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Column: Haiti could benefit from purposeful aid more than blank checks
Rudi Kiefer

When we read news about Haiti and Haitians, it’s not about some island halfway around the world. Haiti, the nation owning half of the island of Hispaniola, is 1,300 miles from Gainesville.  That’s the distance from our town to El Paso, Texas.

Bad news from Haiti is plentiful.  It didn’t start with the horrific 2010 earthquake. Two years earlier, Gonaïves and its population of 300,00 were hit hard by hurricane Hanna. The 2010 quake was the same strength as the one that struck Santa Cruz, California in 1989 with those infamous I-880 sections collapsing. Dealing with an event of this magnitude, a developing country like Haiti has a tough time getting back on its feet. It was off to a hard start already when the end of French colonialism in 1804 had the new country face war damage, deforestation and eroded, ruined farmland. After the 2010 earthquake came a cholera epidemic, brought by foreign aid workers. 

Fast-forward through the slow rebuilding process to this past summer. July 7 sent a new shock through the country when Jovenel Moïse, Haiti’s president, was assassinated. August 14 followed with yet another earthquake, as powerful as the previous one at magnitude 7.2, but thankfully with a lower death toll than the 200,000 killed in the 2010 event. 

“Haiti’s people have endured decades of struggling with disease and high infant mortality.  Centuries of slash and burn agriculture has left less than one percent of its forests. Topsoil runoff leaves the surrounding sea with dying coral reefs and depleted fish stocks,” said Ted Garner, Ph.D., an assistant professor of communications at Brenau University who spent months in Haiti doing technical work. “The hope and enthusiasm of the Haitians, though, are inspiring. Among the ridges and barren sugar cane fields one can hear beautiful, heartfelt melodies of workers singing together in the ‘konbit’ agricultural cooperatives.”

With the threat of hurricanes that pass through the Caribbean each year, the proximity of major earthquake faults, plus historical environmental damage, thousands of Haitians are trying to find safety and work in the USA. Instead of worrying about how many refugees to accept into the U.S., how many to send back, and at what cost, it could be more effective to give them reasons to stay put in their own country. Purposeful aid, not blank checks, could improve the situation for these neighbors who are as close to Georgia as Texas.


Rudi Kiefer, Ph.D., is a professor emeritus of physical science at Brenau University. His column appears Sundays and at gainesvilletimes.com.

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