Poor, pitiful Haiti. On top of all its other woes, its main population center was largely devastated on Jan. 12 by the 7.0 earthquake followed by multiple aftershocks. In terms of its impact on people, it's one of the worst natural disasters in modern times.
Estimates of casualties are 230,000 dead, 194,000 injured, 1 million homeless and 2 million needing food aid. In the capital, Port-au-Prince, 70 percent of the structures were destroyed; in the towns near the epicenter, 90 percent. Such great numbers are virtually impossible to comprehend.
The magnitude of death and destruction is not just the result of the magnitude of the earthquake. Equally strong earthquakes could strike modern, well-built cities with dense populations and skyscrapers with far less death and destruction. But Haiti was extremely vulnerable for many reasons, including its poverty, lack of planning and lack of enforced building codes.
Aid workers and supplies pouring in
Thankfully, aid has been flowing in from all over the world. Because of television and the Internet, people everywhere can at least partially grasp the reality and agony of death, injuries, infections, hunger and homelessness. The outpouring of sympathy and sacrifices for the Haitian people is truly inspiring.
But sadly, because of the overwhelming numbers of suffering people, aid has been inadequate. The landing, unloading and distribution of supplies after a major earthquake is always complicated and challenging, but it is a nightmare in Haiti because the country already had such a poor infrastructure—a lack of medical facilities and emergency supplies, port facilities, airports, good roads, transportation services, heavy equipment, dependable water and electricity, sewage and sanitation systems, telephone systems, police protection—the list goes on.
Haiti's government—and lack of government
Why is Haiti such a poor country? It's primarily due to Haiti's dismal history of oppressive government that has fostered a corrupt culture. If you read about the turbulent history of Haiti, you'll understand much of why Haiti is Haiti today.
Haiti got an early start. It was the second nation in the western hemisphere to win its independence (in 1804), the United States being first. But Haiti is the poorest nation in the hemisphere.
Haiti lacks natural resources, but so do Japan and Switzerland. Haiti shares the island of Hispaniola with the Dominican Republic, and yet the Dominicans have six times the gross domestic product.
Other nations have at times exploited Haiti; but more than that, other nations have generously come to its rescue time and time again. Before this earthquake, Haiti had 10,000 nongovernmental organizations working there, the highest rate per capita in the world. The Wall Street Journal noted Haiti had 10 times as much foreign aid as investment in 2007.
Haiti has been given many handouts of "fish," but the people need incentives to "catch fish." Yet Haiti's government has not been business-friendly—it has stifled free enterprise, neglected education and has not emphasized the work ethic.
High crime rates certainly intimidate would-be investors. The U.S. State Department's Web site posted this warning on Nov. 23, 2009: "There are no 'safe' areas in Haiti. Kidnapping, death threats, murders, drug-related shootouts, armed robberies, home break-ins and car-jacking are common in Haiti."
A column by economist Walter E. Williams, posted Jan. 20, points out: "The biggest reason for Haiti being one of the world's poorest countries is its restrictions on economic liberty… Authorization [for many foreign investments] requires bribing public officials… Its reputation as one of the world's most corrupt countries is a major impediment to doing business… Haitian President Rene Preval is not enthusiastic about free markets; his heroes are none other than the hemisphere's two brutal communist tyrants: Venezuela's Hugo Chavez and Cuba's Fidel Castro."
The Heritage Foundation's Index of Economic Freedom reveals that, because of burdensome regulations and bribery, starting a business in Haiti takes an average of 195 days, compared with the world average of 38 days.
Haiti's bright future!
Let us pray that the world's compassion, charity and commitment toward Haiti will not quickly wear thin. It will take weeks to nurse all the injured back to health and many years to reconstruct (better construct) Haiti.
But there is good news! Haiti will one day have good government—in fact, perfect government. Jesus Christ will return and set up His government, the Kingdom of God, over all the earth! Haiti and all the earth will have peace and prosperity! Read more about this promise in The Gospel of the Kingdom of God.