Tuesday, March 1, 2011

A failed state and a banana republic

While visiting completed T shelters at camp CC in Port au Prince earlier in the week, an old man on hearing my Irish accent surprised me by asking, ‘what was the disaster in your country’? What do you mean, I asked. Well he said, ‘ there is USD$6 billion pledged by the international community for Earth Quake reconstruction in Haiti, and the EU/IMF have just sanctioned usd 85 billion for Ireland, it must have been some disaster’!

It’s odd how events in Haiti and events in Ireland often appear to move in tandem with one another. Haiti in the last 12 months has been devastated by an earthquake, hit by a hurricane, suffered a cholera epidemic and is currently at the tail end of a long chaotic and troublesome presidential election campaign. Ireland has just suffered its coldest winter in 65 years resulting in havoc on our roads and broken pipes all across the country. The country has been devastated by the collapse in the economy, Irish bank losses amount to roughly €100 billion, to American ears that’s USD$ 10 trillion. At current rates that’s enough to consume every penny of Irish taxes for the next three years. The saga that has been our recent political crisis ended in collapse of the Government and a call for early elections.

It’s almost impossible for us Irish to comprehend the enormous tragedy and suffering suffered by Haitians during January’s force 7 earthquake. The loss of 230,000 people with another 1.5 million made homeless is a catastrophe of biblical proportions and Haven hearts go out to the on going suffering of ordinary people on a daily basis. I know it is all relative however, despite recent turmoil in Ireland we don’t know how lucky we have it. Both disasters are extremely different, incomparable perhaps, but either way the people of Ireland and the people of Haiti are both struggling to make the best of the situations in which they now find themselves in.

Haiti is considered a ‘fragile state’, referring to a reflection of the internal dynamics of the society or it may reflect external factors such as natural disaster or conflict. Three main characteristics point to a country being labelled with fragile state status, the country suffers deficit in governance that hinder development; conditions there are too unstable for long-term planning and investment; and the society focusing on near-term coping strategies to secure basic needs.

Geldof and the Rats once sang about Ireland as a ‘Banana Republic’, a politically unstable country dependent upon limited agriculture and ruled by small, self-elected, wealthy, corrupt politico-economic elite. Recently there is revived talk of a return of the ‘Banana Republic of Ireland’ only now we are so broke we can’t even afford the bananas.

The Irish and the Haitians know about suffering, it is in our history, we have grown to accept that ours is a challenging existence, we have learned once again the hard way not to become complacent when things are looking up. The recent civil unrest in Haiti after the chaotic first round elections was frustration building for some time. Many commentators are astonished that there has not been whole scale rioting on the streets of Dublin in protest at how our politicians handled the economic crisis. I guess we have grown to accept our lot, in a sense this defines our strength of character, the fighting Irish the resilient Haitians.

It is always a bonus to witness something special amongst all the misery in the displaced peoples camps. A new Haven Transitional Shelter at Camp CC will be a welcome transition for baby Jean Francois born under the adjacent tarpaulin on 16th February. A banana republic and a failed state together in humanity, how bad!

1 comment:

  1. Excellent article and it puts everything very much into perspective for people in Ireland.
    The problems in Haiti have not gone away and it will be a long time before they do (if that ever happens).
    Keep up the good work!