Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Matt 24 watch, 98: Haiti and regional Capacity-building for Disaster Cycle Management, thus sustainable rebuilding and redevelopment

Two weeks after the devastating quake hit Haiti, the search and rescue teams have now closed off active search for trapped survivors (havign rescued some 120+ altogether . . . ), and the focus of efforts has now shifted to stabilisation as makeshift tent cities emerge, and as aid agencies scramble to develop more organised temporary shelters.

And, in response to the wisely circulated Sir Hilary Beckles article on UWI's intents to promote redevelopment in Haiti, Dr Horatio Morgan (a Jamaican financial economist resident in Canada) has posed a different (and in part corrective) viewpoint that emphasises local aspects of Haiti's conundrum.

In so doing, he concludes:
The real and persistent challenges that Haiti faces cannot be overlooked in order simply, to rebut some clearly absurd comments by a misguided televangelist (Pat Robertson). Moreover, we also have to move beyond any conscious or unconscious appeal to the now bankrupt dependency school theories of the 20th century that conveniently attributed virtually all the blame to Western imperialist "forces", while letting small developing countries off the hook.

To be sure, Haiti's indebtedness to France is not a trivial matter; the degree of external interference in its internal affairs cannot be overlooked as well. However, to abstract from all the other blatantly notorious internal problems is really poor scholarship, at best; and at worse, plainly academic dishonesty. Furthermore, national pride is not really at stake when a people truly confront their internal problems for what they really are. In doing so, it becomes easier to isolate and address the external problems as well.
So, while there are (and will continue to be!) various views on the historical, social and spiritual significance of the Bois Caiman Boukman prayer and the vodunistic sacrifice of 1791, it is plainly also time to focus on longer term, broader issues, and to bear in mind local as well as international aspects of the problem.

For that, we note that one of the harsh realities exposed by the Haitian earthquake is just how vulnerable our buildings, infrastructure and community systems in the Caribbean are to a disaster.

Worse, in recent years, disaster after disaster has exposed consistently inadequate disaster cycle management, especially poor mitigation or adaptation measures, and a want of properly organised regional response capacity and associated pre-planned air- and/or sea- lift.

Above all, they expose the urgent regional need for a shift to truly sustainable development policies, strategies and paths.

So, (i) since disaster cycle management and related emergency/crisis management are key subsets of sustainable development, and (ii) since technical and managerial capacity are plainly critical issues, then (iii) it makes sense for us to now turn our focus to the enhancement of that capacity as the next step in responding to the long-term aspects of the Haiti crisis.

(In effect we are now looking at key aspects of disaster cycle/risk management [DCM] reformation and capacity building as a potential transformative, Nehemiah rebuilding project. [Cf. a Sierra Leone case on community rebuilding through targetted interventions, here.])

In step- by- step points (building on the previous discussion):

1 --> First, a key concept: a
disaster may be viewed as a massively destructive, suddenly onset (or, gradually emergent) event or set of circumstances in a given community.

2 --> Such an event -- whether a hurricane or an explosive volcanic eruption or a tsunami or an earthquake or a flood, or a fire at a vital petroleum refinery or an explosion in a factory spewing toxic fumes across a community, or whatever -- tends to overwhelm existing (or, remaining . . . ) capacity to cope or recover without significant external assistance; triggering a crisis.

3 --> Accordingly,
Disaster Cycle Management [DCM] capacity is a critical issue for sustainability of development in communities exposed to major potential disasters. We can usefully model this as requiring a four-phase cyclical management approach, across the portfolio of potential disasters that may affect a given community:
I] Preparation: Pre-disaster (a) research and hazard/ risk assessment, leading to (b) strategic and operational planning, organisation, training, “resourcing,” public awareness and education, towards (c) capacity building and (d) mitigation/risk reduction, and/or prevention (or adaptation);

II] Disaster, proper: The disaster event or situation, with associated dislocation and destruction, requiring: largely reactive crisis-style management of the chaos [based on prior preparedness, mobilisation and prompt, effective and accurate communication, command and control systems], and deployment of resources for search, rescue, evacuation and care of casualties (and recovery of victims);

III] Stabilisation: The rescue and/or recovery of casualties/victims, triage and treatment (or onward evacuation), damage assessment (thus, response), and overall stabilisation, as management moves to a more pro-active posture; and,

IV] Onward Rebuilding and Redevelopment: Long-term, strategically focussed rebuilding and redevelopment, tied to lessons learned, improved capacity and also leading to the start of the next management cycle (towards more adequate preparation for managing future disasters).
4 --> It is immediately evident that Phase I, Preparation, dominates phases II and III. So, if we are to handle a crisis reasonably well, and then rapidly stabilise the situation as a basis for onward recovery and transformation, we must have adequate capacity based on sound, scientifically informed preparations.

5 --> For the major natural hazards that have hit the Caribbean in recent years, there is no want of technical understanding of the basic dangers involved, or of such measures as help reduce their impact. For instance, as Bilham noted, it has been over 100 years since engineers have begun to understand how to build earthquake resistant structures (as opposed to 'quake-"proof" ones!).

6 --> For the all too frequent weather-related hazards such as hurricanes and floods, adequate warning systems are maintained by neighbouring great powers subject to the same hazards [and/or in support of major civil air routes passing through the region], so we have in effect free access to warnings [and to technical information on building hurricane resistant structures etc], though such warnings inherently tend to be of the order of hours or days.

7 --> Earthquakes are still effectively unpredictable, but the related tsunamis can be warned against if we continue to develop, implement and use a regional warning network. (However, warning times for tsunamis travelling across our region at jet plane speeds will be on the scale of 1/2 hr or less, to perhaps several hours. And, such a network has been under discussion and development since the mid 1990's. )

8 --> Volcanic hazards will usually give warning of a dangerous situation emerging [through a properly set up seismic network], and the geology of volcanic zones is highly characteristic, so we know that especially the "inner" arc of EC islands are subject to occasional explosive volcanic events; but it is not usually possible to predict the exact timing of a major destructive event.

9 --> All of these point in turn to the significance and value of organised disaster preparedness and emergency response organisations and networks [we will call them DCM Offices] across the region, as have emerged in recent years. Such offices have done good work, but are clearly of limited capacity, and face significant obstacles.

10 --> However, once such offices and networks exist, a further opportunity emerges that is not only relevant to the case in Haiti but to key possibilities for regional capacity-building for sustainable development and transformation.

11 --> For, by committing to the development of an open source, renewable energy focussed disaster response technical capacity,
DCM Offices can help jump-start significant capacity building for transition to truly sustainable development in the region:
a] Information and communication technologies [ICTs] are a critical issue for any C21 system. Commitment to the use of open source computer hardware and software [rooted in the Linux, Ubuntu, Android and OLPC- Sugar initiatives etc.] and standard interfacing systems such as the CAN bus (tied to the automotive industry) would create a generic base for a key strategic technology that is not locked into the currently predominant Wintel bloatware, high cost, non-transparent computing model. (It also encourages built-on value added efforts that would open up market space for the region's private sector.)

b] Adoption of the Grid Beam prototyping system would allow for deploying of an extremely flexible and easy to use development prototyping system (with metal grid beams) and for standardised easy-assembly sturdy temporary/flexible furniture (with wood beams; for required
joint connector bolts and nuts, cf. here).
[The system is ideal for engineering, student and do- it- yourself level design, prototyping and development; and for rapid assembly or adaptation of machinery, furniture, workstations etc. in disaster response situations. For instance, standard kits would allow for creating a system of knocked down transportable furniture, instrumentation and work station units that can equip rapidly set up first responder field bases and also could provide furnishings for temporary shelters or tents. (The gallery of examples here, and the recliner seat computer workstation here should give enough ideas to draw attention, spark interest, trigger adoption and suggest adaptations.)]
c] Adoption of key Open Source Ecology industrial technologies for heavy equipment, such as the LifeTrac and the underlying CADTrac, would allow our University Engineering Departments and development arms of DCM offices to prototype a standard heavy equipment system that would itself be transformative for not only first response and stabilisation technical capacity but also would open up a new path for our own regional capacity to develop and manufacture agriculture, construction and heavy industry machinery. (This point for possible collaboration also shows a practical case on how our universities can be integrated into regional disaster management capacity building.)

d] Similarly, and using university energy research units as a base, the targetted use of small scale solar and wind powered, modular off-grid electricity generation systems would allow for deployment of reliable emergency communication, instrumentation [scientific, IT and biomedical], refrigeration of strategic items such as drugs, and more. It would also open up a base for developing capacity for this strategic cluster of future energy technologies.

e] Also, if we can develop and deploy an effective small scale modular biomass-based biofuel production capacity -- biodiesel, biogas, ethanol and butanol [this last being a direct substitute for gasoline] -- it would create an emergency vehicle and equipment fuel system that would be independent of supply disruptions and price volatility etc.

f] It is worth looking at the emerging green car kernel proposal as a possible model for flexible fuel emergency on- and off-road vehicles.

g] The building or adapting of a number of small roll-on, roll-off [RO-RO] container-carrying ships based at designated points in the region would allow for rapid deployment of resources in response to emergencies.

(Perhaps, we can work on the development of a regional merchant marine with links to the Caribbean Maritime Institute training college at Palisadoes, Jamaica? [Would a cut-down version of he Buffalo Soldier class Ro-Ro vessel, or an update to the classic WW II era Landing Ship, Tank do? Perhaps, with the clamshell door and cargo ramp at the stern, with manouvering thrusters in the bow?])

h] Similarly, there should be reserve contracts with regional catamaran ferry services to provide for rapid sea-based transportation of first responder teams and crucial equipment.

i] Our region also needs a "Caricom" fleet of flexible, turbo-prop, short and rough field capacity aircraft with adequate range to hop across the region and equipped for search and rescue, medical evacuation and rapid deployment of first responder teams and crucial equipment or cargo.

(The famous Lockheed C-130 four-engine 2,000+ mile range, 72,000 lb/64 - 92 passenger [including 74 medevac litter] turbo prop or the related civilian versions L-100 or L-382 would be one possibility at the heavier lift end of the scale. The twin engine De Haviland Twin Otter family and the less familiar but heavier lift Polish-built PZL M-28 Skytruck version of the Antonov 28 family, or the Short C-23 Sherpa or the CASA C-212 Aviocar or the Chinese made Harbin Y-12 [one is in use with the Guyana Defence Force] or the like should be seriously considered at the lighter lift, shorter range end of the scale.)

j] As an augmentation to this, national and regional DCM Offices should have arrangements with key regional airlines (e.g. LIAT, Caribbean Airways, Air Jamaica) for emergency support charter flights.
12 --> The integration of these technologies, arrangements and systems into a growing regional disaster management capacity would not only provide a much needed capability, but would provide a model for other regional capacity-building and transformation initiatives.

13 --> In this context, we should note the observation that church mission and relief efforts have been a long time positive contribution in Haiti. Accordingly, similar collaborative development of co-ordinated DCM capacity by church organisations and missions agencies active in the region would be a way to enhance that contribution. Such a development should also be co-ordinated to the extent possible with regional and local DCM Offices and initiatives.

14 --> Finally, in all of this, the example of Nehemiah is instructive:

a] As an official in Peria, he showed such capability, situational awareness and reliability that the King literally trusted him with his life. (As cup-bearer he needed to know what was going on, and was tasked to taste food for the king to test against poisoning.)

[NB: An interesting subtlety here is that his job almost certainly meant he had to sample foods forbidden under the Levitical dietary laws, and certainly would have been consecrated to pagan gods. So, a part of the message of Nehemiah is that spiritual soundness and succor for God's people may be found in the most unexpected places, and that such soundness and caling from God are not a matter of punctilious observance of correct rituals and forms.]

b] On learning of the disatrous situation with the walls of Jerusalem, he set out on indentification with the sins of the people and repentance, seeking God's help in opening a door to restoration.

c] He obtained the support of the King, and letters of warrant for key required resources.

d] On setting out to and arriving in Jerusalem, he surveyed the situation privately, then called the people to rebuilding.

e] In the face of internal challenges and external threats, ridicule and slander, he was resolute.

f] He mobilised the people, and delegated the work in manageable pieces, seeing to it that the worlers were guarded. As a result, the work was completed in an astonishingly short time

g] Following this, Ezra was able to call a solemn assembly in which the reading of the Law and its explanation triggered national repentance, renewal and revival, setting the tone for Israel's future in the centuries to come.


Through all of this, we can see ways in which a regionally integrated, strategically focused disaster cycle management capacity- building effort can contribute significantly to not only the rebuilding of Haiti, but also to the sustainable development oriented transformation of the wider region.

An effort in which the region's largest single bloc of Non-Government, Community-Based Civil Society Organisations -- its churches -- can and should play a key role. END

Monday, January 18, 2010

Matt 24 Watch, 97: Haiti -- Tragedy, Challenge and opportunity

As we all know by now, on Tuesday last, a major earthquake on the Enriquillo-Plantain Garden strike-slip fault struck Haiti, shattering its capital city, Port-au-Prince with the force of a nuclear blast.

As Wikipedia aptly summarises:

The 2010 Haiti earthquake was a catastrophic magnitude 7.0 Mw earthquake with the epicenter near Léogane, approximately 25 kilometres (16 mi) west of Port-au-Prince, the capital of Haiti, striking at 16:53:10 local time (21:53:10 UTC) on Tuesday, 12 January 2010.[4][5] The earthquake occurred at a depth of 13 kilometres (8.1 mi). The United States Geological Survey recorded a series of at least 33 aftershocks, fourteen of them between magnitudes 5.0 and 5.9.[6] The International Red Cross estimated that about three million people were affected by the quake,[7] and the Haitian Interior Minister believes that up to 200,000 have died as a result of the disaster,[3] exceeding earlier Red Cross estimates of 45,000–50,000.[8] Several prominent public figures are among the dead. The Haitian Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive recently announced that over 70,000 bodies have been buried in mass graves.[9]

The earthquake caused major damage to Port-au-Prince. Most major landmarks were significantly damaged or destroyed, including the Presidential Palace
(President René Préval survived), the National Assembly building, the Port-au-Prince Cathedral, and the main jail.[10][11][12] To compound the tragedy, most hospitals in the area were destroyed.[13] The United Nations (UN) reported that the headquarters of the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH), located in the capital, had collapsed and that the Mission's Chief, Hédi Annabi, his deputy, Luiz Carlos da Costa, and the acting police commissioner were confirmed dead.[14][15] Elisabeth Byrs of the UN called it the worst disaster the United Nations has experienced because the organizational structures of the UN in Haiti and the Haitian government were destroyed.[16]

Amidst this awful tragedy, first responders, aid agencies, Governments and rescue and/or relief teams from across the world, the UN and other agencies, and many church missions agencies are scrambling to address overwhelming immediate needs. (They need our prayers, our understanding of the magnitude of challenges they face, and prayers.) Across the Caribbean region, an outpouring of compassion and giving has begun, and what is now the sister Caricom state that accounts for 56% of that regional association's population has moved to the focal point at centre stage.

However, even as we look at the current crisis, we must not only appreciate tragedies, historical background and challenges, but also opportunities for the churches, peoples and countries across the Caribbean region.

For, we need to seriously consider implications of Haiti's tragic but ever so important history, key spiritual factors (and related key myths or half-truths that have unfortunately helped sour the atmosphere), the current situation -- including implications of the adage that
"earthquakes don't kill people, [collapsing] buildings do" -- and ways forward for the positive reformation and transformation that is so desperately needed; not only for Haiti but in the wider region. And in that context, we need to reflect on some specific potentially transforming strategies and technologies.

So, let us now consider:

1 --> The shattering of Port-au-Prince presents the Caricom region with a
second nation-shattering natural disaster that requires the rebuilding of a capital city and associated key infrastructure. For, between 1995 and 1997, Plymouth Montserrat was depopulated and eventually destroyed by eruptions of Montserrat's Soufriere Hills Volcano. And, over a dozen years later, rebuilding of a new capital has only just begun; after many delays and fits and starts.

2 --> Immediately, this underscores the challenge that many territories across the Caribbean are inherently highly vulnerable to catastrophic natural disasters, hurricanes, floods, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions and tsunamis ("tidal waves"). Worse, much of our present key infrastructure has been built in ways that multiply that vulnerability; and that, too often in the teeth of sound but unheeded scientific counsels and advice to the contrary. (A similar pattern holds for the almost as damaging pattern of economic and socio-cultural dislocation that plagues many territories, including especially Haiti.)

3 --> In short, we are now forced to address issues of how to move from unsustainable development patterns to more sustainable paths, amidst a situation where over the next several decades, we can expect to be hit with more tragedies and challenges of the sort of magnitude that we can see manifested in Montserrat and Haiti.

4 --> The collapsed buildings issue provides a key slice of the cake that has in it all the ingredients. For, as the already linked BBC report observes:

Experts say it is no surprise that shoddy construction contributed to the level of destruction in Haiti following Tuesday’s earthquake. But the scale of the disaster has shed new light on the problem in the impoverished Caribbean nation.
Tens of thousands are feared dead after being crushed by buildings that collapsed. Scores more remain trapped under the rubble.
It’s sub-standard construction,” says London-based architect John McAslan, who has been working on a project linked to the Clinton Global Initiative in the country.
There aren’t any building codes as we would recognise them,” he added.
Mr McAslan says most buildings are made of masonry – bricks or [unreinforced] construction blocks – which tend to perform badly in an earthquake. . . . .
There are also significant problems with the quality of building materials used, says Peter Haas, head of the Appropriate Infrastructure Development Group, a US-based non-profit group that has been working in Haiti since 2006.
People are skimping on cement to try to cut costs, putting a lot of water in, building too thin, and you end up with a structure that’s innately weaker,” said Mr Haas, who was on his way to Haiti to help assess the safety of damaged buildings.
Concrete blocks are being made in people’s backyards and dried out in the sun,” . . . .
Tuesday’s quake was the worst in two centuries. The country is more used to dealing with hurricanes, which have been getting more frequent in recent years, according to Mr Musson.
Most buildings are like a house of cards,” he said. “They can stand up to the forces of gravity, but if you have a sideways movement, it all comes tumbling down.” . . . .

5 --> In short, we need to reckon with the implications of the observable fact that not all buildings (even in the same areas, cf. UN photo here) tumbled down -- some stood, some collapsed. That is, outdated, inadequate -- and in some cases doubtless shoddy and/or corrupt -- construction techniques plainly played a role in the degree of vulnerability of buildings.

6 --> For instance, researcher and seismologist Roger Bilham of the University of Colorado at Boulder, observed:

Porte-au-Prince is probably one of the worst constructed cities in the world, and even the presidential palace collapsed,” . . . “An earthquake near a major city on one of several faults bounding the edge of the Caribbean Plate is one that many of us were expecting sooner or later” . . . .
Bilham said one of the chief causes of the high destruction and fatality rates in Haiti and other developing countries is due in large part to corruption in the construction industry. One of the problems is bribery, which often takes the form of corrupt awards of construction projects, corrupt issuance of permits and approval documents and corrupt inspection practices.
It should be appalling to the people of the world that in 2009, more than 100 years after earthquake-resistant construction began to be understood and implemented by engineers, that it is possible to forecast large numbers of future earthquake fatalities from the collapse of cities,” said Bilham in his 2009 Mallet-Milne Lecture to earthquake engineers at The Society for Earthquake and Civil Engineering Dynamics meeting in London. [Cf his major paper here, on the seismic future of cities.]

7 --> Given the breakdown of governance in Haiti [a failed state now the subject of a major UN-sponsored nation-building effort], multiplied by massive poverty and further multiplied by the observation from Transparency International that "overt corruption in the $3,200 billion/year con-struction industry exceeds any other sector of society" [p. 38, Bilham et al] , such is not altogether surprising.

8 --> In that same paper, Bilham et al note on several potentially tragic false assumptions that hamper sound construction around the world:

False Assumption #6. Politicians will act responsibly when provided with estimates of seismic hazard. [p. 36]
False Assumption #7. Tenders and sealed bids to avoid corrupt selection practices, guarantee safe construction. [p. 37]
False Assumption #8. Building codes are universally enforced in nations where they have been adopted.
False Assumption #9. Government building inspectors assure code adherence in engi-neered structures.
False Assumption #10. Licensed contractors adhere to building codes.
False Assumption #11. Homeowners build safer structures for themselves than when they employ contractors.
False Assumption #12. Urban planners with fixed budgets in earthquake prone regions prefer quality over quantity construction.
False Assumption #13. Government projects are always safer than privately-developed construction projects.
False Assumption #14. Reconstruction of a city destroyed by an earthquake eliminates future seismic risk to its survivors. [p. 38]
False Assumption #15. A new generation of young earthquake engineers will fix the prob-lems in their countries.

9 --> On the next page, Bilham et al make a telling, common-sense suggestion:

The fix here is clear—house construction should be part of everyone’s [primary] school education. An hour of how to mix cement, and the why-and-wherefore of structures would save many more lives than a sophisticated logic-tree investigation into the safety of a future civic struc-ture. A student prepared with simple structural knowledge but destined for occupations other than the construction industry will benefit his/her future society by recognizing construction problems they may encounter throughout their lives. The lives they save may be their own.
Some may become politicians or urban planners. All of them will live in a house. [pp. 39 - 40.]

10 --> Another suggestion they discuss is the need for a Builder's Nameplate Law. So, while they observe that an overly stringent law would dry up construction, it is obvious that if buildings by law had to have a permanently affixed plate or inscription that specified the builder, the passing of inspections and a reference to the relevant document file number, the enhanced transparency -- thus accountability -- would strongly tend to drive out corruption and poor quality/corrupt builders and inspectors.

11 --> Similarly, we need to move construction towards technologies that reduce costs, speed up delivery of the finished product, enhance finish quality and soundness, and inherently build-in improved survivability. This brings the Moladi type plastic mould, foamed, reinforced cast concrete low cost building system to the fore for the rapid creation of starter houses. (Moladi's estimates are that once the system is set up, it delivers one house per day per plastic mould unit. The plastic moulds have an estimated lifespan of fifty units each. [A gallery of examples is here. This is not a matter of building ugly matchboxes for the poor. And, we must reckon seriously with the massive positive impact on families of owning a stake in their community through owning their own house on their own land. So a Katrina Cottage-type initiative for the region is well worth developing.])

12 --> For more complex construction, the Hebel-type Autoclaved Aerated Concrete modular building system should be given serious consideration. For, in effect it creates a system based on foamed concrete based artificial coral limestone modular elements that integrate reinforcement, and allow for rapid building of residential, commercial and institutional space, with the potential to take advantage of the classically beautiful aesthetics of stonework, and/or to build in functional forms. [Cf. technical manual here.]

13 --> In that context, Montserrat can plainly serve as a pilot project to demonstrate possible technologies, for scaling up to the Haiti case.

14 --> However, there is an underling social, cultural and spiritual dimension at work that we must face. For instance, as a UK Guardian survey on Haitis' history observes:

Haiti, born of slavery and revolution, has struggled with centuries of crippling debt, exploitation, corruption and violence . . . .
Geography and bad luck are only partly to blame for Haiti’s tragedy. There are, plainly, more propitious places for a country and its capital city to find themselves than straddling the major fault line between the North American and Caribbean tectonic plates. [But, that is WHY the land is there to be settled in the first instance . . . ] It’s more than unfortunate to be positioned plumb on the region’s principal hurricane track, meaning you would be hit, in the 2008 season alone, by a quartet of storms as deadly and destructive as Fay, Gustav, Hannah and Ike (between them, they killed 800 people, and ­devastated more than 70% of Haiti’s agricultural land). Wretched, also, to have fallen victim to calamitous flooding in 2002, 2003 (twice), 2006 and 2007.
But what has really left Haiti in such a state today, what makes the country a constant and heart-rending site of ­recurring catastrophe, is its history. In Haiti, the last five centuries have combined to produce a people so poor, an infrastructure so nonexistent and a state so hopelessly ineffectual that whatever natural disaster chooses to strike next, its impact on the population will be magnified many, many times over. Every single factor that international experts look for when trying to measure a nation’s vulnerability to natural disasters is, in Haiti, at the very top of the scale. Countries, when it comes to dealing with disaster, do not get worse.
Haiti has had slavery, revolution, debt, deforestation, corruption, exploitation and violence,” says Alex von Tunzelmann, a historian and writer currently working on a book about the country and its near neighbours, the Dominican Republic and Cuba. “Now it has poverty, illiteracy, overcrowding, no infrastructure, environmental disaster and large areas without the rule of law. And that was before the earthquake. It sounds a terrible cliche, but it really is a perfect storm. This is a catastrophe beyond our worst imagination.”
It needn’t, though, have been like this. In the 18th century, under French rule, Haiti – then called Saint-Domingue – was the Pearl of the Antilles, one of the richest islands in France’s empire (though 800,000-odd African slaves who produced that wealth saw precious little of it). In the 1780s, Haiti exported 60% of all the coffee and 40% of all the sugar consumed in Europe: more than all of Britain’s West Indian colonies combined. It subsequently became the first independent nation in Latin America, and remains the world’s oldest black republic and the second-oldest republic in the western hemisphere after the United States. So what went wrong? . . . .
As Stephen Keppel of the Economist Intelligence Unit puts it, Haiti’s revolution may have brought it independence but it also “ended up destroying the country’s infrastructure and most of its plantations. It wasn’t the best of starts for a fledgling republic.” Moreover, in exchange for diplomatic recognition from France, the new republic was forced [through negotiations under the guns of 17 French men of war] to pay enormous reparations: some 150m francs, in gold. It was an immense sum, and even reduced by more than half in 1830, far more than Haiti could afford.
The long and the short of it is that Haiti was paying reparations to France from 1825 until 1947,” says Von Tunzelmann. “To come up with the money, it took out huge loans from American, German and French banks, at exorbitant rates of interest. By 1900, Haiti was spending about 80% of its national budget on loan repayments. It ­completely wrecked their economy. By the time the original reparations and interest were paid off, the place was basically destitute and trapped in a ­spiral of debt. Plus, a succession of leaders had more or less given up on trying to resolve Haiti’s problems, and started looting it instead.” . . . .
[I]n 1911 came another revolution, followed almost immediately by nearly 20 years of occu­pation by a US terrified that Haiti was about to default on its massive debts. The Great Depression devastated the country’s exports. There were revolts and coups and dictatorships, and then, in 1957, came François ­”Papa Doc” Duvalier. Papa Doc’s regime is widely seen as one of the most corrupt and ­repressive in modern history. He ­exploited Haiti’s traditional belief in voodoo to establish a personal militia, the feared and hated Tonton Macoutes, said to be zombies that he had raised from the dead.
During the 28 years in power of Papa Doc and his playboy son and heir, Jean-Claude Duvalier, or Baby Doc, the Tonton Macoutes and their henchmen killed between 30,00 and 60,000 ­Haitians, and raped, beat and tortured countless more. Until Baby Doc’s ­eventual flight into exile in 1986, Duvalier père and fils also made themselves very rich indeed. Aid agencies and ­international creditors donated and lent millions for projects that were often abandoned before completion, or never even started. Generous multi­national corporations earned lucrative contracts. According to Von Tunzelmann, the Duvaliers were at times embezzling up to 80% of Haiti’s international aid, while the debts they signed up to ­account for 45% of what the country owes today. And when Baby Doc ­finally fled, estimates of what he took with him run as high as $900m.
It is hardly surprising then that Haiti isn’t Switzerland. The Duvaliers’ departure, as Keppel puts it, “left a void, and a broken and corrupt government. Democracy got off to a ­really bad start there . . .

15 --> Thus, enter stage left, the march of sinful folly (and perhaps cynical calculation).

16 --> As one aspect of that march, it has long been commonly held, both inside Haiti and elsewhere, that in 1791, the Boukman-inspired Bois Caiman pact constituted a pact with the Devil that brought Haiti under a curse. However, we must note correctively with Jean R Gelin, that the accessible historical documents do not bear that weight:

After extensive research on Haiti and several visits to the country, American writer Robert Heinl and his wife Nancy Heinl published in 1978 a volume on the Haitian revolution that deals with several aspects of Haiti’s painful history including the Bois-Caïman meeting5. According to these authors, Bookman sought the help of the God of heaven in his prayer, and made no mention whatsoever of a spiritual agreement with Satan. Even though the text shows Bookman was talking to the creator and not the devil, some would still contend that he could not have been really talking to God because – the way they see it – Bookman did not know God as they think they know Him . . . . [But] when Bookman addressed his plea for help to the God of heaven, as the historical record seems to indicate, was it just pure theism? Was it a kind of simple theistic philosophy? You can debate that. But as for a spiritual pact with Satan, I have not yet seen the evidence.

17 --> Gelin, a Church of God minister and a Haitian himself, then adds:

The second reason for [the successful achievement of independence in] 1804 is that as many of Haiti’s first leaders were Catholic Christians11, they believed with all their heart and mind that it was the will of God for them to either live as free men and women or at least die fighting for their freedom. I invite you to read for yourself how these heroic men described their conditions and motives – in their own words:
God who fights for the innocent is our guide, He will not forsake us. To win or to die! There lies our motto that we will defend up to the last drop of our blood. We lack neither powder nor cannons. So, Death or Liberty! May God grant it to us without the shedding of blood. Then all our wishes will be fulfilled.12
This is an excerpt from a letter sent to the French Governor Blanchelande who wanted to know why the slaves had revolted, as if being a slave was not in and of itself a sufficient reason. But what is interesting about the exchange is that it took place not before but after the Bois-Caiman meeting. Now, why would they claim God was on their side and guiding them, if – as the rumor goes – they had already made an alliance with the devil?

18 --> Notwithstanding, as has often been said, Haitians, traditionally, were 99% Catholics and 100% Voodoo-ists. That is, Christian adherence -- as is common in many islands in the Caribbean -- was significantly syncretised with Animist worldview aspects and religious practices. (Many's the church in our region where as the foundations were laid, an animal was sacrificed and some rum poured out as a libation to the spirits! Similarly, death rituals such as post-mortem rearranging of furniture in the room that housed a death bed -- to confuse the Duppy/Jumbie and so "prevent" a haunting -- often show a clear element of animist survivals, in the most surprising corners.)

19 --> This reflects a key element of the Animist worldview highlighted by Don Richardson in his classic Eternity in their hearts. Animists all across the world recognise the High God of heaven, but feel themselves alienated form him and find themselves dealing from day to day with lesser spirits who are more accessible, more immediately present and active, and may be more problematic.

20 --> On one aspect, this historically has provided a tremendous opportunity for the gospel: the gospel comes across readily as the message of the High God, opening the door of reconciliation though Jesus, and thence liberation from the spirits [who are readily recognised as what Jesus, the Gospel writers and the Apostles in the New Testament explicitly calls demons].

21 --> However, it also opens up the way for various degrees of oil-and-water mix syncretism, and is in itself an invitation to find oneself not only fellowshipping with but worshipping and serving false gods and idols serving as fronts for demons.

22 --> This is also the most credible root of pagan polytheism: as Romans 1 points out, as cultures more and more forget the God of heaven, they are tempted to worship lesser spirits -- imagined or real -- as idolatrous gods:

Rom 1: 21. . . although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools 23and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles. [In olden times, in temples, nowadays, in museums . . . ]
24Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. 25They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised . . . .
28Furthermore, since they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God [whether ancient paganism or modern skepticism makes little difference], he gave them over to a depraved mind, to do what ought not to be done. 29They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, 30slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; 31they are senseless, faithless, heartless, ruthless. 32Although they know God's righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them.

23 --> Thus, we see the pattern and typical phases of God's judgement of a nation:

a] We are intelligent, enconscienced creatures living in a world where there is a stable, intelligible pattern of cause-effect behaviour [the base for science and common sense alike]; so we fall under the moral government of God.
b] God, through conscience, mind, common sense intuition, and valid prophets, has given us guidance on the right way, and he regularly sends messengers with his Word to to correct us when we are being wayward.
c] If we — and the emphasis falls on power elites here, the sort who are so plainly responsible for much of what went wrong for Haiti; BOTH local and international — stubbornly insist on corrupt behaviour, the responsibility for the predictable self-induced destruction is ours. [Direct destructive acts of God are very rare, but the march of folly more than makes up for that, sadly.]
d] So, let us instead heed the counsel of wise King Jehoshaphat, given to God's often wayward and disobedient people:
2 Chron 20:20 . . . Jehoshaphat stood up and said: “Listen to me, you people of Judah32 and residents of Jerusalem! Trust in the Lord your God and you will be safe!33 Trust in the message of his prophets and you will win.”

24 --> By contrast, we may see above how Papa Doc's Duvalierism "exploited Haiti’s traditional belief in voodoo to establish a personal militia, the feared and hated Tonton Macoutes, said to be zombies that he had raised from the dead . . . the Tonton Macoutes and their henchmen killed between 30,00 and 60,000 ­Haitians, and raped, beat and tortured countless more . . . . According to Von Tunzelmann, the Duvaliers were at times embezzling up to 80% of Haiti’s international aid, while the debts they signed up to ­account for 45% of what the country owes today. And when Baby Doc ­finally fled, estimates of what he took with him run as high as $900m."

25 --> Consequently, the issue in hand is not merely one of grants and technical assistance towards capacity-building, important as these are.

26 --> Gospel-based liberation and transformation through discipleship and renewal of hearts, minds, lives and institutions are also necessary if Haiti is to find a truly sustainable breakthrough. (Just as is true for the rest of the world.)

27 --> I also believe that the harnessing of modern information and communication technologies is also a key component of such a transformation, as the bridging of the digital divide powerfully enables all of the above.

28 --> For this, I am especially impressed by the significance of the One Laptop Per Child pioneered by Nicholas Negroponte and others, and the now spun-off Sugar User Interface system. (As well, the Tutorius interactive tutoring system based on Sugar is worth monitoring.) [OLPC] initiative.

29 --> For, this system creates an educational learning system based on a rugged, low cost, low power consumption, low ecological footprint computer using an open source interface built on Red Hat's Fedora Linux, and is a system that is completely open source on both hardware and software. (Think, instead of a cut-down PC, of a rugged modification to the Blackberry or iPhone; but set up as a child's "instant-on" educational computer based on completely open source software, and with built in networking capability so that it can interact with the Internet and a neighbourhood of other users across the world. A world in which already over 1.6 million e-books books that will work with the XO series of computers are available online. The underlying hardware uses an extended X86 instruction set as well, so it is capable of working with Linux distributions such as Ubuntu, and with a suitably adapted Windows. [Indeed, through an arrangement with Microsoft, for a small additional fee [it seems ~US$3/unit] countries ordering large numbers of XO's may have XP installed.])

30 --> As just one illustration of potential beyond just education, one of the most distressing experiences of Haitians abroad has been inability to communicate with their loved ones back home, in the midst of the horrendous news reports. But, if OLPC XO-1's were on the ground, so soon as a wireless network could have been set up, families would have been able to be in instant contact through text, and if there were enough bandwidth, speech and video.

31 --> Since the OLPC Foundation is relatively small, as well, and is strongly technologically innovative, the extension of the concept from primary age children to a generally available educational device that not only is set up for primary education and as an eBook reader, but is capable of supporting education through secondary and tertiary levels. [Cf. concepts for the XO-3 "card computer" here, which the foundation is targetting for US$ 75/unit, though of course they have as yet been unable to bring the original XO below US$100/unit on truly large scale production.]

32 --> For instance, a classroom with a U-shaped set of Workstation plug-in points, and a central modular table system can fit into a 15' x 30 ' room. Put in some broadband access, multimedia, and wireless keyboard tech, mix in mentoring people as facilitators, and you have a viable micro-campus centre that could for instance be based in a church or a community centre etc.

33 --> The Moodle open source educaiton content management software system, Wiki technologies (similar to the Wikipedia encyclopedia), blog technologies, video conferencing and other open source digital techniques can then facilitate hosting a rich educational resource that can be partly localised to on-site servers, partly accessible through the web.

34 --> A network of such microcampuses can tackle the keystone bridging Secondary-to-post secondary and Associate to first degree levels, with key short courses and targetted strategic technical areas. this would serve as he backbone to support the transformation of primary and secondary education, and would provide a steady stream of people with required capacity for the redevelopment effort.

35 --> At more advanced levels, a cluster of targetted MBAs, MPAs [Masters in Public Admin], M.Eds and the like would help greatly on building strategic level governance and managerial capacity side.

36 --> A good Associate Degree level Theology, Bible, Discipleship and technical empowerment programme designed to work with the general education system could be taken up by CETA or other groups. This last would help energise the spiritual reformation and renewal side.

37 --> Similarly, porting one or more of he open source Bible software initiatives -- Xiphos is already a Linux based system that has been ported to other environments, but eSWORD has now gone generic with version 9 [as with office version 2007 the original Access database format has been abandoned by Microsoft] -- to the platform would create a widely accessible Bible resource that could be used for supporting the work of the church and general "equipping of God's people for works of service."

38 --> The development of renewable energy, modern agricultural technologies [e.g. drip irrigation and fertigation, modern mulching etc] and the like could help transform agriculture. So would an effort to introduce terracing and other soil conserving approaches. Reforestation (and provision of fast growth tree plantations for biofuels) would also help restore the Haitian environment.

39 --> In addition to modern technologies for the construction industry, adaptation of traditional technologies should also be explored, as a way to house the people of the remote areas through low cost appropriate technology approaches that can be used by the people of the villages.

40 --> Possibilities -- in addition to the Moladi-type approach -- include:

a] The Classic CINVA Ram-type compressed earth brick or block presses (including the soil-cement block or brick variation, for which cement stabilises the blocks against moisture), with The Liberator being a faster production development. [The original is rather labour intensive, producing 50 bricks per hour per machine, with several thousand bricks being a typical requirement for a small house. But, we are dealing with a low labour cost environment in looking at Haiti's rural villages.]
b] The Auram modern development that can make a considerable variety of bricks and blocks, including Lego-style interlocking blocks
c] Modern clay, sand, and straw asphalted bricks (going all the way back to the Babylonians!)
d] Use of bamboo canes as a reinforcement medium for adobe type construction (as in "grow your own rebars").
e] The online World Housing Encyclopedia (and other sources) has many more ideas and even training manuals, e.g. this one on proper use of reinforced concrete.


Thus, in the midst of tragedy and many challenges, there are opportunities for the churches and people of our region as we respond to the horror in Haiti.

So, again, we must ask: Why not now, why not here, why not us? END


UPDATE, Jan 23: Cleanups, links.

UPDATE 2, Jan 24: In a comment at the Barbados Underground Blog, I added the following linked thoughts on developing rural areas (as slightly adjusted):


1 –> One of the key blights of Haiti (and Kingston, Ja etc) is the problem of urban migration of rural people, as the countryside has been long starved of opportunity and attractions.

2 –> This, due to the problem of subsidising the town at the expense of the country that Adam Smith long ago analysed. For, urban concentrations draw the eye and the effort, while rural people, being dispersed, are easily overlooked; to the predictable detriment of both -- rural stagnation, loss of ability of a nation to feed itself from its own resources, and urban blight with high unemployment, poverty and crime.

3 –> But in our time of networked multimedia communications, there is no good reason why villages should not grow into small townships with quite good enough facilities and resources; creating a nation-wide network of distributed centres that avert the denudation, idling and depopulation of the countryside and the creation of overpopulated, overstressed, explosive and unsustainable urban concentrations. (I think here of SE St Elizabeth, Ja, and the astonishing development of the township of Junction as an informal model to study and learn from.)

4 –> A key step is the de-bureaucratisation of business formation and taxing systems. For, as De Soto showed convincingly for Peru [cf Institute for Liberty and Democracy here], a lingering mercantilist pattern of regulation, monopoly and cartel easily emerges that locks out the innovative small or micro entrepreneur through creating a bureaucratic maze backed up by blocking access to capital save by the already established.

5 –> The rise of capital starved informal micro enterprises, squatting on/"capture" of lands, inability to acquire lands, etc etc are all characteristic features of such, and are already depressingly familiar from a simple glance at Haiti (and of course Jamaica etc).

6 –> Instead, regulatory and taxing systems need to be greatly simplified, more comprehensible to the uninitiated, helping-oriented and less punitive. On this De Soto’s comparison that similar businesses took an afternoon to set up in Miami [no bribes] and a year or so in Peru [with bribes], is telling.

7 –> Similarly, his contrast of two neighbouring communites in Peru, one ghetto-like, the other showing obvious pride of ownership, is telling. When people can own their own land and homes, they have ownership and access to a capital base that can give collateral for prudent business investments [and if designed right, can often house the relevant cottage industry -- think of the old fashioned tailor shop fronting the house, or shop below, residence above etc].

8 –> Multiply by strategic cash crops [including the ever-growing list of nutraceuticals, especially superfruit tree crops -- reforestation!], agricultural co-ops and competent marketing systems that turn small plots into mini cash cows.

9 –> Blend in well managed credit unions and development banking. (And, CDB is a world class effort along these lines. The Basic Needs Trust Fund should get injections from all sorts of people, as a way to energise a known centre of excellence.)

10 –> Take village churches, schools and community centres, and augment them to include micro-campus centres, supports for business formation and development, clinics and community micro-power radio.

11 –> Add to these the proved power of the business incubator.

12 –> Back all up by a long term programme of capacity development and transformation through education and renewal . . .