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The (failed?) state of Haiti: Where’s the money?!?

28 Nov

With International Support, Haitians go to the Polls

Today, Sunday November 28, 2010, the citizens of Haiti are heading to the polls to vote for their next president.  Thankfully, Haiti’s prodigal son, Wyclef Jean is not on the ballot.  Not that he wouldn’t have made a good leader necessarily but, it’s difficult to rule a country in the Caribbean when you’re living in Saddle River, New Jersey.  The news coming out of Haiti today so far has been the usual dismal rhetoric we’ve gotten used to associating with the Western hemisphere’s poorest nation .  Voters must step over the bodies of cholera victims to get to the polls, many are without their national ID cards (mandatory for voting) which were lost in the earthquake and were unable to obtain copies. Those lucky enough to have their ID cards are being  turned away because polling centers cannot locate their names on the voting roster.  The only ounce of hope being offered in the mainstream media for the fate of Haiti and it’s people is speculation about the ability of one of Haiti’s nineteen presidential candidates to be charged with effectively doling out the $5 billion in reconstruction funds sent from around the world to help Haiti rebuild.  But, the earthquake didn’t happen last week or even last month; it was over 10 months ago!  This begs the question: Where’s the money and why has it taken so long to get to the people who need it? 

If you were to base your opinion on the media’s rather contemptuous attitude towards Haiti and it’s government, you would naturally assume that Haiti is incapable of handling so much money.  Should the (failed) state of Haiti be given autonomy over such a vast sum, it would simply be lost to corruption and greed.  There is some modicum of vailidity to this argument.  98% of the rubble from the earthquake in January has not been removed.  98%!!  Over a million people are living in makeshift homes.  Many have set up tents in front of the destroyed remains of their former residences.  This may be an indication of the government’s corruption or painfully slow bureaucracy and it may not.  The reality is that many international charities which collected funds for Haiti are refusing to hand over the cash until Haiti’s government offers a logistical plan for how the money will be used.  Haiti’s government says it needs the money in order to begin that process, leaving the people of Haiti in a deadly state of limbo.

Haiti (pic: Reuters)

If there were $5 billion worth of funds, no matter how corrupt or devastated the government may be, does that mean that all should be withheld until the state miraculously transforms itself in to a highly functional Scandinavian-esque governing body?  I believe that the media’s persistent portrayal of Haiti as a failed state, unable or unwilling to govern itself efficiently is to blame for the popular opinion that Haiti is eternally doomed.  When riots broke out last week in Port-au-Prince over the spread of cholera, the media blamed the ignorance of Haiti’s populace for misunderstanding how the disease spreads and linking their faith in voodoo for inciting violent feelings which led to the riots.  How about they’re just angry because 98% of the rubble from an earthquake ten months ago hasn’t been cleaned up and the corpses of cholera victims are being left in the streets to rot?  No matter how strong the rest of the world’s reservations may be in terms of the Haitian government’s ability to provide for it’s citizens, that $5 billion was meant to reach the people of Haiti.  Give it to them!!

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An Apple on every desk and a Blackberry in every hand

26 Sep

Pop Quiz:  Of the over 6 billion people on our planet, how many mobile subscriptions exist globally? Wait for it…wait for it…give up? 4.6 billion according to the United Nation’s Millennium Development Goals Report.  That means that there’s a cell phone plan for 67% of the world’s population.  But don’t let the good news fool you. Think about it…how many of your corporate enslaved friends carry around an extra Blackberry on the weekends in case “Harry” at the office can’t find the blah-blah file and needs to reach them? I see a lot of hands going up.  The bottom line is that the majority of this technology abounds in the first world while the rest of the planet continues to struggle to compete with an increasingly developed developing world.

Although, according to the Report, mobile “penetration” (creepy choice of words, fellas!) exceeded 50% in the developing world by the end of last year.  What’s more, in sub-Saharan Africa, the development community’s barometer for how well they’re doing, over 30% of the population owns a cell phone.  All these statistics tell me one thing: the land line is about to die a quick death.  Until, of course, some study comes along confirming a link between brain tumors and cell phone use.  Then, we’ll have us a good old-fashioned cell phone burning bonfire! And I’ll be forced in to taking Time Warner up on it’s Triple Play, Triple Pay plan 😦

In terms of human rights however, the real issue to be focusing on is continual access to the internet or digital inclusion as they call it.  In developing  nations, about 68% of the population has access to the internet.  In Latin America, 29%; in Southeast Asia, 14% and just 6% of the populations of Southern Asia, Oceania and Sub-Saharan Africa have access to the web.  Nevertheless, these numbers were significantly lower just five years before at around 1%.  Statistically, considerable progress is being made. 

Let’s not break our arm patting ourselves on the back just yet. There is still the problem of broadband capabilities not just in the developing world but everywhere.  In January of last year, President Obama pledged to include broadband expansion in his overall economic growth plan and has since delivered on that promise, extending funding to various regions around the U.S.  The majority of the world, however still uses dial-up internet which can run painfully slow.  The U.N. says that by the end of 2008, fixed broadband penetration (again?) around the developing world was less than 3%.  Life is hard enough in developing nations; a slow dial-up internet connection would make me homicidal!  Strengthening broadband capabilities around the globe should be a top priority for all development projects in progress or still in the planning stages.  Technological advancements in the developing world could in just a few short years achieve the same goals of development that most other projects take decades to accomplish.  Then, the world would finally be on a (relatively) even playing field…and perhaps look more like this:

and less like this: