14 January 2010

More on Haiti

Something I think a lot of people need to start thinking about is the possibility of the complete collapse of any functioning anything in Haiti. I don't just mean the collapse of society, or the collapse of government, but every component of everything.

I think Tyler Cowen gets it right here:

Haiti is about the size of Maryland and a big chunk of the population lives in or near Port-Au-Prince, maybe a third of the total, depending on what you count as a suburb. So the collapse of Port-Au-Prince is a big, big deal for the country as a whole. It's a dominant city for Haiti. Plus Jacmel seems to be leveled. From the reports I have seen, my tentative conclusion is that the country as a whole is currently below the subsistence level and will remain so for the foreseeable future. Hundreds of thousands of people have died, the U.N. Mission has collapsed, the government is not working (was it ever?), and hundreds of thousands or maybe millions of people are living in the streets without reliable food or water supplies. The hospitals and schools have collapsed. The airport is shut down. The port is very badly damaged. The Haitian Penitentiary has collapsed and the inmates -- tough guys most of them -- are running free for the foreseeable future. There is no viable police force or army.

In other words, it's not just a matter of offering extra food aid for two or three years.

Very rapidly, President Obama needs to come to terms with the idea that the country of Haiti, as we knew it, probably does not exist any more.

In what sense does Haiti still have a government? How bad will it have to get before the U.N. or U.S. moves in and simply governs the place? How long will this governance last? What will happen to Haiti as a route for the drug trade, the dominant development in the country's economy over the last fifteen years? What does the new structure of interest groups look like, say five years from now?

If this is correct, it will make it much more difficult to do any aide in Haiti than might be assumed. The world usually works through states to do these things. This was the problem in Burma; the state refused to play ball and the world couldn't do anything on their own. What happens when there is no state to assist? I'm hoping Haiti doesn't become Somalia, but I have my concerns.

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