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Sandy, Debt and Hunger in the Americas

So much has been happening in the United States and in New York in particular but we should not forget that some of the most acute crisis post-Sandy is in the Caribbean. Haiti and Jamaica are both facing major challenges of hunger and debt respectively. Unluckily for them, these slow disasters were not accompanied by death on the grand scale, which is the main means by which developing countries gain access to Western media. Jamaican debt should be cancelled to allow that country to recover. Haiti needs just about everything.

Sandy hit neither country directly but its heaviest rain bands passed over them both, causing 20 inches of rain in Haiti. The two islands had already suffered from the impact of Isaac earlier in the year and Haiti is still recovering from the earthquake of 2010. Or we could say that Haiti is still recovering from the indemnity imposed on it by the international powers after its anti-slavery revolution of 1791, whose last payment in 1947 just preceded the disastrous US-backed Duvalier dictatorship. It is the poorest country in the Western hemisphere, with 54% of the population in abject poverty and 80% in poverty (estimate dates from 2003, pre-earthquake), according to those radicals at the CIA. Despite debt abolition in 2010, external debt has risen to $600 million, equivalent to 50% of the national budget.

The storm literally washed away the agriculture of both countries. The Guardian reports today:

With harvests destroyed in most of the country, Haiti’s entire food security situation is threatened….

Rivers which flooded during the storm washed away topsoil, fruit trees and cultures. Eroded banks gave way and protective walls were shattered. Of the country’s 140 communes, 70 were affected by the storm.

Plantations of corn, beans, sorghum, pigeon peas, bananas, tubers, peanuts, vegetables and rice were entirely destroyed or badly damaged by wind and water. The government, which declared a state of emergency on 30 October, confirmed that over 64,000 heads of livestock were washed away.

Half a million people face hunger, or severe acute malnutrition in NGO-speak. Food needs to get out there fast, and not just those bags of corn and wheat that government sends, but things that people in weakened condition can actually eat. It sounds like a mission Occupy Sandy could take on, as the next part of its extraordinary relief effort.

In Jamaica, agricultural damage washed away the premium Blue Mountain coffee crop, which might not seem that serious until you consider the financial condition of the country. Jamaica’s foreign debt is so acute that, together with wages, according to the country’s finance minister yesterday, it absorbs 80 cents out of every dollar and leaves us with just 20 cents to do everything else in the country.

The IMF are back in town, no doubt demanding more austerity from the tiny ruined former colony. First cultivated for sugar by the British, Jamaica became a banana plantation for United Fruit in the twentieth century until still cheaper fruit could be found in Central America. Now it depends on bauxite (aluminum), tourism and remittances from abroad, a classic postcolonial litany.

Over at the Rolling Jubilee, an amazing $100,000 has already been donated to abolish debt, which should eliminate an awesome $2 million of personal debt. Let’s also think how we can help our American cousins in Jamaica and Haiti recover from the disaster that our emissions helped to cause.

This article originally appeared on A Daily Observation on Occupy

Nicholas Mirzoeff

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Map of Haiti