Monday, January 18, 2010


January 18, 2010

It is hard to know what to say about Haiti, except that compassion requires response in some way shape or form. At All Saints’ we are encouraging donations through Episcopal Relief and Development. You can access this through the front page of our website or here.

I was struck by David Brooks recent article in the New York Times claiming that the issue in Haiti is poverty rather than simple natural disaster. He compared the 67 deaths of an earthquake of equal severity on the Richter scale in San Francisco in 1989 with the thousands upon thousands of the Haiti disaster concluding that the difference was poverty rather than anything else. In the US we could afford buildings that had steel rods in the concrete and cinderblock. In Haiti that was not standard. I am not going the route of some who like to blame the victims for their distress. At the same time we do not seem to know how to assist such places in economic development. The neighboring Dominican Republic appears to be in much better shape by any measurement. How can widespread corruption in Haiti not be one factor in the difference? Money by itself is not the answer. If that were the case then all the money sent home by Haitians living in the US and all the aid over the years would have made some sort of difference to the system. Surely change must come from within or possibly from people well and truly embedded, trusted partners in and for the long haul.

Haiti is the largest diocese of The Episcopal Church in terms of numbers of people. Why can we not serve as such trusted partners? What would make the difference?

1 comment:

James said...

Of course Brooks was right in acknowledging that the crushing poverty of Haiti made things all the worse.

In considering our (the EC and other Christian churches and charities) development aid I have not seen a realistic appraisal of the cause of the poverty. All too often the blame seems to go back to colonialism or capitalism, but the former colonies which have embraced representative government, free markets and rule of law, have prospered. Furthermore, Haiti has been at least nominally independent for more than two hundred years. I think that next to the US it is the oldest independent nation in the Western Hemisphere, but it's poverty has been so great that it has not been able to assert itself in a way that has been healthy for its people or the world community.

I am not pointing these things out to blame to the Haitian people, nor citizens of other direly poor countries, but rather the people who have ruled them. All too many poverty stricken countries are ruled by thugs of one stripe or another who are able to view the poverty of their people as 1. not their problem, and 2. as an opportunity for international aid that can enrich themselves and the ruling elite. It would be instructive to see how many dollars of aid are stashed in Swiss bank accounts of various third world rulers.
That fact brings up the difficult question in Christian development schemes of how can you help the people without enriching the people whose misrule keeps them in poverty. The more that foreign governments, NGOs charities and churches pour into a country, the less the recipient government has to do on its own and has additional opportunities to loot the intended beneficiaries.

It seems analagous in some way to the decision that All Saints made when we recognized that the night shelter was simply an enabler of self destructive behavior and made the switch to the Covenant Community which requires the recipient of the aid to take responsibility for his life and recovery.

Of course, in foreign aid the recipients can usually do little or nothing to change the behavior of thier rulers, hence their continued poverty.

How this idea could be adapted to Christian development aid (not emergency help as needed now in Haiti)is a very thorny one that I have not seen addressed publicly by the EC, although it surely must be part of the considerations of churches and charities. Perhaps you could point me in a direction where I might find an answer.

I appolgize for this long comment, but your post brought this issue up in a way that I could discuss it. It has been a concern of mine for many years, but I have never spoken to anyone about it before. What do you suggest?

James Marshall