By Daniel Chejfec
We were all shocked when the news of the earthquake in the island nation of Haiti reached our ears and eyes, and we were appalled by the number of casualties and the numbers of people left homeless and in need of immediate help. The world rallied to their help - and yes, I was particularly proud that Israel and the American Jewish Community were among the first responders. Yet the question remains...why did it happen? and I don't mean the earthquake...
A failed state is generally defined as a State that has lost control of its territory and/or the monopoly on the use of force. These countries are in most cases characterized by civil, social and economic unrest as well as unstable and in most cases corrupt political system. A fragile state is a low income country characterized by weak state capacity and/or weak state legitimacy. Obviously both definitions are complementary, and Haiti figures prominently in the list of endangered countries in both list and it has been there for years. In the list of Failed States, Haiti was number 10 in 2005, 8 in 2006, 11 in 2007, 14 in 2008 and 12 in 2009. Wasn't this a warning sign? When more than one third of the population of a country is forced to survive on less than $ 2 / day I would say it was.
So what creates a Failed State? Reasons are many, but they all come down to some form of disconnect between the political class and the common citizens. When people do not have a real say in how things are done, whatever benefits the country has to distribute will end up in the hands of the few, while leaving the many to their own resources. In Fragile States in which economic growth is far behind the world average, the cost of starting a business is most of the time higher than in countries not characterized as fragile. That means that in Haiti the cost of starting a business can be staggering.
So an earthquake hits a Failed and Fragile State, and the earthquake is of historical strength and devastating to the country's infrastructure - what happens next? First, the world comes to the rescue to feed the hungry, shelter the homeless and treat the sick - functions that the Haitian government is currently unable to perform. It will also focus the world's attention on Haiti's problems at least for a while, but World's attention is fickle and it can shift anytime. So what happens after that?
What happens after World's intervention in the crisis is that the local government is supposed to take over the responsibility of running the show, but the levels of corruption and inefficiency of the Haitian State make that impossible. The political class in the island nation of Haiti has divorced itself of their original mandate of caring for their society, and in my opinion that is where the root of the real problem lies.
When an organization in a wider society divorces itself from its original mandate, it either reformulates the mandate or dies, but either way other existing organizations can pick up the slack and provide the services the failed organization used to provide; and they generally do. But this is possible only because we live in a society that in spite of temporary economic or social crises, it has the built-in mechanisms to hold those in leadership positions responsible for their actions and accountable for their failures; as a consequence the common folk has a louder voice and elected officials are forced to listen. In a society such as the Haitian where the majority of the population needs to spend most of their waking hours finding ways to survive and to feed their children, education is an early casualty (more than half the Haitians are illiterate) and political or social activism a distant mirage that for most people is not even in their radar screen.
What happened in Haiti is a wake up call. According to most analyses, terrorist organizations recruit and organize themselves in territories where government control is weak or inexistent, and Haiti is not the only fragile failed state - far from it. Maybe the best possible outcome of this most recent tragedy could be to rethink the role of world development corporations and to rethink their priorities. If we are to erradicate the scourges of poverty, sickness, political corruption and terrorism we need to pay heed to the words of the sages "to lift up the fallen, to dress the naked, to feed the hungry and to cure the sick". We are partners with the Almighty in making this a better world - let us fulfill our part of the contract to make sure another Haiti doesn't happen.
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