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Another disaster in Haiti : We name the guilty parties

Press release of Haiti Support Group

Transmitted to AlterPrese on 21 September 2004

So far the total number of fatalities caused by the recent heavy rains and
flash-floods in north-west Haiti stands at around 600, but the final tally is
sure to be far higher.

This is the second major disaster this year, in addition to numerous other
deadly but less well-reported floods. The news is terrible, but it is not enough
to wring our hands and say ’poor Haiti’. Nor is it sufficient to call on the
international community to provide more and better humanitarian relief. We
must look at the reasons why Haiti is prone to these catastrophes.

Both the flash-floods in the south-east in May, and now these in the
north-west, are a direct consequence of the over-farming and deforestation of the
country’s hills and mountainsides. When heavy rain falls, the water cannot be
absorbed, and instead cascades down valleys and ravines, sweeping away anything
and anybody it its path.

The problems of soil-erosion and deforestation are well-known, and so is the
only possible remedy - land reform. Yet over the course of almost three
decades, the country’s economic policy has been dictated by international finance
institutions, such as the World Bank, the IMF and the Inter-American Development
Bank, and not only has land reform never appeared on their agenda, but no
national government that has proposed it has received any encouragement to carry
it out.

Instead, successive governments have been obliged to carry out neo-liberal
economic policies which give no priority to the countryside whatsoever, even
though some two-thirds of the population live there.

Billions and billions in international aid has been lent to Haitian
governments, but the focus has remained on governance, security, elections and support
for the private sector. Next to nothing has been done to support the
agricultural sector - no land reform, no subsidies for fertilisers or storage
facilities, no reforestation campaign,
no irrigation projects, no protection from cheaper imports, etc. etc.

Is it any wonder that Haiti’s peasant farmers overwork their small plots, and
cut down trees to raise cash from charcoal production ?

Even now, after neo-liberal economic policies in Haiti have been shown to
have failed over and over again, the current government - with the support of the
international finance institutions and the European Commission - is
continuing to ignore the needs of the rural population. At the international donors’
conference in Washington DC. in July, yet again the focus was on support for the
urban private sector.

The attitude of the current interim government was summed up when, shortly
after the May 2004 flood disaster, Prime Minister Gerald Latortue said perhaps
the solution would be to employ former soldiers to shoot peasants found cutting
down trees.

By, once more, doing everything to preserve the dominance of the country’s
immensely rich elite, and nothing to support the peasantry, the international
community is complicit in the loss of life and misery caused by this, and
future, natural disasters in Haiti.

21 Septembre 2004

Contact : Charles Arthur