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Disaster of charitable waste

Published: Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Updated: Wednesday, July 25, 2012 19:07

On January 12, 2010, an earthquake reaching a magnitude of 7.0 rocked Haiti. Over the next two weeks, 52 aftershocks measuring a magnitude of 4.5 or greater had added to the devastation. The city of Port-au-Prince was littered with rubble and death as impromptu tent cities sprang up everywhere. By July, an estimated $1.3 billion in funds had been raised by U.S. relief organizations.

Charity is one of the most selfless, noble activities in which a person can participate; however, good intentions do not always beget good results.

A year later the bodies are gone. The tent cities have upgraded from bed sheets to waterproof, logo-stamped tarps from any number of charitable organizations. Cholera has claimed almost 4,000 lives, much of the rubble remains as tangible proof of Haiti's absolutely desolate state.

In spite of massive relief efforts, progress in Haiti is yet to be seen.

This should come as no surprise to anyone. Haiti ranks 168 out of 180 countries in Transparency International's Corruption Perceptions Index for 2009. It adds a nice 40 percent tax on every import that crosses the border, sometimes forcing aid groups to leave valuable supplies at the country's doorstep. Donated pick-up trucks can be seen abandoned at the airport, surrounded by weeds. There is a tax exemption available to aid groups, but the process is long and tedious and the perennially inept government is all the worse after the earthquake.

Taxing supplies that aid groups bring into Haiti to alleviate suffering and help Haitians rebuild leads me to believe the Haitian government doesn't care about its people. Poverty is about the only thing produced in Haiti. The government has effectively turned humanitarian aid into an industry. In fact, the nation's failed government subsists in large part thanks to the desperate poverty of their people.

Besides the 1.3 billion in funds raised by U.S. relief organizations, the World Bank organized a "pledging" conference in New York. One hundred countries pledged an amazing $10 billion to rebuild Haiti. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton appointed her husband, former President Bill Clinton, along with Haitian President Rene Preval to manage the funds. Little of that money has materialized, as rich countries hesitate to hand over vast sums of cash to a country rife with corruption. Over the past four decades, $8.3 billion has been poured into this failed state, while its population is 25 percent poorer than in 1945.

Haiti is a failed state. All the good intentions on earth can't help them until they have a responsible government. Foreign aid in large part serves to prop up their government and ultimately extends the cycle of corruption and poverty. While a portion of charity might eventually alleviate the hunger of a suffering child, the other portion makes sure he continues to suffer.

In America, we often believe that more money will fix anything. We see that mentality when it comes to getting our economy back on track through stimulus. We see it when we talk about education. We see it in our foreign aid.

We have poured aid into the sieve called Haiti for decades while their people just grow poorer and poorer. It's time to stop the waste. Any country that is willing to let humanitarian aid idle away at airports due to import tariffs is a country that isn't ready for help. It's insane to prop a government that wants to tax charities to distribute food and supplies to their impoverished people. There are other poor countries and other causes where the aid would be better spent. Feeding one Haitian child at the expense of feeding two children in another impoverished nation is waste that the world can ill afford.

I wouldn't waste another dime on a government that cares more about enriching itself than helping its people.


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