Unnatural Disasters And The Circling Vultures

January 19, 2010

The post-earthquake occupation is taking shape, with international institutions in the lead. As the Independent’s Archie Bland describes for us today, “Foreign governments and institutions like the International Monetary Fund are providing most of the money and they are already putting in place strict conditions to govern how it is spent.”

In order to ensure that replacement buildings meet a higher standard, Bland suggests that the IMF will enforce higher building regulations as a “strict condition.” It has never done so in the past, and this would be a remarkable departure from standard practice, which is to rip out regulations as trade or market “distortions” and to allow housing stock to disintegrate at an epochal rate.

When the dust clears, Bland suggests, “many development experts believe that a string of anti-corruption conditions will be necessary” building on an IMF loan last week (after the quake) which was “only given on condition of a public sector pay freeze.”

Inevitably, there are vultures circling around Port au Prince, eager to put into place their vision of reconstruction. The Heritage Foundation immediately came out with a memo recommending shock treatment to reshape the Haitian economy the day after the quake, while C Ross Anthony of the RAND Corporation puts it thusly: “It’s terrible to look at it this way, but out of crisis often comes real change. The people and the institutions take on the crisis and bring forth things they weren’t able to do in the past.”

Such institutions, along with the World Bank and IMF, are terrible at prescribing measures which help the poor yet very good at telling governments what they should do to “modernize” and “streamline” their operations. They almost invariably ignore the people that they are supposed to help.

Take, for example, Haiti’s representative at the annual World Bank Board of Governors meeting in Istanbul, in October 2009. Daniel Dorsainvil went before the governors, listed the achievements of his government in following measures recommended by the IMF and creating “macroeconomic stability” yet at the end of his short speech, he listed the areas that Haitians would like to see foregrounded, having been neglected until then.

He wanted food production to be increased and to become more productive – Haiti having been decimated by liberalization measures from the 1980s onwards. He wanted “safe drinking water, health and education” – not conditions to be met as part of IMF programs.

Finally, he wanted to “[Obtain] the infrastructure needed to reduce vulnerability to natural disasters.”

More on the corporate and international response to the Haitian earthquake here, from Ben Dangl and from Shirley Pate at MRZine. Stephen Lendman provides some context about “disaster capitalism” – elaborated by Tanya Golash-Boza, while David L Wilson also has some on the ground reporting from Port au Prince, which is well worth reading.

As Dangl writes:

While international leaders and institutions are speaking about how many soldiers and dollars they are committing to Haiti, it is important to note that what Haiti needs is doctors not soldiers, grants not loans, a stronger public sector rather than a wholesale privatization, and critical solidarity with grassroots organizations and people to support the self-determination of the country.

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