Paul Collier Has Lost His Mind

January 18, 2010

Don't take what you need

The Guardians website carries an editorial today by “development expert” Paul Collier (author of the acclaimed, but not very good, “the Bottom Billion”) which focuses on how the response to Haiti’s earthquake must be comprehensive (a “Marshall-type Plan” no less) but not too comprehensive.

Not comprehensive enough to build new homes for those thousands of people made homeless? At one point the Oxford man’s logic beggars belief when he writes that “If [authorities] get it wrong, crowded makeshift shelters on vulnerable ground and charitable initiatives with short-time horizons may mean the next crisis is right around the corner.”

And what crisis does he see on the horizon? “The promise of food and shelter may attract farmers of the Central Plateau to Port-au-Prince, adding to a drain on resources and diminishing local agriculture when it is most needed.”

Now just how likely is that to happen? Thousands of farmers streaming into the rubble of Port au Prince to scrounge a tent and fight for a UN food ration? What planet is he on? Haiti needs shelters, doctors, medical equipment, total debt relief and to be granted preferential trade agreements with strategic markets backed by generous tariff barriers.

One wonders whether Mr Collier and his collaborator Jean-Louis Warnholz are angling for participation in the “co-ordination and implementation unit that ensures reconstruction creates jobs fast and opens opportunities” which they recommend?

For more comprehensive analysis of what is going on, or more accurately, what is not going on i.e. adequate medical care and food provision for the victims of the earthquake, the WSWS has an excellent, if depressing piece today by Alex Lantier.

For some more weird (and revolting) logic, see Simon Romero and Marc Lacey’s piece in the New York Times:Quake Ignores Class Divisions of a Poor Land” in which they solemnly note that “Earthquakes do not respect social customs. They do not coddle the rich.”

Yet in the same piece they write that “The quake’s casualties, yet to be fully reckoned, are likely to fall heaviest on the poor.” Couple that with the tale of spaghetti magnate Harold Marzouka, who “chartered an 18-seat executive jet to fly members of his extended family to Miami” apparently beset by “the same concerns voiced by the people wandering aimlessly through the streets with their few possessions bundled in their arms.”

Marzouka is quite the humanitarian, admitting that his flight would probably see the looting of his warehouse, “full of food.” “I understand it and I don’t mind” he says. How magnanimous. Any government worthy of the name would have requisitioned Marzouka’s stores and distributed them to the needy. But the class divisions which generated the bounty in storage, have erased such measures from the map of possible responses to Haiti’s tragedy. And the Times has the gall to report this as if class divisions simply don’t exist?

I suspect that the Times’ intrepid hacks simply don’t have the balls to venture into the poorest, most desperate areas. That’s hardly surprising as aid agencies have hardly begun to recover bodies and clear debris. As Isabelle Jeanson of Doctors Without Borders puts it, “Few aid agencies are in place. Hundreds of bodies are still stuck in buildings. In the entire city, I’ve only seen about four or five trucks and cranes removing pieces of collapsed buildings so they can get the people out.”

Jeanson’s account is worth a million Times journalists:

There are no showers or latrines, and hundreds of IDPs are gathering anywhere there is open space. At night, when we drive, we must be careful not to run over people who are sleeping on the road. I saw one person sleeping in the middle of an intersection, just to avoid any buildings that fall if there is another earthquake.

…We did an assessment in Léogâne yesterday, about one hour away from Port-au-Prince. We returned around 6 pm, in the dark. On the way back, we crossed some check points that had been set up by civilians. They were jumping on a pick-up truck that was carrying a load of corpses. They were very angry because the driver was going to dump the corpses in their town. They had set up checkpoints from that point on, all the way to Port-au-Prince, a distance of about 10km (6 miles). I would be angry, too, if someone was dumping corpses in my town. When we crossed the checkpoints they let us through, no problem, respectfully.

…it’s getting worse. Patients who were not critical only three days ago are now in critical phases. This means that people will die from preventable infections. It’s horrible. It’s really so terrible that people are begging for help and we can’t help them all to save their lives!

Jeanson’s account belies scare stories in the press about looters and criminals taking over the “slums” of Port au Prince. And it also suggests that what Haiti doesn’t need are over a thousand heavily armed U.S. Marines. As the BBC reports (and this from US Lt General Ken Keen), “there [is] currently less violence in Port-au-Prince – already a troubled city – than there had been before the earthquake.” Yet Washington is dispatching 2,000 Marines to provide security, not food or medical care.


One Response to “Paul Collier Has Lost His Mind”

  1. sachielle samedi Says:

    Thanks for exposing this Harold Marzouka. I am Haitian and been in the US since my I was 12yrs old. Since reading Marzouka’s quotes from the NYT. I have made him part of my making Haiti a better place by shaming him and finding all I can about to tell his friends and associates that they should be ashamed to know someone like.


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