Aftershock Doctrine

More than two weeks after Haiti plunged into chaos, the country has yet to fathom the intensity of anguish and poverty that has befallen its people. The death toll possibly stands at 250,000, including Warwick student and peacekeeper Li Xiaoming. But this doesn’t account for the possible 250,000 more injured, the 3 million more in need of aid, and the 1 million homeless. A dim light does shine over the stricken Haiti as the profound generosity from the global community continues to grow. Obama has commanded the way, deploying over 15,000 troops and marines. Global aid has added up to almost $1 billion.

But the case of Haiti is a difficult one. The country’s establishment was weak before the quake and the government has been rendered useless in its attempt to lead the relief effort; René Préval and his cabinet have resorted to meeting in a police station daily.

The devastation of the capital, Port-au-Prince, has resulted in the loss of necessary people and infrastructure within the administration and the UN, which has attempted to build a state in Haiti since 2004. The 49 UN personnel confirmed dead included Hédi Annabi, the mission chief, and his Brazilian deputy. Another 300 UN staff are still unaccounted for. This has made it very hard to get aid to the people who need it. Transport links which aid agencies have relied on are shattered and co-ordinating this whole operation has been painfully slow. A week after the earthquake, only 200,000 people had been distributed with food by the UN.

The US’s contribution has been generous; perhaps startling. The stream of troops and aircrafts into the country resembled an invasion, but the majority of Haitians welcomed the Americans with open arms. Taking control of the airport meant initial priority for US flights, but now the number of planes landing has trebled since before the disaster. Even though French planes carrying 85 tonnes of medical supplies were diverted, Nicolas Sarkozy has praised US efforts. Setting up a supply chain was the most crucial task, and one which the Americans are handling well. The UN has taken charge of organizing the effort and has implemented a rational division of duties among the forces, with security being overlooked by the 800 strong Brazilian-led UN peacekeepers.

The people need food, water, shelter and basic necessities. Looting and general crime has not been widespread so far. It is the deferral and disorder that has killed those that could have been saved.

The questions Haiti face regarding the rebuilding of their country may seem untimely given the current turmoil, but they urgently need answering. Long-term strategies must be outlined soon; already the withstanding response of Haitians in forming refugee camps around Port-au-Prince will be difficult to get rid of. The country was already poor and aid-dependant. The UN has said they are pushing to build a better Haiti, but these words need to have some substance.

Perhaps Naomi Klein’s ‘The Shock Doctrine’ offers some answers. Winner of the Warwick Prize for Writing 2009, she explains that free market policies have been forced on some nations while their citizens react to turmoil and disasters. She develops the idea that those who use this doctrine seek a blank slate on which to create their capitalist economy. In Haiti’s case, the earthquake provided this blank slate. Now the UN and ad hoc states have the ‘perfect’ starting point to implement their strategies. But perhaps this idea is too harsh. It is hard to believe UN or anyone else willed such a disaster for the benefit of a shock doctrine. But maybe they can now build a more stable state in the long run if carefully co-ordinated plans are put in place.

There was actually a plan for investment, drawn up by the government and presented in 2009. It outlined investment on healthcare, education, infrastructure and agriculture, aiming to make farmers more productive. The Haitian government is not in a position to lead this, but the pressing matter is what authority should to implement these proposals? One suggestion is that a provisional development agency with extensive and influential control should be set-up under the management of the UN and its special envoy to the region, Bill Clinton.

This challenges fundamental democracy, some would argue. But anyone standing in Port-au-Prince today would say there is not much left to destabilize. If it is successful, it could perhaps create a state that is active in rebuilding the country rather than one, which allows disorder to reign freely.


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