Thursday 16 Aug 2018 | 04:25 | SYDNEY
Thursday 16 Aug 2018 | 04:25 | SYDNEY

Haiti: Rich man, poor man, beggar man, thief

22 January 2010 14:27

Peter McCawley is a Visiting Fellow at the Indonesia Project, ANU, and author of a forthcoming book on the economics of post-disaster reconstruction (an earlier summary paper can be found here).

There has been a lot in the media in the last few days about the megadisaster in Haiti.  Much of the media coverage, understandably, has been at the emotional end of the news spectrum. We've heard of the wonderful rescues of children assumed lost, and of medical teams battling against awful odds in the midst of chaos.

But some figures are very sobering:

  • 50,000 to 100,000 people: the likely death toll in Haiti.
  • US$1.2 billion: the amount of international assistance pledged to Haiti so far.
  • US$14 billion: 2009 bonus payments, US investment bank, Morgan Stanley.
  • US$20 billion: 2009 bonus payments, US investment bank, Goldman Sachs.
  • US$45 billion: total bonuses paid by major Wall Street banks in 2009. 

We could doubtless go on, but the picture is pretty clear. Bonus payments to a relatively small number of rich bankers in the US are a factor of 20 or so larger than international aid pledges to Haiti.

What do we make of this? First, we should obviously take statements by the leaders of rich countries about their concern to respond to the disaster in Haiti with a grain of salt. By their actions we shall know them. And their actions are rather puny.

Second, the people of Haiti are essentially on their own. At the end of the day, they will get little help from rich countries. Response to the terrible disaster, and recovery, is basically in their own hands. The crumbs from the tables of rich countries will help, it is true, but only a little.

Finally, rich countries must understand that poor countries will watch all of this and draw their own conclusions. Rich countries want poor countries to cooperate on important global issues such as climate change. But if rich countries respond to urgent megadisasters in poor countries in such a miserable way, why should poor countries bother to play the international game? 

Photo by Flickr user SomonsMedicina, used under a Creative Commons license.