Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Canada tries to give Haiti "everything"

Canadian aid is very important to Haiti. Canada will give more than a half a billion dollars to Haiti in the span of five years. It's a lot, but Haiti is a country that needs "everything" and very few Canadians are aware of the great amount of work that is done there.

Writer Laura Payton has a long piece in the Canada's Ottawa Citizen tries to explain the work of aid to Haiti.

Outside government circles, few people are aware of the work Canada is doing in Haiti, says Carlo Dade, executive director of the Canadian Foundation for the Americas (FOCAL). "Without us, a lot of children wouldn't get fed every day."

Without Canada, there are a lot of things that wouldn't get done.

Brazil, the U.S. and other countries in the Americas are also benefactors to the troubled island nation.

Last week, in a status report on the country, the UN Security Council expressed "cautious optimism." Former U.S. president Bill Clinton, a UN envoy, said, "I am convinced that Haiti has a remarkable opportunity to escape the chains of its past."

Everyone interviewed about security, aid and development work in Haiti agrees on one thing. Asked what the country needs most, their response was unanimous and emphatic: "Everything."

Haiti is the poorest country in the western hemisphere. Its population is just more than nine million, crammed into an area roughly one-third the size of New Brunswick. Per capita GDP was only $1,300 U.S. last year (Canada's was $39,300 U.S.). Eighty per cent of Haitians live below the poverty line, more than two-thirds of the population don't have a formal job, and just more than 52 per cent can read. Without proper sanitation, infectious disease rates are high. Food is so scarce there were riots in 2008 when prices rose.

While it was once rich, that wealth was built on the backs of slaves. The French who colonized Haiti brought in nearly half a million slaves, who overthrew them in a revolt in 1804.

Two hundred years later, Haitians are still waiting for stable, democratic government.

Haiti is perched on the western third of Hispaniola Island, which it shares with the Dominican Republic. When planes fly over, passengers can see the border: the Dominican side is lush and green, while the Haitian side is dull and brown. Rampant deforestation — to make charcoal so people can cook without electricity — worsens the natural disasters that hit the island every year, allowing flooding and landslides to flow unabated. In 2008, for example, four hurricanes killed 800 people, left thousands homeless and caused $1 billion in damage.

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