A Look at the Social, Economic and Political Outfall of the Earthquake


The January 12 , 2010 earthquake destroyed and shattered the lives of many . In 37 seconds, the 7.2 magnitude quake caused over 200,000 deaths, took away years of savings and evaporated many dreams. The aftermath left millions of people homeless, distraught and in very precarious situations without the minimal requirements for necessary survival.
Earthquakes , a natural phenomenon of our physical world (almost half a million events a year) was the catalyst for the massive damage registered .But its fatal effects were caused by the collapse of inadequate structures built by human beings. The “BETON VILLE”, erected without quake resistant standards ,were the lethal weapons.
The earthquake affected not only the physical environment but also the social structure of the country. People are aware of the physical destruction of cities like, Port au Prince, Leogane, Grand Goave, Ti Goave and Miragoane but a lot less is known about its social impact. Before January 12, we were facing the challenges of modernization. Our society was divided into 5 broad economically and culturally well defined social groups or classes with very different lifestyle: the upper-class, the middle-class, the workers, the peasants and the “urban poor” of the shanty towns called Bidonville. However there is constant mobility in between these groups and at the margin the differences tend to blur . Among the forces sustaining this movement are the generalization of Education ,the mass emigration of large segment of the unprivileged population and the influences of the visual Media .Since the earthquake any members of these groups can be placed into four categories : the homeless with or without jobs and the non homeless with or without jobs.
The upper class also called “Bougois,” “Gran Neg,” “Mulate” (according to which ideological angle one stands) represents less than 1% of the population and controls over 70 % of the wealth of the country. This group lives mainly in the outskirts of Port au Prince in the lush neighborhoods of Petionville, Laboule,Morne Calvaire, Montagne Noire, areas that luckily were barely affected by the earthquake. Many of their businesses located in downtown Port au Prince or in the industrial park, near the international airport were destroyed. This class, however is capable to overcome most of the challenges of this catastrophe, having better access to equity or debt capital. (They own the majority shares of most local banks). For some, business have been very good recently. Owners of most real estates and equipments, they reap most of the benefits resulting from the increase in demand for strategic support to the huge humanitarian effort brought in by the international community and the NGO’s, (Increased demand for equipments, housing, transportation, distribution networks, imported food). The general interest of the upper-class is in an incremental change toward modernization with the minimal modifications of their present status or privileges. Rightly so they want to increase their bottom line.
The next group, the middle class can be subdivided in 3 broad categories: The state employees and politicians(the pool reserve of the state employees), The “Intelligensia“(intellectuals, teachers, students)/ professionals(lawyers, physicians ,technical engineers and others…)and the mid to small business owners. Many members of this group were killed .They live in neighborhoods like Canape-vert, Christ Roi, Pacot ,St Gerard ,Haut Turgeau, Croix des Pres…etc. .Areas that were the real Betonville ( buildings constructed with blocs and mortars with no reinforcing columns) erected since the 60’s under the Duvalier regime with financing from the Diaspora. Over 200 000 individuals died.- When taking in consideration the time of the event ,the early afternoon of Tuesday January 12 , one can assume that most of the victims were a large percentage of the active population belonging to the broad category of middle class. About 30% of the 3 million resident of PAP ( 1.000.000 people) belongs to the active segment ranging from 20 to 64 years old. we can extrapolate that about 20% of the active population disappeared in this catastrophe ( assuming a 50% unemployment rate and a 50% death rate for the working active cohort)
The disappearance of such a large number of productive human resources constitute a hindrance to any recovery project. The survivors displaced from their homes and their livelihood are pauperizing at a very fast rate. Teachers are unable to educate due to the destruction of most schools and universities and no salaries is available for compensation. Parents can’t afford tuition for their children. Students are unable to learn from the lack of resources. The high toll of death in the cities, the emigration of a vast segment of the population, the influx of foreign physicians, are all factors concurring for the elimination of the medical corps. Lawyers have few cases to argue or defend. Medium and Small business owners like the “Machan Sara“, lost not only homes but also commerce and merchandise. With no access to capital this active business segment will certainly join the rank of the poor and very poor. To make matter worse, few weeks ago a fire destroyed one of the remaining big markets of Port-au-Prince putting 5,000 “Machan Sara” out of business and, literally in the street. State employees and politicians ranks are also decimated both by the earthquake and by the emigration of many leaving the state institutions with very few human resources. Furthermore the government with little to no income has been unable to pay salaries for many months.
Most members of the middle class, jobless, lost also their most important asset equity : their homes . Normally it would have made them eligible for mortgages or credit loans to buy needed services such as food. Homeless, they live either in the courtyard of their crumbled property or at friend ’s houses. The more fortunate have escape the country to live with families or friends abroad. In any case for the host family those situation overburden an already very limited household income and increasingly create conflict . For reasons associated with status ,education or fear of violence members of this group will not get in line for food, water or health care ,nor seek shelter in the tent cities. This is an endangered class , very close to extinction.
Each of these 3 categories of the middle class can be further sub subdivided into two segments: The “high and low“ ranking government officials ,state employees or politicians , the “big and small” business owners , the “grand” et “petit.” professionals
The high ranking state employees/politicians ,the “big” business owners and the “grand” professionals are against any structural changes that could alter their powerful obstructive potential for privilege acquisition (After business, high political administrative positions are the second most common means for wealth creation). The small state employees, the medium and small business owners and the small professionals used to hard work, want a system based on merit. They welcome structural changes which could improve their livelihood.
The middle class disgruntled and unable to have its needs satisfied is regrouping to manifest its anger. They are the surviving students without school, the surviving teachers without desks, the physicians without patients, the lawyers without cases, the state employees without offices, and the politicians without constituents. They are all middle class people without food, without shelter, without jobs, and without visas.
The blue collar workers, 30,000 strong toiled in the sweatshops around the international airport of Port au Prince . Many are homeless and jobless. Several blocks of houses in working class neighborhoods like Cite Soleil, Martissant ,Carrefour ,fort national were flatten. Many factories and plants went down and most are still not operating . Many of those workers are sheltered tents camps and they share the same fate of the poor and very poor. they want to return to their factories t , they want better jobs and opportunities for themselves and their children. They want structural changes .This group will welcome modernization.
The peasants were not directly affected by the earthquake. They are plagued by the same set of problems as they had before ,such as ,land tenure fragmentation , erosion, lack of seeds, lack of technology, inefficient market.
The fifth group is the poor and very poor .Inhabitants of the hills surrounding Port au Prince or the deprived neighborhoods of Leogane, Grand Goaves, Ti Goaves and Jacmelyhey suffered the most from the direct impact of the earthquake. In many cases their houses have been totally destroyed and those who survived were relocated in multiple encampments. They have been sheltered in tents and provided with food and services. Before January 12, they were living in leased shacks at the mercy of slums lords ,without sanitary amenities, without food, water or any social services. Battery , homicide and rapes were the norm. Since then, they are sheltered free of charge, fed semi regularly and provided with some medical and social services. In some instances schooling is even available for the children. Sanitary bathrooms, showers, and water are readily available. Their status have changed for the best. Without any doubt there is a substantial improvement of their situation thanks to the solidarity and the unprecedented humanitarian response of the international community. This class has no interest to move from their present location. Hoping sooner or later to be given a free home they are looking forward for a better tomorrow . Some crooks and gangs have established bases among them, but they are in a better position to access authority and to secure protection. They are still in a vulnerable physical and mental state and they can be the target of political demagoguery or populism, but not as easy as before: they have hope.. It is obvious that this group wants structural changes and welcomes modernization.
In other parts of the country, the situation for the poor and very poor is very different. Overwhelmed and overburdened by refugees from Port au Prince, cities like Gonaives, St-Marc, Jeremie, Jacmel, , Hinche, Cap Haitien are facing serious difficulties. Humanitarian aid (food , water and social services), are not as readily available. Many residents of those cities are immigrating to Port au Prince where services are free and accessible in the camps. They also hope to be potential beneficiaries of any housing program. For the past few weeks there is a growing anti-government and nationalistic rhetoric movement. A physician, friend of mine, was advocating the expulsion of all foreign health workers. Obviously this is impossible and absurd , but it is symptomatic of a growing malaise. Same feeling in academia. Nor the universities, the professors or the students were invited to play a role in the planning process of the reconstruction of their country. Foreign specialists, universities and others are present, coming and going as if no local resources are available.. The politicians are very angry. No efforts were made for their integration in the elaboration of the PDNA.
All of these groups want participation and rightly so. they believe they can at some level contribute in the reconstruction and’ refondation “of their country. Presently they are getting very impatient. With no place to sleep, no food to eat and no prospect for a better tomorrow they want change and they want it now. They also hear about billions of dollars given or pledged for Haiti ,yet no change is happening in their everyday life. This growing resentment is spreading and is a recipe for a total failure of the PDNA. Their present misery is perceived as being caused by an” inertia” of the government For them, no change to their livelihood can come as long as the political situation stay the same . Passage of the electoral law 232 extending the mandate of President Preval for 3 more months is perceived as 3 more months of suffering and agony.
Strategies have to be in place for seismic disaster prevention , economic and social recovery.
1. SEISMIC Disaster prevention:
The need to develop a good seismic code to prevent similar catastrophes IS PARAMOUTH. This code should be established according to historical values and present scientific knowledge about building constructions in high risk areas. Its implementations require the establishment of a zonation map, the development of a seismic design and construction building code and the creation of an enforcing and monitoring agency. Coordinated work has to been done with the financial institutions, the insurers and the construction companies to ensure enforcement of those new guidelines .Finally an educational office staffed with very knowledgeable technicians should be available to the general public and any one in the construction field.
2. Economic and social recovery plan:
Three sets of strategies must be considered:; the first set is the creation of a viable and trusted leadership team, the second involve steps for visible immediate relief and the third set is a rapid implementation of sustainable mid and long term projects.
1. the first sets of strategies involve the establishment of a viable and trusted leadership with a clear vision and a clear plan for change.
a: Trusted Leadership:
This is one of the most important requirement. People have to believe in their leaders, in order to commit to change. Haitian political history is fraught with governments who were deceitful to their people. The result has been a distrust of politic and of politicians that borders paranoia. For Haitians many politicians are crooked or thieves. Those feelings were recently reinforced by the revision of article 232 of the electoral law ,voted by the majority, controlled by the government, which extends by three more months the tenure of President Preval. For the opposition, a large portion of its members belongs to the middle class, this government is trying to stay in power longer by using “Bogus” legal maneuvering. A clear message about the departure of President Preval on February 7, 2011 have to be given and have to be guaranteed. The international community, a well trusted mediation of Haitian affairs, has to convey clearly this message and give assurances that the electoral process will be free ,transparent , credible and will unfold as defined by the constitution
The creation of the interim authority is a big step forward toward insulating the recovery process from cronyism and or rumors of corruption. In a society where conspiracy theories are the norm ,having a very transparent organization with well qualified individuals will send a strong message of hope. At the whelm of this organization a visionary with bold ideas not afraid to “bousculate”the traditional entrenched interest is necessary. Such individuals should not come from the internal ranks of the system
nor necessarily be Haitian. To repeat after Teng tsiao Ping “It does not matter what color is the cat as long it can catch a rat”
All those actions will establish some needed trust into the institutions of the country.
On a mid to long term basis , the need to breed and to nurture the leaders of tomorrow is preeminent. Most of our leaders are “self proclaim” individuals with no theoretical or practical experiences. In many instances it happen that parliament elected officials are at their first job experience. Establishing a “leadership academy” to educate and to train the leaders of tomorrow, in the political , the managerial and the technical field is of utmost importance. Such academy will build capacities and facilitate a rapid transition toward modernization.
B. A clear vision:
The post disaster need assessment (PDNA is our compass). By definition it is a need assessment. This document clearly establish the immediate operational needs and some social projects of the government for the next five years. In no means it is a vision program. It does not indicate the kind of country we would like to build in twenty five years, our position in the Caribbean regions, the kind of goals we want to set, the kind of economic growth rate we will need to reach those goals, the kind of training or skills necessary for our labor force to reach those goals, or what should be our contribution to the regional or to the world economy. All of those questions that formed the corner stone of a vision were not part of the PDNA. Such absence of answers to those important questions is similar to a boat sailing on the ocean without a port of destination. The absence of a vision for our country prevent us from mobilizing all the national resources and energies for change and success.
C: A clear plan with reachable goals and bench marks:
Plans are the quantifiable strategies and tactics used to materialize a vision. In the example of the boat, once the destination is known, finding the best route to arrive at “Bon Port”, the strategies and tactics to overcome any possible challenges on our way, and the resources needed to reach this goal, all those elements constitute the plan of action. We need to develop a plan based on a common vision develop by consensus . Some fundamentals must be in place to accomplish this vision of a new Haiti . They are relevant for any process of restructuring of the Haitian society. Those fundamentals involve the existence of a viable middle class and of a qualified labor force.
The first step in ensuring the existence of a viable middle class involve the establishment of a quota system for job opportunities and the recapitalization of the small and medium size enterprises.
1. By decree, the government can require that all contractors, NGO’s, foreign agencies and the United Nations agencies employ a certain percentage of locals at every levels of their organization including managerial and technical. All foreign workers should have a work permit. Such measures will regulate the job market while increasing revenue from income taxes. The number of jobs available to the skilled local workforce will increase bringing some needed relief to the severe shortage of opportunities in the post seismic labor market. The Government can potentially seek help from international agencies to set up and monitor such a program.
A global Small and Medium enterprise ( SME) fund to recapitalize the middle class and spur production in the economy is essential. Such a fund can be created with capital coming from the Diaspora and or other private or governmental sources.
The “Haiti reconstruction bond” .This idea has been floating in the diaspora for over a decade. similar to the “Israel Bond” this could be both a saving instrument for the Diaspora while being a good source of capital for the country. Historically Haitian had had bad experiences with bond issued by past government like the “Bond A” of President Davilmar Theodore or the “Bond de Liberation Nationale” of President Dr Francois Duvalier. To ensure trust, the new recovery bond, although issued by the Haitian government, should be guaranteed and manage by a reputable international financial institution.
Other sources for the fund can originate from direct bilateral or multilateral countries or foundations. A certain percentage of the donations pledged at the donors conference of new york in march c0uld also be set aside for such program.
This capital could be allocated either as low interest loan or as matching fund for business development or home building , great sources of jobs creation and opportunities
developing a qualified labor force can involve the creation of a system of “cash for skills” training. Presently many NGO’s have a program of “cash for work “ which employs thousands of low skilled daily laborers to clean streets and to remove rubles of destroyed homes. In many places like Jacmel, this program works well, but when funding end those workers are jobless without any skill. This is a social “band aid” and a “dead end” for the worker. Part of those fund could be used to train individuals or groups of individuals in new technologies. The “Cash for Skills” program can train and can prepare group of individuals in the proper use of the “multimillion” dollars piece of equipment that hopefully will come and will require skilled technicians for maneuvering. Recently someone told the story of what happened to a group of his high school former classmates. As a technocrat working for a big international institutions, he was in a position to recommend 8 of his classmates to a Dominican firm doing roadwork in northern Haiti for jobs requiring skills such as masonry, truck and tractor drivers. A month passed and his friend told him that “nothing was happening.” He went back to see the manager of the entity. He was told that they really would like to hire those guys but none had any papers to confirm their training in the field claimed. “I cannot give a multimillion dollar piece of equipment to be operated by someone who claims that he knows how to do ‘this or that.’ What if something happened? What will the insurers say? I need proof of training.” The manager was right. This will be the fate of the Haitian workforce if no training is put in place to harness their potential. We will be invaded by “skilled” foreign workers while the Haitian workers will set aside looking setting training camps, training schools, improvising skills and/or increasing capacities in any and every field of utmost importance. In the past “foreign groups” would come, do a job and go back home leaving nothing, no infrastructure, no knowledge. This time we have to work hand in hand for technological and capacity building. This is the only way for a sustainable development and the only way to avoid social instabilities and creating jobs and opportunities in the land.
The last set of strategies involves capacity building. Presently about 50% of the population is less than 25 years old. This mass of energy can be organized in “Brigade for Development” or a “youth force” for reconstruction and development. Spread all over the country, this force will be trained in the different skills necessary for reconstruction. Potentially they can be trained to do all kinds of work including agriculture, industrial and service works. Such massive mobilization of the youth’s potential will ensure social stability while creating jobs, education and opportunities for the population.
Most Haitians are totally unaware of the PDNA. The few who read the paper, criticize the lack of quantifiable specifics, goal setting and benchmarks. At best it is considered as 3. The third set of strategies – sustainable mid and long term projects and goalsa qualitative vision without substantial facts .This creates an ill defined perception of doubts and suspicions . In a paranoiac society where conspiracy theories are the norm, this lack of objectivity creates confusion. Those feelings are reinforced by the recent revision of article 232 of the electoral law which was voted by the majority controlled by the president extending his tenure for 3 more months. For the opposition (a large fraction of the middle class) this government just like “The Duvalier Regime” wants to stay in power..

Haitian Times

Haitian Times

The Haitian Times was founded in 1999 as a weekly English language newspaper based in Brooklyn, NY.The newspaper is widely regarded as the most authoritative voice for Haitian Diaspora.
Haitian Times
May. 05, 2012

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