Thursday, August 26, 2010

Haiti, Pakistan and the Concept of "Relief"

I'm in a quandary thinking about the two big disasters of 2010 - the Haiti earthquake and the Pakistan flood. In both cases, millions of people were and are in great jeopardy and in need of help. In both cases, the sovereign government was incapable of providing relief or reconstruction. And, in both cases, the affected areas were overpopulated and becoming even more overpopulated despite the fact that the basic services associated with "civilization" are unlikely to be available in the foreseeable future. Should relief be provided by the rest of the world if the affected countries do not take steps to change their ways?

What are the basic services associated with civilization in the 21st century? I suppose the short list would include a reliable internal food supply, commonly available clean water, transportation and communications infrastructure, workable governance and justice systems, and an education system that trains people for useful work. Governments are responsible to provide these things, I believe, as first priorities. Neither Haiti nor Pakistan provides these services, except for the elite. That's just the way it is.

The area of Pakistan affected by the floods has about 20 million residents. It's agricultural, with plots as small as two acres. Girls are often married by age 14 and have many children through age 25. The residents have no capacity to pay, through taxes, for the basic services described above. Moreover, each year the population becomes more likely to fall prey to those who would blame their subsistence conditions on the failure of their government or the outside world to "take care of them". That's why fears of insurrection rise when disasters like these occur and the government is unable to respond.

So, here's the quandary. Should the outside world provide massive relief to bring the disaster-ravaged areas back to roughly the same "uncivilized" condition they enjoyed prior to the disasters, with no preconditions? Or, should the outside world require governmental reforms and population control measures as the price of relief? Is preventing future disasters as important as mitigating current disasters? Should TANSTAAFL (There ain't no such thing as a free lunch) be applied?

In general, I've concluded that the second and third worlds now require a lot more supervision than in past times. Technology now provides great opportunities for these countries to upgrade their standards of living, but it also provides great opportunities for them to make mischief - North Korea and Somalia are poster children for the latter. Consequently, perhaps it's time to put out the carrot and the stick to Haiti and Pakistan's elite "quasi-governing" classes. Relief must be accompanied by radical changes in their societies, changes that in the long run will make for long term success.