Commentators who noted Haiti’s lack of building standards failed to understand the situation. Nobody living on such slim res0urces can afford to consider building codes. Many Haitians live in shacks they have build from scrap materials, and anything that provides shelter is looked on as a good thing. Poverty is the real problem, and in Haiti there is no mechanism in place to change the situation. In fact, since the 1890’s the United States has stood by and allowed Haiti to wallow in poverty, perhaps in part because some U.S. corporations have benefited from the extremely cheap labor available there.
Widespread deforestation in Haiti is another result of the system of land ownership and long-standing class structure. That most buildings in the country were totally unprepared for the quake makes sense when you understand that real estate in Haiti is owned by a very small proportion of the population. This leaves the vast majority of people with little or no incentive to take good care of the land. Many if not most are squatters, living on whatever land they aren’t driven off of by authorities. People have no compunctions about cutting down trees for cooking or heating fuel since they don’t own the land, but have needs. As a result the country has become extremely deforested resulting in frequent mudslides and a severely damaged ecology.
Education is very poor in Haiti. Where the vast majority of people live on a dollar a day, few people are educated enough to understand how to build housing of decent quality, and just as few have access to good building materials. Beyond that, organizational and communication skills needed to deal with major disasters or even day-to-day business are lacking, existing only where they are developed spontaneously through experience or passed on by observation and word-of-mouth learning.
Haiti is not a lone case. While Haiti is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, there are more countries in the Eastern Hemisphere in a similar condition. As I have written in other entries here, natural disasters won’t reduce population significantly enough to mitigate the population explosion, especially in the poorest countries where per capita income is the least and population growth is the most rapid. Until such time as birthrates are reduced in the poorest countries and population begins to decline back towards a sustainable number there will be increasing numbers of increasingly severe disasters similar to the recent Haitian earthquake, and only education and assistance to reduce birthrates and establish sustainable economies will turn the trend around. It is up to us to demand long term thinking and the prioritization of the population problem from our leaders and representatives, and I urge you to be vocal, think creatively, and take action wherever possible to make a better world for our descendants.
As always, I welcome your comments.