Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Haiti - Less help would have helped more

Haiti is ranked the most food-insecure country in the Western Hemisphere. Haiti now relies on food imports for 60 per cent of food consumption, including as much as 80 percent of all rice. Decades of farmland being used for mass export mono-crops like sugar, mangos and coffee leave less land for smaller scale self-sustenance farming.  In the wake of the 2010 earthquake that claimed the lives of up to 300,000 people, more than $10 billion was pledged by the international community. Of that, only about $4 billion has been allocated, but not all of it spent. And of the money that was allocated toward economic development, it tends to benefit the giver more than the receiver. 
"The best way to help someone is to listen to what they want," Prof. Yasmine Shamsie of Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo, Ont., says. "In Haiti, a little less help would be useful."

Caracol Industrial Park is a prime example. In 2012, then U.S. secretary of State Hillary Clinton — along with Bill Clinton, who was the UN special envoy to Haiti — oversaw the official opening of Caracol. The industrial park was financed by $224 million US in subsidies from mostly American partners. The biggest employer at the park is Sae-A, a Korean clothing manufacturer that supplies major U.S. retailers like Walmart, the Gap and Old Navy. But to get the industrial park open, 450 farmers who relied on the land for subsistence had to be removed from their fertile plots. Some were only given five days' notice before the bulldozers moved in to clear the land.  

Sae-A currently employs just over 5,000 factory workers — mostly women under age 30 — at minimum wage, which is roughly $5 US per day. Chérestal says a living wage that would provide three square meals a day in Haiti would be at least double that. "People take these jobs because there are no other options," says Chérestal, who points out that many employees don't last more than a year or two. Some of the women she spoke to, took the job out of desperation. "This is not a job to lift themselves out of poverty. It's just a job that is allowing them to survive right now."
The entire Caracol Industrial Park currently employs 5,500 people — far short of the original goal (the factory zone was estimated to provide upward of 60,000 jobs.)

PhD graduate Marylynn Steckley spent nearly six years with her young family living in Haiti, both as an aid worker and as a researcher. "I'm now struggling to see what the good ways of helping are," Steckley says. "Wealthy nations continue to cause disaster, poverty in Haiti. And the path to understanding is looking at how we contribute to that destruction." She explains "Caracol is a prime example of bad help. The interests of the market, the interest of foreigners are prioritized over the majority of people who are impoverished in Haiti. The idea is that Haitian employees continue to make very minimum wages that barely provide for their subsistence while foreign companies extract the profits from their labour."

Haitian activist Harry Nicolas, who for decades has promoted local food production in the country as a solution to food insecurity. "We need to resolve our own problems," Nicolas says. "I would one day like to see a Haitian give aid to a foreigner." There is a domino effect triggered by import-dependence, Nicolas says. "Haiti is a small country that doesn't have a responsible state that can control what comes in. So we are all exposed to whatever comes in, and its foreigners making money. And imported food discourages Haitians from planting."




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