January 14, 2010

The situation in Haiti

Filed under: Americas, Cancon — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 12:51

I keep thinking I’ve heard the worst of the situation in Haiti, and I keep being unpleasantly surprised. Haiti was not in the best of social or political health before the earthquake (to be kind — see update below for more on this), and does not have the resources to quickly recover from a disaster of this scale. Canada, the United States, Mexico, and other nations have been scrambling to provide what assistance they can quickly (both the US Navy and the Canadian Navy are dispatching ships, but ships take time to sail, so they can’t provide immediate aid).

The worst thing about earthquake damage is that they disrupt everything for large areas around the epicentre, so that recovery is doubly difficult. It’s not only the damage caused directly by the tremors, but also that the damage often includes the critical infrastructure that rescuers need: the water system, the electrical grid, telephone land lines and cell towers, and the road and rail arteries. Help can’t arrive from outside the area fast enough to save many lives closer to the epicentre, and it is very difficult to co-ordinate efforts to rescue the trapped and the injured.

Funds are needed to provide food, safe drinking water, shelter, and medical care, and Haiti lacks any large surplus of any of these things right now. If you can contribute anything, even a few dollars, please do: in Canada, the government will match private donations up to $50 million (even as a staunch libertarian, I can’t object to this use of tax dollars).

In Canada, you can send your donations to the relief effort through the Canadian Red Cross website, by phone at (800) 418-1111, or in person (cash or cheque only) at any Red Cross office. You can donate to the Salvation Army’s relief efforts by text message:

The Salvation Army has activated its Text to Donate program in support of the Haiti Earthquake Disaster Relief Fund. Canadians can make a $5.00 donation to The Salvation Army’s efforts in Haiti by texting the word HAITI to 45678 from any Rogers Wireless or Bell Mobility phone. Donors will then receive a message asking them to confirm their donation with a YES reply. The proceeds of each text donation will support the ongoing efforts to serve the victims of the recent horrific earthquake that has left thousands dead and many more without adequate food, clean water or shelter.

“Our immediate focus is the safety and welfare of those affected by this terrible tragedy,” said Graham Moore, Territorial Secretary for Public Relations and Development for The Salvation Army in Canada. “The mobile giving program is another way to raise funds in support of this vital relief effort.”

In addition to the text message donation program, Canadians can support The Salvation Army’s relief effort in Haiti by calling 1-800-SAL-ARMY (725-2769), by visiting our website, www.SalvationArmy.ca, by mailing donations to The Salvation Army Territorial Headquarters, Canada and Bermuda, 2 Overlea Blvd., Toronto, Ontario M4H 1P4, or dropping off financial donations at the closest Salvation Army unit in your area. Donors should specify their gift to the Haiti Earthquake Disaster Relief Fund. The call centre (1-800-SAL-ARMY) and www.SalvationArmy.ca are accepting donations

Update: At the start of this post I said that Haiti’s social and political situation was bad even before the quake. I didn’t realize quite how bad things were:

Tyler Cowen suggests that Haiti, as a nation, may have just effectively ceased to exist. Haiti, as a people, is still there. But the institutions that made up the Haitian nation state, and its economy, have literally been flattened. Aid agencies usually work through local governments, which already have distribution systems for hospitals and so forth. But the local government in this case does not really seem to exist at the moment; it has been hollowed out by deaths. The main port seems to have suffered heavy damage, and while flights are making it to the airport, there’s no one there to unload.

[. . .]

But in the longer run, what do you do for a country that already had one of the worst-functioning governments in the world? Half the budget was provided by foreign aid before the earthquake. For the next few years, we will effectively hold government power there, whether we want to or not, because we’ll probably essentially be providing all of its funding

Haiti’s plight

Filed under: Americas, Cancon — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 07:53

An editorial at the National Post makes a strong case for Canada to do everything in its power to help the survivors of the Haiti earthquake:

Nature has many ways to kill us. But none are as sudden and catastrophic as a major earthquake. They demolish not only buildings, but something very basic within the human psyche.

The Greeks believed earthquakes were the result of a vengeful Poseidon smashing the earth with his trident. The book of Revelations is full of seismic upheaval: “I saw when he opened the sixth seal, and there was a great earthquake. The sun became black as sackcloth made of hair, and the whole moon became as blood.” In the aftermath of the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake, religious Indonesians thought they’d been punished for straying from the path of true Islam. Pat Robertson became an instant figure of Internet ridicule on Wednesday when he suggested that the earthquake in Haiti resulted from a Napoleonic-era “pact to the devil.” But he is hardly alone: Throughout human history, in all parts of the world, the devastation wrought by earthquakes has been so enormous as to be inexplicable as anything but a manifestation of divine wrath. In the wake of the 1755 Lisbon Earthquake, no less a thinker than Voltaire questioned his faith in a benevolent entity, posing theological questions that persist to this day: What kind of God destroys schools alongside prisons, mansions alongside hovels, the good alongside the wicked?

In the case of Haiti, epicenter to what will likely become the most deadly earthquake in the history of the Americas, that question is particularly apt. Even before the earth moved, the country was the impoverished, chaotic hellhole of the Western hemisphere. To send another horseman galloping into its capital seems a species of sick, cosmic joke. All great tragedies test humanity’s faith in a higher power. But some, like this modern day reprise of Lisbon, more than others.

If the navies can’t do the job, the mercenaries will

Filed under: Africa, Middle East, Military — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 07:40

Looking at the pirate problem in the Gulf of Aden, where more than a thousand ships pass every month, the attackers are getting bolder — and more successful. Once upon a time, the Royal Navy would have been the primary shield for civilian vessels, but the RN has been reduced to little more than a coastal defence force (with more cuts coming). The US Navy can’t spare enough ships, the Indian Navy is concentrated closer to home, and the Chinese fleet doesn’t (yet) range so far overseas, so alternate arrangements are being made:

Most merchant ships are wary of pirate operations, and put on extra lookouts, and often transit the 1,500 kilometer long Gulf of Aden at high speed (even though this costs them thousands of dollars in additional fuel). The pirates seek the slower moving, apparently unwary, ships, and go after them before they can speed up enough to get away. For the pirates, business is booming, and ransoms are going up. Pirates are now demanding $3 million or more per ship, and are liable to get it for the much larger tankers and bulk carriers they are now seizing.

The larger, and more valuable, ships find that the additional security services (which include armed security guards on the ship while moving through the straights) worth the expense. Each month, 30-40 ships pay for this service, with the British security firm handling marketing and scheduling, and splitting the $55,000 (or more) fee with the Yemeni Navy. It’s unclear if the Yemeni government was aware of this arrangement, as such freelancing by government agencies in Yemen, is not unknown. Four of the ships being escorted were attacked anyway, but the attackers were driven off. Many more attacks were avoided because of the presence of the Yemeni patrol boat.

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