The latest reports of a cholera outbreak spreading from the city of Saint-Marc into the overpopulated capital of Port-au-Prince only reinforce my fears. Over the past 10 months of trauma, mourning, injury and torrential rains, Haitians – many of whom lost their homes made of tin or cement – have once again come to call ad hoc structures “home.”
In essence, tent cities like those in Place Boyer, and the vast aid they represent (nearly $5.3 billion pledged over the next two years), are providing Haitians with just enough that they don’t demand more. After two centuries of poverty, corruption, and instability, Haitians assume that the silver lining of a natural disaster – temporary tents, medical care, and food – is a gift they should take full advantage of.
That’s why it came as no surprise when I met enterprising women who are renting out their intact homes in other parts of the city to live in a tent themselves. Or why the tent city in Place Boyer now includes a barbershop, a cinema, and even an Internet café. People simply don’t plan on leaving any time soon. And why would they? In a country that hasn’t had a stable government in over 25 years, it would be naïve to think that a sustainable infrastructure would suddenly spring up from under the rubble that still consumes them.
Haitians are eating the free fish and renting out the fishing poles to their neighbors. This is not an entirely new phenomenon. Zambian economist Dambisa Moya in her book, “Dead Aid,” criticizes what she calls the “fundamental (yet erroneous) mindset that pervades the West – that aid, whatever its form, is a good thing.” Instead, she argues, aid is the root of the problem, redirecting assistance away from the under-developed economies and polities that should sit at the helm of progress.