pass the authorization legislation. Part of the problem apparently is that the State Department is taking a while to get the appropriated and authorized money to Haiti. Senator Kerry has introduced legislation to add another half billion dollars to the aid, but Republican Senator Tom Coburn is holding up that legislation.

In the meantime a million people are suffering, living in makeshift camps, unemployed, with terrible health conditions. $2.6 billion seems like a lot of money, but it is $2,600 per refugee. If it takes 26 months to get a handle on the refugee problem (and it has been ten months already) that will be $100 per month per person. That does not buy much food, much clean water, much hygiene, nor much medical attention even in Haiti. Moreover, a lot of that money does not go directly to benefit the Haitian refugees, but is spent in getting the aid to them (e.g. for American aid workers and Haitian intermediaries). The longer it takes to solve the problems, the less ultimate benefit the money is likely to bring.

It is time to get going and help Haiti more now! The American public would want that to happen if they were keeping up with the magnitude of the problem. Haiti is off our shore, and we are the natural source of humanitarian aid for the country.  Many of the long term problems of Haiti are at least partially due to a couple of centuries of bad U.S. policies toward Haiti.

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