Hurricane Matthew, Perpetual Poverty, and Haiti: Rethinking Humanitarian Assistance
Hurricane Matthew was a powerful storm that has caused billions in damage and cost dozens of US citizens their lives. As painful as Hurricane Matthew has been for the United States, the perpetually impoverished nation of Haiti faces far more dire circumstances. Still struggling to overcome the devastation of the 2010 Haitian Earthquake and a legacy of economic despair, Haitians fear a return of the cholera epidemic that was introduced by UN Aid Workers. With the UN already asking for $120 million in donations to help rebuild the Island, the initial death toll in Haiti is expected to surpass 1,000, which is a powerful reminder that poverty and natural disasters are a particularly lethal combination.
Unfortunately, this story is a familiarly one from Haiti and it is a story that will continue to arise after every natural disaster, until something is done to change the fate of the Haitian People. On Tuesday, January 12, 2010, the worst earthquake in two centuries to hit Haiti brought the world together in an effort to alleviate the suffering of some of the most desperate humans on this planet. Regrettably, billions of dollars in foreign aid failed to translate into a full recovery, despite the Caribbean Island's status as the West's favorite charity case. Recognizing humanitarian disasters, such as the Syrian Civil War and the Syrian Refugee Crisis, have created an overwhelming need for humanitarian aid, countries like Haiti need to overcome their reliance on international interventions before their plights become far more hopeless.
The world has not been very successful with all the billions of dollars in aid dedicated to places like Haiti. The Peoples of the developed world are inherently investors who we like to push forward with an innovative spirit and aspirations for a brighter future. Unfortunately, we are rather poor investors when it comes to humanitarian aid and global social investments. Although Haiti has seen periods of recovery, failure has been a constant companion. In part, these failures stem from expectations that are far too unrealistic. Most likely to blame is our tendency to inconsistently support endeavors and simply throw a lot of money at problems. We have been more likely to pay for things like schools than to fund the removal of rubble crowding the streets of Port-au-Prince.
In addition, our definition of poverty is ill-defined and radically different than what actually counts as a lack of viable living conditions. Accordingly, we expect impoverished nations to rapidly grow into little Americas and Europes when we extend humanitarian aid to those in need. In fact, we often look to our own past to tailor their economic recoveries to our image of success, instead of developing a plan that specifically addresses their needs with resources available to them. When they fail to meet our expectations, we then leave them until we are later forced to come back, which is, once again, happening in Haiti.
Jobs exist, because employers have work that needs done and they have the money to pay workers. In turn, businesses exist, because consumers, with sufficient incomes, demand the services and products of those businesses. In an economically dysfunctional environment, adequate demand does not exist, demand is addressed by outside labor, i.e. outsourcing, imports, nationally sourced businesses etc, and/or the interests of the employees are not balanced with those of the employers, e.g. too low of wages. As poverty is often a geographical problem, the solution to addressing poverty and ending dependency on government support must revolve around fixing the growing number of economically suppressed regions, such as Port-au-Prince.
Unfortunately, the economies of the world have been engineered to cater to global interests by creating a lower bidder economy where cost-cutting measures, including suppressed wages, tax cuts, etc, are prioritized. Instead of building national economies to serve the needs of the People first, then using the excesses of the local and national economies to participant in the national and global economies, economies are designed to enrich the few living in concentrated areas of the world. That said, simply cutting people off from social welfare programs and humanitarian aid will not make the need go away. Doing so will damage the economy by decreasing demand for basic goods and services of the business that do exist while driving people to crime.
Regrettably, those who push a nuclear option for social welfare spending also tend to support “market solutions” that erroneously assume incentivizing the poor to get jobs and increasing demand for jobs by cutting the safety net will somehow lead to job creation. Because job seekers are not job creators, the problems of the unemployed and impoverished employed cannot be solved by some “rationale choice” model that is used to justify punishing the poor and avoiding the problem. Poverty must be solved by fostering sufficient business and job creation.
Due to globalization and radical improvements in efficiencies for the manufacturing sector, as well as other industries, brought on by rapid technological advances, jobs have become an increasingly limited resource, especially since new industries are not producing the well-paying jobs we need. It is jobs that allow us to disperse wealth and keep economies going. Regrettably, well-paying jobs for an expanding population in the United States and elsewhere have not been generated by economic growth while traditional jobs have been outsourced or eliminated.
The US economy is two-thirds spending and service industry jobs are not necessarily well paying. This means the globalized job market has turned the need for gainful employment into a zero-sum game. As economic disparity grows in the US and other Western nations, the ability to subsidize poorer nations in crisis is diminishing. Consequently, nations like Haiti cannot simply survive on the low level outsourced labor spun off from US over-consumption. This means the US needs new industries with better economic opportunities for more people while countries like Haiti must build industries tailored to their needs and capacities for both the International Community and their people. It is here where innovative and technological firms are essential.
Until dysfunctional environmental factors are addressed through better tax, trade, and economic policies across the globe, poverty will, however, remain a persistent problem that only a minority can overcome by seeking education and moving to regions that are more prosperous. On the other hand, the dysfunctional behavior of individuals also contributes to poverty. The word choice, for example, is a powerful term, which can be grossly misleading and is not well understood by the advantaged, who often use it as an excuse to avoid their positional responsibilities as social leaders.
People of privileged backgrounds have the ability to make near instant and direct choices; whereas, the less affluent must correctly make a series of smaller choices to achieve the end result of the one choice that the more affluent individuals had the opportunity to make. Because choices cost in terms of resources, including money, time, missed opportunities, energy, and emotion, the disempowered can quickly become exhausted when dealing with seemingly minor barriers. In other words, the poor are essentially set up to fail by their circumstances and the effect those circumstances have had on them, thus they will most likely fail.
Unfortunately, the views of the higher socioeconomic classes on poverty are built on a series of intellectual exercises, thus they understand economic disenfranchisement only in pieces and lack the intuitive understanding needed to offer a comprehensive vision of how to address the issues of those who are limited by their circumstances and the thinking their circumstances instill. As such, the Middle Class and affluent do not comprehend the psychological of the disadvantaged and disenfranchised well enough to comprehend the limitations the growing poor classes must overcome. This means they alone cannot develop solutions that actually address these roadblocks, which includes roadblocks that seem trivial to the more advantaged.
Furthermore, the destitution and impoverished do not necessarily know how to intellectualize the limitations and psychological issues that come from their circumstances. That is, they do not know how to explain what they intuitively know to be their needs in terms that would allow them to help policymakers develop effective anti-poverty strategies. After all, the poor tend not to be adequately trained in law, economics, accounting, business, psychology, etc. Even if they do have a grasp of these subjects, they likely lack the resources and opportunities to overcome seemingly nonsensical barriers to in order to simply voice their views.
From bad habits to mental health issues, poverty both results from dysfunctional behavior and encourages dysfunctional behavior. Certainly, education can help people learn to be more functional, which is something schools and colleges often do, but emotional and psychological issues must be addressed as well. This is not to say the poor should be criticized to death for all of their quirks and offensive behaviors. After all, overanalyzing simply overwhelms an individual and makes them defensive. What the poor need is help identifying what critical issues are preventing them from achieving financial success and help addressing those issues.
In Haiti, we can work to buildup Haiti’s agriculture by improving the fertility of Haitian farmland as well as educating Haitians on better land management. This does not mean importing expensive artificial fertilizers or genetically engineered crops; it means working to improve crops already grown on the island while looking to the sea. We might even look to seaweed for fertilizer and improve sugarcane crops for biofuels. The basic idea is to work with what will work best for the fundamental needs of the Haitians as well as what they might contribute to the global market in time. Our investments into the world need to generate the kind of marketplaces that can be sustained through diversity and innovation.
Nations in crisis, such as Haiti, will continue to struggle to overcome poverty and the devastation of natural disasters, because the world is unprepared to address the fundamental faults that undermine the prosperity of these countries. That said, it is important to understand recovery for underdeveloped countries is a slow process, which often comes with setbacks, which must start with well-tailored investment strategies that utilize the natural and human resources of the People in question. We must not impose our standards onto those in crisis as doing so creates unattainable goals. We need to look at what has been done in the past then use what we have learned to develop far more innovative solutions.
Moreover, Poverty can be more adequately addressed by tackling the environmental and personal issues that prevent people from achieving financial success. It is, however, important to remember poverty is the result of many factors; therefore, dealing with the issue of poverty requires solutions that address all factors that come into play. As such, it is most important to recognize when a solution is applicable to an individual’s situation and when it is not. The wrong diagnosis will never lead to the right cure. Meanwhile, the right solutions must be applied correctly or they will fail as well. Finally, governments need to embrace smarter policies when it comes to how they address poverty and social welfare spending in order to actually address poverty.
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