Economics

Problems
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SOIL EROSION

Nearly everyone has heard about Haiti's disastrous soil erosion. Haiti is a mountainous country. For the past 200 years people have been cutting the trees on their mountains without replanting. Now, when the rainy season comes with its four or five months of daily pounding rains, one can see the brown rivers torrent down the mountain sides and watch, helplessly, as Haiti's little remaining soil flows out into the Caribbean Sea. How has this terrible situation come about?

There are four primary reasons for the soil erosion:

1. The need for fuel.
2. The need to earn a living.
3. Ignorance.
4. Lack of motivation to reform.

1. Haiti has no fuel except wood. People cook with charcoal. This requires massive amounts of wood to provide fuel for 6 million people. Thus the demand on wood as a crop is the immediate cause of the denuding of the mountains of Haiti.
2. The immediate motivation of much of the cutting is economic. Peasants are hungry. They have little available work. But wood is in constant demand as charcoal, or to sell to others to make charcoal. Peasant wood-cutters who do understand the soil erosion problem will argue that they have no alternative. They either cut and sell wood or they starve. Mainly they are right. Haiti suffers massive unemployment and most peasants have inadequate access to farm lands.
3. Because of the problems of illiteracy and lack of education detailed above, Haitian wood cutters do not really understand the extent of damage their cutting does. These uneducated peasants have little sense of history. In their generation Haiti has always looked denuded like it does today. Thus to convince them that they are contributing to Haiti's misery by cutting the few trees which any one of them cuts, is not a very convincing argument. When compared with the alternatives of hunger or even starvation facing the wood sellers, the argument fundamentally makes no sense.
4. There is little motivation for wood cutters to replant more trees. Mainly they do not own the land. They cut here or there as sharecroppers or renters, then move on to other lands. The land owners are often city people or more wealthy village folks and they do not keep a close watch on their lands. Were they to replant, it is likely that the neighbors' animals would eat the seedling trees since there is little forage left in Haiti. The land tenure system, the way land is owned and used in Haiti, provides little motivation to anyone to replant the trees. Of course, it is in the interest of the nation as a whole to replant trees. But, no individuals who own, share-crop or rent lands are personally motivated to do this costly and troublesome, and non-economic work.

EXPORT CROPS VS. LOCAL FOOD PRODUCTION

The largest portions of Haiti's best lands produce crops for export. Sugar cane is the dominant export crop, but tropical fruit and other crops are grown as well. With most of the very best land out of production for local food crops (beans, rice and corn), the masses of people do not have access to land to grow food for eating or selling on the local market. Ironically, Haiti, a primarily agricultural land, is a net importer of food. At first one might think that this is not such a bad thing. After all, by selling crops on the international market income is generated for Haiti, jobs are produced and money circulates. Unfortunately none of this happens in any positive way for the great masses of people. First, these lands which produce the export crops are controlled by the elite of Haiti. Most of the imported cash goes to these owner/controllers of the land and most of it is not spent in Haiti, but in the more interesting markets of the United States and Europe. Not even a trickle down effect is felt from this flow of cash. Further, the farm wages are among the lowest in Haiti. Cane cutters spend an entire day in back-breaking work to cut a ton of sugar cane. For this long day one can expect $1.00 a day OR LESS! When one compares this with the high prices of imported food, one can see the contribution to Haiti's difficulties from this concentration on export crops.

Food prices are going up due in part to subsidies on crops such as corn that are part of the U.S.'s ethanol future. Some studies show that an ethanol economy is unsustainable on corn alone, but biomass and other sources for ethanol, like switchgrass can more efficiently produce cellulosic ethanol without the negative effect on the poor all over the hemisphere.

THE LACK OF SOCIAL INFRASTRUCTURE

Haiti does not have the basic social infrastructure to allow a viable economy. There are inadequate roads in the rural areas. Thus shipping goods to the market in Port-au-Prince is expensive and risky. Travel by workers is difficult and extremely time consuming because of bad roads. During the rainy season many areas cannot be reached at all by motor vehicles.

Water presents difficulties for the people as well. Only the houses of the wealthy in Port-au-Prince and the major regional towns have running water. The masses do not have access to potable water and the death and disease related to water is critical. It is said that 80% of all disease in Haiti is water borne. Sewerage systems are limited to the homes of Port-au-Prince's elite. The rest of the people make do with outhouses or worse, just use the outdoors. This presents a terrible medical problem in the crowded slums of the capital.

Electricity is not available except for a tiny percent of the populace. I've already written about the deplorable conditions of schools and the inadequate health care facilities. Haiti simply doesn't provide the basic infrastructure which allows a healthy people in a healthy economy.

Haitian governments plead that the country is too poor to provide such services. There is some truth to this claim. However, millions and millions of dollars donated by foreign governments and charitable groups for infrastructure projects have been stolen by government officials. Cheating and corruption in dealing with these funds are widespread. Lastly, the economy is run for the benefit of the rich elite. There are too few just taxes to provide the needed income for the basic infrastructure which makes a decent life possible.

UNEMPLOYMENT AND UNDEREMPLOYMENT

Masses of people have no work, or work for pay which cannot come close to providing a living wage a one's family. Because of the soil erosion and structure of agriculture, thousands pour into Port-au-Prince looking for work.

Most of them have heard of a friend's friend or an uncle's cousin said to have found work in the tourist industry, or manufacturing sector. But there are few jobs to be had, and the slums grow. These unemployed masses put increasing pressure on the already inadequate city infrastructure.

The problems of unemployment and underemployment are caused in large measure by the lack of an adequate infrastructure and the domination of all wealth by the few. The political instability of the present moment does not help. Members of the Haitian elite and foreign investors are leery of investing in Haiti since no one knows where the government will move. (Bob Corbett | http://www.webster.edu/~corbetre/haiti/misctopic/leftover/whypoor.htm)

U.S. Trade Embargo

Almost no other U.N. member agrees with this except the U.S. Colin Powell is given credit for maintaining it, likely for the sake of maintaining it. Look for the embargo to end with the current administration unless another Republican administration is elected.

Payment of Debts

Under previous corrupt governments such as Aristide, Haiti has been made to pay unjust debts.

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