January 30, 2010

Haiti's Grim Future

Worse than grim. How else to describe the future of the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere.

According to the CIA factbook, "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."

Haiti's population is 9 million. Nearly half the people over the age of 15 are illiterate. The data below with a comparison to Vermont exemplify the massive economic dilemma. The bottom line is that Haiti has practically no functioning economy. Unemployment (pre-earthquake) is estimated between 66%-70%.

PopulationGross Domestic ProductGDP/Capita
Haiti9.0 Million$9 Billion$1,300
Vermont0.62 Million$22 Billion$34,900

In 2008, four hurricanes further devastated the economy and the country. The recent earthquake killed upwards of 200,000 leaving ~1.5 million homeless (17% of the population). The human tragedy is beyond comprehension, but as heroic efforts to supply basic necessities continue, people are contemplating the future of the country. There are no easy answers for Haiti.

Key elements for a viable future include:

1. Western Hemisphere countries and beyond must come together with tens of billions in rebuilding aid which will be required for a decade or two at minimum. Moreover, rebuilding to meet basic needs for housing, health, education, jobs and industry must take into account item 2. below.

2. Decisions will be necessary about the future economy of Haiti. In its present condition, it's a failed state, economically and politically. Who will make the decisions about the country's viable future economy? Can it ever survive, let alone thrive, on its own? Must it become a ward of the U.N. for a generation or more? What are the likely mainstays underpinning a viable Haitian economy?

3. Literacy and learning are vital elements for any hope of success considering Haiti's decades of culture dominated by corruption, severe poverty and superstition.

4. Effective security and policing must be integral to building a culture of security and hope.

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