By Kyle Fluegge, Environment Issue Analyst

Imagine giving $100 to a charity that helps people in poverty better their lives regardless of their background circumstances.  A noble gesture on your part.  Then you find out that only $7.00 of your gift actually went to help who it was intended to help. That’s only 7%.  Outraged?  It would have me asking “Why…?”, but not for the reasons you think.

That’s the situation in Haiti right now – 10 months after the devastating earthquake ripped apart the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere.  Only $686 million of $8.75 billion promised for reconstruction has reached Haiti so far.  After the natural disaster, my initial thought was “Pick on somebody your own size.”  After all, isn’t that like a 12th grader bullying a 5th or 6th grader?  The little one doesn’t stand a chance, and neither did Haiti.  And the country is continuing to suffer the consequences.

An outbreak of cholera was confirmed in Haiti on Thursday, October 21. According to the World Health Organization, nearly 5,000 cases of cholera have been documented, and 300 people have died.  Cholera, you ask?  Significant breaches in the water, sanitation, and hygiene infrastructure used by groups of people have allowed large-scale exposure to food or water contaminated with Vibrio cholerae organisms.  In this case, it doesn’t take a well-reasoned fellow like John Snow to capture the essence of the problem…or does it?

Granted, circumstances are too different to make direct comparisons; in London in the 1850s, it was a matter of replacing a handle on a pump.  It was a simple solution to a complex process of the now “branded” epidemiological science.  Dr. Snow did, however, face an extraordinary uphill battle in making the assertion of oral-fecal transmission of the cholera pathogens because it sounded so grotesquely unappealing.  What makes Haiti so resoundingly different?  What if I said the only difference was that this is occurring in 2010, not the 1800s?

In most outsiders’ minds, this is the outbreak that should not be happening.  It has become so outrageous to believe that cholera has become the problem it has in Haiti.  After all, the world has poured in millions of dollars to help the Haitian people recover from this tragedy.  Hundreds of millions of dollars to one of the poorest countries in the world?  Isn’t that like giving a violin to a flautist ?  A flautist wouldn’t know how to play a violin generally on the first try; why should we expect Haiti to be able to rebuild an infrastructure given millions of dollars when they could hardly do so before the earthquake?Infrastructure takes time….do we expect them to “drink the dollars?”  Have we forgotten the dedicated work ethic of Paul Farmer in helping the people of Haiti? Helping by doing….not pulling out the credit card and considering the problem solved.  Farmer didn’t in the 1980s so why are we now ?

Still outraged? I’m now asking “Why…did we do that?”

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