Latest update June 2nd, 2023 12:49 AM
May 23, 2023 Features / Columnists, Peeping Tom
Kaieteur News – Guyana and Haiti were once listed as the two poorest countries in the western hemisphere. Because Guyana fell so far behind the rest of the countries of the Region during the last decade of the 1980s, it struggled to lift itself out of the ranking of the second poorest country in the western hemisphere.
The discovery of oil has changed all of that. It has catapulted Guyana many places up the per capita GDP income scale. Haiti in the meanwhile has remained stagnated and is still the poorest country in the neighbourhood. Presently, Haiti has descended into violence and chaos. Marauding gangs are now roaming and controlling parts of the country. But the people are not taking it lying down; they are fighting back by organizing vigilante groups to help protect their neighbourhoods.
The Caribbean Community has attempted to engage in order to resolve the crisis. The Prime Minister of Jamaica, Andrew Holness, paid a one-day Mission to Haiti in February of this year. The following month the Heads of CARICOM and urged continued dialogue among the stakeholders. But what dialogue were the Heads referring to? Haiti is now ungovernable. One NGO has described the country as being on the brink of civil war. The government has asked for an International Stabilization Mission – a euphemism for military intervention. CARICOM Heads also promised to support the security forces with training. They also said they would seek African support for Haiti. It might have been better if they had simply admitted that they can do nothing to help Haiti.
The Washington Post has reported that the United States was pushing Canada and the Caribbean to support this idea. But nothing has happened and the situation in Haiti continues to deteriorate. Brazil has decided to assume greater regional leadership on the question of Haiti. At the G7 Summit held this past weekend in Japan, President Lula called for quick action to alleviate the suffering of the people of Haiti. He also said that the problem with Haiti was not one of security but of development.
He is right about Haiti’s problems being development in nature. But he and many others have failed to appreciate the role that demography plays in Haiti’s pauperization. Haiti’s problem is that it has too many people in too small a poor country. Let us look at the same of the numbers. In order to get a better insight, we will compare it to what exists in Guyana. Guyana is more than 7 times the size of Haiti. Yet Haiti’s population is more than 15 times that of Guyana. This has implications for the average number of persons occupying a unit of space – what is referred to as the density of the population. Haiti’s population density is more than 100 times that of Guyana.
But the main worry is the population in the towns. The capital Port au Prince, which is about half the size of Georgetown, has more persons than the whole of Guyana. As at 2022, the population of Haiti’s capital was estimated at more than 1.2 million. Now imagine if the population of Georgetown as to swell by ten times. What do you think would happen? The PPP/C government is of the mistaken view that when you create high population densities, you stimulate greater economic activity. Well, even if this is so, there comes a point at which there are diminishing returns. Haiti is an example of what can happen when population density becomes an obstruction to development. Lula is right. Haiti’s problems are about development. But all the plans which the western nations have piloted to support Haiti’s development have flopped. And not merely because of corruption or lack of institutions as is offered as the common excuse. The development plans have failed because they did not bring about a shift in the urban-rural divide.
There are other countries in the world which have far higher population densities than Haiti and do not suffer the same problems as Haiti. But guess what. All of them except Bangladesh have very small populations. Bangladesh population is huge but it is also a poverty-stricken country like Haiti. So, population and population density does matter. Also most of the other countries have suffered one-tenth of the problems which Haiti has experienced throughout its history, including 19 years of US occupation. None of them have had to pay reparations for daring to fight for their Independence. So when you compound the historic problems of Haiti along with its demographic problems, a clearer picture emerges that any future development plan has to involve a shift away from urbanization in order to relive population pressures. Seventy years ago, nine out of every ten Haitians lived in rural Haiti. Today almost 7 out of every ten persons live in Haiti’s cities and towns. These cities and towns unfortunately cannot sustain their population. And this remains the source of much of Haiti’s failure to climb out of poverty.
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