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Haiti Earthquake Relief Underway
But Much More Needed

Jim Prevor’s Perishable Pundit, January 18, 2010

There was a time when the Pundit Poppa was the largest importer of Haitian mangos in the United States, so it is with a special connection that we read the horrible news of the aftermath of the earthquake in Haiti. You can watch what difference an earthquake can make right here.

A continuing series on the crisis gives this report:

They are still having tremors… From reader DeLynn’s missionary friend’s facebook:

3:24 PM It’s a nightmare here. They are starting to dig mass graves for the many unclaimed bodies. Some areas, the smell is unbearable. We still are having tremors. Just now in fact.

I feel that these little snippets I’m writing don’t begin to convey the suffering here. Everybody is living in the street, including us… BIG tremor just sped up my heartbeat… We are getting a radio station from PAP and they are instructing folks on how to deal with all the dead bodies.

One of the things that really tears me up, and I may not even be able to write this… the kids we saw on our way out to the school. They still came running out to us and calling our names with great joy as they always do. But, many of them had piles of rubble behind them. Rubble that 2 days ago was where they called ho… me.

How can they even think about smiling at a time like this?

6:48 PM The tremors continue. Thank you again for so much concern and so many prayers. This is truly overwhelming and we want to be helping others through this time even as we struggle to find our own way. The Lord is our Hope. Our strength. Our strong tower.

I think that will do it for this post. — 8:26 PM

Fortunately America is responding, and the USS Carl Vinson is on the way.

If you would like to help, here is a broad list of resources.

If you want to get more produce-specific, Pundit Investigator and Special Projects Editor Mira Slott uncovered an organization called ORE:

Organization for the Rehabilitation of the Environment

ORE was established in 1985 by Sean Finnigan, an amateur horticulturist living in Camp Perrin, in the south of Haiti. He saw the potential economic and environmental benefits of grafted fruit trees for Haitian farmers and set out to introduce high value fruit trees as a permanent feature of the Haitian agricultural system.

The organization was started off with a grant by the Canadian Embassy to produce 16,000 grafted fruit trees. At the time this was the first large scale grafting of fruit trees to be attempted in Haiti. The project was a success and was quickly followed by a larger program funded by USAID to produce over 100,000 trees. Sean’s former wife Mousson, an MD with extensive experience working with the local rural communities, joined ORE in 1986, and a few years later took over the administrative direction of the organization, a position she still holds today.

Eliassaint Magloire, an agronomist trained at the University of Florida, and CIMMYT in Mexico, had specialized in plant breeding. He joined ORE as an executive director in 1987 and built up the existing improved seed program as well as other important crop improvement and soil conservation activities.

In 1988 ORE became involved in an extensive USAID funded Watershed Management Project, which was designed to protect the watershed of the Macaya Rainforest and National Park neighboring ORE headquarters in Camp Perrin. ORE primary goal was to introduce lucrative, environmentally friendly activities for hillside farmers in the buffer zone surrounding the national park. Fruit trees, leguminous hedgerows and other soil conservation measures were promoted.

ORE’s first activities with improved seeds where launched at this time, involving a very successful program in which improved seeds where made available on credit to farmers as an incentive for soil conservation work on their land.

Experience from these interventions led to the successful high value fruit tree, staple crop and plant material improvement programs used today. Over the years, successive projects were funded by USAID, the European Union, IDB and the Canadian and Japanese embassies. And although the funding was diverse, ORE maintained a focused approach and only participated in programs that would further out program goals. As a result, we were able to develop a long-term area of expertise in high value tree crops and improved seeds, building an important long-standing network partnership with thousands of farmers in the southern half of the country.

ORE is running a program where you can donate now.

You can also learn more about the Haitian mango industry here and here.

We remember during a visit to the Dominican Republic, which shares the island of Hispaniola with Haiti, traveling through the Dominican Republic countryside and seeing Haitians harvesting sugar cane. As poor as the Dominicans were, the Haitians were much, much poorer.

Obviously at this moment of crisis, governments and individuals must act to try and reduce the enormous amount of human suffering.

It is, however, important that people also realize that this “natural disaster” was made infinitely worse by the dysfunction of Haiti as a country. In fact to call it a “natural disaster” is somewhat deceptive. As David Brooks of The New York Times reminds us:

On Oct. 17, 1989, a major earthquake with a magnitude of 7.0 struck the Bay Area in Northern California. Sixty-three people were killed. This week, a major earthquake, also measuring a magnitude of 7.0, struck near Port-au-Prince, Haiti. The Red Cross estimates that between 45,000 and 50,000 people have died.

The cause of wealth is complex but what is clear is that merely offering low wages is not sufficient to encourage development. Those low wages have to be in the context of a safe society, with clear laws, corruption must be minimized.

It is easy to go back a hundred or two hundred years and blame France, the former colonial master in Haiti, for its problems. But when the clean up is done, Haiti needs not more aid but a political culture capable of making owners of capital feel secure about investing in Haiti. Without that confidence, Haiti is doomed to a grinding poverty that makes natural disasters into catastrophic events.

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