While natural disasters are pretty unpredictable no matter how good our detection systems get, the damage they do to a country like Haiti is not. Destruction from a barrage of hurricanes in the last decade was exacerbated by deforestation, in part because the population relies on wood for fuel. There is probably little doubt that the death and destruction from last night's earthquake -- the full extent of which is still unknown -- was also fueled by poor construction and other infrastructure problems in the largest city and capital of the hemisphere's poorest country.
While Americans search for ways to help, it is also worth concentrating on our policies toward Haiti. Former president Bill Clinton, appointed last year to be the country's special envoy, made it part of his mission to not only deal with the problems of deforestation but also to expand the garment industry in the country, over cries from Haiti's politicians that the factories' wages would be too low. The Hope II act, passed last year, allows garments to be sold in the United States duty-free, and Clinton has brought his star-power to encourage investment.
PBS reported this week that effort was moving forward, with American money encouraging the garment business to return. Many of the workers being trained had never had a job before and have little to no education. The prime minister, Jean-Max Bellerive, told PBS that 70 percent of the population isn't working. Encouraging low-paying jobs can seem like a step backward for American progressives, but as Jean Max Bellerive said, Haiti as a country has to get out of misery just to get into poverty.
Now, just when the new initiative is under way, Port-au-Prince may be almost entirely destroyed. In the wake of disaster, we have to make sure economic development isn't sidelined.
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