The floods - who is to blame?

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Charles Arthur
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The floods - who is to blame?

Post by Charles Arthur » Wed Sep 29, 2004 2:26 am

A slightly edited version of the text below appeared in the British newspaper, The Guardian, on 29 September 2004.

Squalid excuses

Deforestation has left Haiti vulnerable to natural disaster. But it is the failure to address the grinding poverty of local farmers rather than their own greed that is the real culprit, says Charles Arthur

Wednesday September 29, 2004 - The Guardian

http://www.societyguardian.co.uk/societ ... 31,00.html

The floods in north-west Haiti come just four months after a similar catastrophe claimed the lives of over 2,500 people in the country's south-east border region. Then flash floods and mudslides decimated the remote communities of Fond Verrettes and Mapou, whereas now the focus is on the massive loss of life in the sprawling slum that is the city of Gonaives. As most commentators have observed, in both cases the immediate cause is the absence of trees on the country's hills and mountains, leaving a surface unable to absorb any rainfall. But these disasters demand deeper consideration of why Haiti in particular suffers - and why its people will inevitably suffer again.

Blame for the deforestation that has reduced tree cover from an estimated 60% in 1923, to less than 2% today, falls easily on the country's peasant farmers who make up nearly two-thirds of the population. But while they do indeed cut down the trees, they are not the guilty ones.

Haiti's peasants are desperately poor - four out five farmers cannot satisfy their families' basic food needs. When you have nothing to eat, no animals to slaughter, no seeds to plant, nothing to sell, no prospect of finding paid-work, and your children's hair is turning orange because of malnutrition - what can you do? Felling some saplings and digging some roots to produce a sack of charcoal to sell for cash is, for many, literally a matter of life or death.

How did the Haitian countryside get in such a state? Part of the answer lies in a complex interaction of historical, political, and economic factors stretching back to the country's birth as an independent nation two hundred years ago. During the nineteenth century, former slaves and their descendants took what they most wanted - their own land - when and where they could find it. A nation of small-holders developed. Meanwhile, the country's ruling elite congregated in the coastal towns, living off the spoils of agricultural export taxes and plundering the national treasury.

This situation remained pretty much the same until the middle of the twentieth century, by which time individual land-holdings had been divided into smaller and smaller plots over successive generations. Farming methods had remained primitive, and the continual need to produce crops to live on, meant that farm land was being consistently overworked. As yields decreased, peasant farmers could not afford to leave land idle, nor allow trees to remain where new crops could be planted.

Haitian agronomists and foreign development experts have been considering the relationship between land-use, farming techniques and soil-erosion since the 1940s. Remedies were proposed, but under the Duvalier family dictatorship (1957-86), Haiti's well-established corrupt and 'kleptocratic' style of government was taken to new extremes. Taxes went up. Prices paid for agricultural surpluses went down. The pressure on the land grew ever greater.

In the late 1980s peasant organisations flourished, and there was a glimmer of hope for Haiti's failing rural sector. Through the peasants' collective action, co-operatives and credit systems were set up, take-overs of idle land organised, and silos to stockpile grains built. Peasant leaders stressed the need to involve peasant farmers themselves in plans for rural renewal that would necessarily involve steps to restore the environment.

Land reform, and especially the need to resolve disputes over land ownership, were on the political agenda for the first time. Insecurity stemming from the confusing state of land titles left peasants feeling vulnerable to eviction and therefore unwilling to plan for the future - unwilling to leave a sapling to mature.

When the democratic government was restored in 1994 following three years of military rule, there was a chance to implement bold moves to address the rural crisis. Unfortunately, the Haitian government was more or less entirely dependent on foreign assistance, and the structural adjustment policies favoured by the international finance institutions had no place for agricultural development.

In a draft Country Assistance Strategy paper leaked in 1996, the World Bank warned that two-thirds of the country's workers based on the land would be unlikely to survive the neo-liberal economic measures demanded by the Bank and the IMF. The paper concluded that the rural population would be left with only two possibilities: to work in the industrial or service sector, or to emigrate.

And so it has come to pass. Foreign aid to Haiti has been turned on and off, but nearly all of it has been allocated to governance, security, elections and support for the private sector. Next to nothing has been done to support the agricultural sector - no land reform, no subsidies for fertilisers or storage facilities, no subsidised credit, no reforestation campaign, and no irrigation projects. At the same time, the free-marketeers have insisted on the reduction and - in some cases - the elimination of import tariffs, effectively destroying much local food production.

A Ministry of the Environment set up in early 1995 had plans to reduce urban consumers' demand for charcoal by promoting the use of gas stoves, to explore the option of importing alternative fuels, and to reforest mountain areas where key watersheds were located. However, none of these initiatives ever got off the ground because only 0.2% of the US$560 million foreign assistance allocated to Haiti during the mid to late 1990s was assigned to the environment.

The new government formed following the fall of Aristide in February is led by Gerard Latortue, a thirty year veteran of the United Nations system, and is stuffed with technocrats well-aware of the IFI's preferences. Its decision to downgrade the environment ministry to a state secretariat, gives a clear indication of its sense of priorities.

In May and June this year, while the south-east was still recovering from its fatal floods, hundreds of development experts were flown to Haiti to help the new government draw up plans for economic renewal. At an international donors conference in Washington DC in July, pledges of support exceeded the government's request for US$1.37 billion. Less than 10% of this total was allocated to the agricultural sector, and less than 2% for environmental protection and rehabilitation.

By doing nothing to support the poverty-stricken peasantry, the international community is complicit in the loss of life and misery caused by this year's 'natural' disasters in Haiti. More tragic still is the realisation that, if things continue as they are, future catastrophes are inevitable.

If Haiti's countryside and its people are left to an increasingly unproductive future, more and more of them will move to the fetid slums of Haiti's swelling cities in the hope of finding a livelihood. Must the fate experienced by the people of the shanty-towns in Gonaives today, be shared by the poor inhabitants of Cap-Haitien and Port-au-Prince tomorrow?

· Charles Arthur is author of Haiti in Focus (published by Latin America Bureau, 2002).
More information: www.haitisupport.gn.apc.org

Isabelle_

Sources to calculations and documents

Post by Isabelle_ » Wed Sep 29, 2004 8:58 am

Mr. Arthur:

Could you please give the exact primary and secondary sources for the following calculations/figures:

a) "only 0.2% of the US$560 million foreign assistance allocated to Haiti during the mid to late 1990s was assigned to the environment."

b) "At an international donors conference in Washington DC in July, pledges of support exceeded the government's request for US$1.37 billion. Less than 10% of this total was allocated to the agricultural sector, and less than 2% for environmental protection and rehabilitation."

In addition, could you give us the exact name of "the draft Country Assistance Strategy paper leaked in 1996" and perhaps point us to Organizations or sources that could provide a copy of such a paper.

Thank you,
IsabelleF

Isabelle_

FOR GUY

Post by Isabelle_ » Wed Sep 29, 2004 9:05 am

Guy:

I know you must be extremely busy, but can you give an idea you received the table included in Patrice's response to Charles (if you did receive them, when will you be posting them in a reading format) in order for one to crunch the numbers and analyze the data.

I personally would like to compare these figures to the ones provided in the post of Charles this morning.

IsabelleF

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Post by admin » Wed Sep 29, 2004 10:21 am

Indeed, I have been extremely busy, Isabelle, as I try to assist to the relief effort, in the very small measure that I can. I have received the spreadsheet from Patrice and will be posting it, but I beg you to be a little more patient.

In addition, I also am trying to take the full measure of what Charles Arthur, Patrice Backer, and Henri Deschamps had to write about the responsibilities of a) the private sector and b) the country's "rich elite" in Haiti's extreme social and economic disaster. This, unfortunately, cannot be done only by crunching numbers. Serious issues are being raised here, giving us a lot to think about. While I fully appreciate your eagerness to "crunch the numbers and analyze the data", keep in mind that 99.9% of the readership (I venture to guess) are not economists, and it is not simply numbers and percentages, statistical variances and projections, that are necessarily going shed the most light on the discussion. I want to keep it real and I invite everyone to keep it real. While we should not shoot off our mouths in bliss ignorance of available economic data, I suggest that any intelligent human being can discern pretty accurately the basic facts of life, even without the benefit of spreadsheets. Someone said that there are three types of lies: Lies, Damn lies, and Statistics. This reinforces the point that we also must look very carefully beyond the numbers to appreciate some realities that sometimes the least educated, the least sophisticated among us understand perfectly well or at least appreciably better than the rest of us.

The short answer to your question is: give me a little bit more time.

Isabelle_

Reply to Guy

Post by Isabelle_ » Wed Sep 29, 2004 11:34 am

Guy:

First of all I am not an economist, but my line of work has taught me that prior to making certain statements or arguments, I need to look at the sources. What I required is that Charles provides primary and secondary sources to his data and I feel that I am entitled to it regardless of what you stated. By no means am I trying to diminish and/or reduce the issues at hand or explain the problems through statistics. What gave you that idea? I believe that we are all free to analyze data, facts, issues... as we want and you might not be interested in numbers in this case but I am.

In addition, many question were posed to Charles--and as far as I am concerned--the article posted this morning does not answer these questions.

For instance, Charles again, mentions land reform but does not analyze (pros and cons) of the land reform that was undertaken under the administration of the Preval Government or any other previous governments in Haiti. I am more interested in reality and facts (pure vanilla REAL facts) instead of historical explanations that we have already been given.

IsabelleF

Isabelle_

Article on Land Reform

Post by Isabelle_ » Wed Sep 29, 2004 12:49 pm

Find attached an article on Land Reform from:
http://www.cpt.org/archives/1997/may97/0001.html

***********************************************

CPTNET
May 7, 1997
HAITI: Land Reform Enters Second Phase

On May 1 the Haitian government inaugurated a second phase of its land reform program aimed at redistributing state land once illegally used by large landowners to landless peasants. The second phase is expected to distribute small plots (around 1 acre) to 8,000 families in the Artibonite Valley, Haiti's fertile "rice basket." The first phase of the project, begun
February 1, distributed 800 hectares to 1,600 families.

Members of Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT) monitoring the land redistribution have heard mixed reports of the program from peasants and townspeople in the Artibonite. While some believe the program is helping some of the most destitute peasants, others say that corrupt of
ficials have given land to their friends and family rather than those who need it most. There are fears that redistributing land may lead to further violence in an area known for its bloody land conflicts, or that parliament will fail to vote a law giving the new owners permanent legal status (currently the program is operating by presidential decree rather than national law.)

CPT visited the land reform institute's Artibonite office April 24 to communicate some of the peasants' concerns and to encourage land reform officials to fully investigate allegations of favoritism. Land reform representative Jean-Francois Tardieu answered the team's questions cordially and assured the team that the land reform office wanted to see the redistribution done fairly and would investigate all complaints.

Regarding the need for permanent legal backing, Tardieu said, "One peasant who received land rolled in the earth and put a piece of the dirt in his mouth -- that is how important it is to the peasants. After the second phase, land reform will involve almost 10,000 families. If 10 people are affected for each family that gets land, that's 100,000 people. The program will soon reach tens of thousands more, with peasants in other areas looking anxiously for land reform to come to them too. Four million people could eventually be affected by this land reform. I challenge parliament to vote against a law giving them permanent legal right to their land."

The land reform program is proceeding amid doubts about the overall commitment of the Haitian government and its international "partners" to supporting peasant farmers. International lending organizations require reduction of trade barriers in order for Haiti to receive millions of dollars in aid and loans, about 1% of which is designated for agriculture. As trade barriers drop, high tech, subsidized rice from the U.S. is dumped on Haitian markets, competing directly with the rice grown by the poor peasants of the Artibonite, whose only tools are hoes, machetes and their strong backs. One pastor illustrated foreign competition this way:"when a lamb and a wolf drink from the same stream, sooner or later the lamb will be devoured."

The two person CPT team is currently accompanying Artibonite residents requesting an investigation of favoritism in the land redistribution in their town . Members of the team are Pierre Shantz (Waterloo, ON) and Joshua Yoder (Chicago, IL).

Christian Peacemaker Teams is an initiative among Mennonite and Church of the Brethren congregations and Friends Meetings that supports violence reduction efforts around the world. CPT P. O. Box 6508 Chicago, IL 60680 tel 312-455-1199 FAX 312-666-2677 email cpt@igc.org WEB http://www.cpt.org/

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Resume du Budget (Cadre de Cooperaion Interimaire)

Post by admin » Wed Sep 29, 2004 7:18 pm

The document is now available for all to see at:

http://haitiforever.com/windowsonhaiti/ccispread.htm

Thank you, Patrice Backer, for the data.

Charles Arthur
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Re: Sources to calculations and documents

Post by Charles Arthur » Thu Sep 30, 2004 8:05 am

[quote]Mr. Arthur:

Could you please give the exact primary and secondary sources for the following calculations/figures:

a) "only 0.2% of the US$560 million foreign assistance allocated to Haiti during the mid to late 1990s was assigned to the environment."

b) "At an international donors conference in Washington DC in July, pledges of support exceeded the government's request for US$1.37 billion. Less than 10% of this total was allocated to the agricultural sector, and less than 2% for environmental protection and rehabilitation."

In addition, could you give us the exact name of "the draft Country Assistance Strategy paper leaked in 1996" and perhaps point us to Organizations or sources that could provide a copy of such a paper.

Thank you,
IsabelleF[/quote]

Dear Isabelle
In response to your questions above I am pleased to pass on the following references:

a) Figures about allocations for the environment can be found here:

Environmental degradation deepens - Earth Times News Service, July 1996
http://www.hartford-hwp.com/archives/43a/257.html

As Axes Fall, So Do Numbers of Haiti's Trees - Reuters, December 1998
http://www.hartford-hwp.com/archives/43a/253.html

Haiti Reborn's pages starting with:
http://www.haitireborn.org/campaigns/de ... ney-go.php

I also highly recommend:
DEMOCRACY UNDERMINED,ECONOMIC JUSTICE DENIED:
STRUCTURAL ADJUSTMENT AND THE AID JUGGERNAUT IN HAITI
by Lisa McGowan, JANUARY 1997
http://www.developmentgap.org/haiti97.html#x40#

b) You can read the whole Interime Cooperation Framwork Strategy at:

http://lnweb18.worldbank.org/external/l ... enDocument

The allocations requested (and presumably agreed) are on page 43


Finally regarding the draft World Bank Country Assistance Strategy paper of 1996, I have a copy of this but not to hand (it is in storage somewhere). Needless to say, as it was a draft, copies are not now available. But you can find a reference to it here:

Bankers 'forcing migration' - By Richard Thomas, Economics Correspondent, The Guardian, Monday 16 September 1996

http://www.hartford-hwp.com/archives/43a/320.html

Charles Arthur

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