Thursday, January 14, 2010

Wealth and Safety

There are numerous links across the web today to well-respected aid NGOs who are providing relief for the devastation in Haiti: Compassion International , Food for the Poor , WorldVision , and Presbyterian Global Fellowship are just a few of the sites with which I've had some acquaintance.

In addition to our generosity, we should remember Paul Collier's warnings from the time of the Asian Tsunami: westerners (and I suspect that Americans would definitely be included in this category) are extremely generous in times of great natural emergencies. The crunch comes after many months when the emergency has dropped from the news, and long term problems remain.

In Haiti's case, there were already long term problems. Haiti is the poorest nation in the Western hemisphere, and one of the poorest in the world. And, as is starkly evident, economic prosperity brings with it technological and cultural realities that can drastically mitigate the damaging effects of natural disasters. Examples: in 1989 an earthquake of magnitude 7.1 struck the San Francisco bay area. 67 people died. A similar death toll came from the 6.7 magnitude earthquake in Los Angeles (Northridge, 1994). If we want to help Haiti after the emergency crews go home, we need to think seriously about what we can do to bring Haiti's prosperity up to the level of even other moderately poor countries.

Through Instapundit, I found that Tyler Cowen at Marginal revolution is tackling these questions head on. How is economic prosperity related to safety? Why is Haiti so poor? In the latter post, be sure to read the free-wheeling discussions in the comments section. In a newer post, he links to a New York Times article about building construction in Haiti.

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