Haiti Is a Cultural Disaster, Not a Natural One

Progress-resistant country needs 'intrusive paternalism'
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted Jan 15, 2010 6:59 AM CST
The Presidential Palace, which was severely injured in this week's earthquake, is seen in Port-au-Prince, Haiti.    (AP Photo/The Miami Herald, Patrick Farrell)
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(Newser) – The tragedy in Haiti is more a man-made than a natural disaster, caused by shoddy construction and terrible infrastructure, writes David Brooks, noting the 1989 Bay Area earthquake of the same magnitude only killed 63 people. The kind of poverty that caused this catastrophe needs to be tackled, but to do it America's approach to reducing poverty needs a rethink, Brooks writes in the New York Times.

Trillions of dollars in aid to the developing world have done little to reduce poverty in the poorest countries, Brooks writes, arguing that cultural issues need to be addressed instead of just throwing money at the problem. Haiti's culture is doggedly progress-resistant: voo doo spawns passivity, children are neglected, irresponsibility is rampant and social mistrust is widespread, Brooks writes. Turning the country around will require the kind of "intrusive paternalism" that worked in poor neighborhoods in the US with programs like the Harlem Children’s Zone and the No Excuses schools. Even one neighborhood at a time, he writes, it would be a better start.

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