Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Haiti reconstruction

Since a long time Haiti was, and after the earthquake even more so, an in-functional state. The great tragedy of this quake is that it affected mainly the more “affluent” people, those who where able to afford concrete houses, meaning that a large number of educated and skilled people who kept the little bit of economic activity going have been lost.

After the initial shock now begins the squabble of rebuilding, with many diverging interests and opinions.

One can discern two diverging attitudes:

The politically correct one, that one should respect the sovereignty of the haitian government to make the decisions, and on the other hand those who feel that Haiti should be placed under international governance for the next two decades until they can stand again on their own feet (I certainly favor the second opinion, which is also shared by many Haitians!)

The present state of utter destruction of the national infrastructure could be a golden opportunity to attempt to create a viable society, without reverting to decadent capitalist or socialist models.

Had I a say, the following would be my favored steps:

    1. Rebuild the basic infrastructure.

    2. Initiate a universal Identification system.

    3. Provide a universal unconditional minimum income of USD700.00 / year per person, including educational and healthcare vouchers, redeemable by independent schools and caregivers.

      (With todays electronic credit card systems this should be feasible). The needed USD8,000 millions would initially be funded by the international community, later replaced by the national economy financed through a Value Added Tax and land lease fee income. This could be the most effective way to get the economy going, benefiting the population in its entirety.

    4. Encourage and protect small and medium size sustainable agriculture. Farmers need a fair price for their produce, this will discourage migrations to the cities and give an incentive for many to return to the land.

    5. Introduce a major land reform, and making the vast presently un-utilized fertile plains available to farmers. Land should not be treated as commodity but be made available on a lease hold basis.

    6. Initiate a serious reforestation program.

Well, I will keep dreaming and add many more points!

Monday, February 8, 2010

Haiti Earthquake

Jan. 22, 2010

On January 12th at 5.00PM, while in our office sitting at my desk, at once there was the feeling of being on a large ship, looking out of the window the impression was of a wide swaying. Some people thought they where having a nauseous spell, until somebody called “earthquake” (that nauseous feeling indeed lingered on for quite a few hours) and we got out of the building.

This was our experience of the earthquake that hit nearby Haiti with such devastating force, the epicenter only 200km west of us.

The terrible news coming in of the enormous devastation destroying a major city with over 200,000 dead and thousands maimed cast a heavy spell over everybody for several days. The inability to call friends and family (we have many Haitian coworkers on the finca) and the uncertainty of them being alive was depressing. Several workers who had family in port au Prince took off to find and help their relatives.

As we are located on the main artery to Haiti, all the relief traffic passes in front of our door day and night, or by helicopters over our heads, so that Haiti is continuously on our mind. I also had to think of the destroyed Hotel Montana and the State University where so many perished, the places I have stayed many times during conferences on organic agriculture.

The son of farmer friends in New York state, Ben Dobson (an organic farmer himself) arrived the day after the quake to search for his Haitian spouse and child who where visiting their family, he was very lucky and resourceful, he found a fast ride with a dominican ambulance, entering the city through back-roads and already next evening we where able to pick him up near the border with wife and child unscathed. Their experiences of that drive where harrowing, witnessing countless dead bodies lining the sidewalks. He made a trip back next day to the border delivering a pickup truck full of food and water supplies for the relatives.

Subsequently we received the visit of the french emergency rescue team (the father of our daughter in law a physician was part of the team) on their return from Jacmel (4,000 corpses where buried there in a mass-grave) their first moment of relaxation after two weeks of grueling work.

To get there they where flown by the Dominican military to the port of Pedrenales where they boarded a ship of the marine who brought them directly to Jaquemel. They made the international news by rescuing alive a 23 day's old baby who was buried for 8 days!

Next we will receive a team of waldorf teachers with a physician and a nurse, focusing on trauma recovery of orphaned children, they had previous experiences in Gaza, China and Indonesia. We are facilitating the local logistics and food supplies for their work in Haiti: www.freunde-waldorf.de

We got many requests from friends and acquaintances abroad for advise how to assist the victims, and our recommendation is to financially support known organizations who have a good and long record of working in Haiti. Our favored are a large orphanage run by “Father Marc” with over 600 orphans in Les Cayes: www.Freethekids.org, and a very successful health-care initiative founded by Dr. Paul Farmer: www.pih.org

The compassionate and warmhearted reaction of the Dominican people was astounding, considering their own poverty and the historically somewhat antagonistic relationship between those two nations. Following the lead of President Leonel Fernandez who immediately visited his homologue in the devastated city there was a enormous outpouring of help, people donating food, water and clothing. They where the first to arrive with emergency aid and bringing heavy equipment for rescue operations, and making all their hospitals available.

Hopefully this experience will have a lasting effect in improving the relationship between the two countries. This earthquake will have a profound social and economic impact on the whole island, for the better or the worse. The migration pressure of undocumented haitians will certainly increase, even assuming that international reconstruction efforts will succeed.