Unit 4 Destination Reflection - Haiti
For this Reflection, we will once again ask you to watch a short video (3 min.), but some additional background might be useful.
The Problem with Food Aid
In The Aftershocks of History, Laurent Dubois writes that “the solutions [to Haiti’s poverty] prescribed by foreign powers and international organizations have largely turned out to be ineffective, or worse.” (p. 10)
One of the most tragic and telling examples of this is the case of Western food aid. The massive 2010 earthquake in Haiti has brought yet another wave of Western food aid to Haiti; yet one of the bitter ironies of Haiti’s recent history is that it was partly the earlier provision of food aid that made the earthquake so destructive. Over the past several decades, vast quantities of Western food have been sent to Haiti as relief, as well as in the form of cheap foods imported under neoliberal trade policies. Both of these varieties of “food dumping” have made it increasingly difficult for Haitian peasants and farmers to sell their goods at prices that could sustain them. As a result, many of Haiti’s rural poor have been forced to leave their land and look for scarce employment in Port-au-Prince. This overcrowding of the slums of Haiti’s capital contributed significantly to the concentrated and catastrophic loss of life that resulted from the earthquake.
In other words, large amounts of Western food aid, coupled with the availability of low-cost US imports, have left many Haitians at greater risk of suffering the effects of natural disasters, in addition to negatively affecting their quality of life in other ways. Large amounts of imported food can actually make a country hungrier and poorer than it was before. As one author has summarized this cruel paradox: “With cheap food […], Haiti can’t feed itself.”
Please watch this short news report from Al Jazeera English to learn more about the concerns that many Haitians have about Western aid:
- What alternative to food aid can you think of that might help people without leading to these negative results? What unintended consequences might these other policies have in turn?
- What lessons can we, as partners and allies coming to Haiti from the West, take from this story?
- How might you relate the problems with food aid to the larger themes of our UUCSJ study guide?
- Is there anything that you feel the critiques of food aid leave out or get wrong?
- What feelings has this discussion brought up for you?