Austin Bay

The recovery phase is a time of transition. The immediate shock of the disaster is fading, the timely distribution of supplies is reasonably certain, and, for the bulk of the population, basic survival needs are being met. However, sustaining this condition means critical local support infrastructure must begin to function at a minimal level.

Hasty repairs to transport and communications systems (e.g., roads, airfields, cell phone towers) and providing semi-permanent shelter (e.g., refugee centers) characterize the recovery phase. This has begun in Haiti.

Recovery, when support is sustained, should eventually lead to reconstruction, rebuilding old neighborhoods and building new ones. Developmental aid intends to build a better future than the past the disaster savaged. Reconstruction and development, when pursued wisely, involve improving human systems as well as improving infrastructure. They are, in some respects, the most difficult phases, for they move from immediate, definitive heroics to long-haul, squishy politics.

Haiti's endemic problems now become the problem. Haiti has limited natural resources. Take a look at the satellite photos -- the Haitian half of the island of Hispaniola is a moonscape of denuded hills and slope failures. In order to make charcoal, poor Haitians cut down their forests. That is fine with the Haitian elites. The wealthy have the cash to import fuel and build grand villas in Petionville (way up the hill from Port au Prince).

Should 60 percent of Haiti's political class be in jail? Does that sound outrageous? Okay, 70 percent may be a better figure. Haiti's corrupt political class entwines with its business class, and the result is a kleptocracy. Kleptocracies don't enforce building codes. Kleptocrats let their corrupt pals make chalky concrete. When the earthquake strikes, hundred of thousands of people die due to poverty and corruption.

The systemic lack of governmental accountability in Haiti steals Haiti's future.

The U.S. military will be pulling out in the next six months. Fifteen years ago in a column addressing the Clinton administration's efforts in Haiti, I wrote that a developmental aid program that genuinely addresses Haiti's problems would take somewhere between 30 and 50 years to implement. Given the continuing corruption, three to five decades still sounds about right.


Austin Bay

Austin Bay is the author of three novels. His third novel, The Wrong Side of Brightness, was published by Putnam/Jove in June 2003. He has also co-authored four non-fiction books, to include A Quick and Dirty Guide to War: Third Edition (with James Dunnigan, Morrow, 1996).
 
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