A few thoughts on Haiti

"Are you willing to be a by-stander who says nothing as Nero starts The Great Fire of Rome?"

- P. Sainath, 2006

I have been reading coverage on the issue of the recent devastating earthquake in Haiti over the last couple of days, just like many of you have. I have read the numerous calls for actions, donation, sympathy, consideration and concern that many of my friends, colleagues and compatriots have promoted. I have found myself also wondering why there is little or no discussion of it here in Dubai, but then also realizing that Dubai, and the Gulf, has its own worries to concern itself with and is not as close in proximity to Haiti as the United States (nor nearly as tied historically). Throughout all of this, I still keep finding myself being concerned, not merely for those who have lost their lives and been greatly affected already by this travesty, but for those who have yet to be affected.

In an effort to clearly state my condolences to those who have lost their lives, their families and the suffering nation of Haiti, I want to state that I am only writing about this because I thought it was important and an appropriate time to consider such a topic. I certainly do not want to seem opportunistic or as if I’m trying to divert attention away from the needs of the nation currently.

With that being said, I would like to take up the important issue of disaster relief aid being poured into Haiti.  In 2006, as a freshman at the University of Illinois, I was fortunate enough to attend a lecture where famed Indian journalist Palagummi Sainath spoke about famine, drought and suicide among Indian farmers, as a result of the global food market and insufferable pressures. As an opening to his talk, Mr. Sainath spoke about the fact that stock and investment prices soared after the tsunami that struck South-Asia in 2004. He posed an interesting question at the time, asking why it would be that stocks, investments and corporations would directly benefit from a natural disaster that killed and displaced so many. The answer he provided was humbling, at best. Mr. Sainath claimed that upon speaking to a friend of his in the investment industry, he realized that the benefits these investors were looking forward to and beginning to invest in preemptively were those they expected to trickle down from foreign relief aid. These investors realized that the world community would mobilize to come to the aid of those affected by the tsunami and provide millions of dollars in relief aid but ultimately, because of the way the system in India, Sri Lanka and elsewhere had been set up, the money would not go to help those in need, but instead would be used for the benefit of infrastructure and development in the corporate interests.

And this is the point that concerns me most about all the calls for foreign aid and relief that are being touted the world over for Haiti.  It makes me proud to hear about the money raised by the Red Cross’s text campaign, or by private corporations and individuals or the efforts of the American armed forces and government. But I am ultimately concerned about how this aid will be used by those in charge in Haiti. For now I think I’ll wait with guarded optimism to see if the efforts of the global community can really espouse local change. As Mr. Sainath has said himself in reference to Western Organizations, Capitalism and Socialism, “political opportunism and media management have provided the appearance of different choices and systems, without any meaningful changes in outcomes.”