Tag Archives: poverty

Cruise Ships, Haitian Relief and the Paradox of Poverty

Labadee Beach, Haiti

Labadee Beach, Haiti, courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Two stories appeared side by side in my browser today. The first discusses the challenges Haiti is facing getting relief supplies into the capital.  The extensive damage caused by last week’s earthquake left Port au Prince’s port facilities in ruin and the airport is overwhelmed by traffic. The vast majority of the estimated $1 billion in aid pledged by the international community remains in warehouses, waiting shipment to the people in need in Haiti.

The second story dealt with a new controversy: the decision of the cruise company Royal Caribbean to continue to bring passengers to Labadee, a private beach leased by the company on Haiti’s northern coast. Located less than 100 miles from Port au Prince. The decision has generated some controversy (to say the least), with lots of people chiming in (pro and con) on the CNN blog.  Some passengers on a recent trip described the idea of vacationing on Haitian beaches while “tens of thousands of dead people are being piled up on the streets, with the survivors stunned and looking for food and water” as “sickening.” Royal Caribbean defended the visits, noting that “We also have tremendous opportunities to use our ships as transport vessels for relief supplies and personnel to Haiti…Simply put, we cannot abandon Haiti now that they need us most.”

The disparity of 3,000 wealthy vacationers visiting scenic Haitian beaches while tens of thousands of Port-au-Prince’s new homeless wander the streets in search of food and water is indeed dystopian. But the contradictions of poverty amid plenty are not unique to Haiti. Rather, the two stories merely bring to light global disparities between rich and poor. The central question moving forward should be how to we address the problem of global poverty which set the foundation for the disaster in Haiti.

Five Stories You Might Have Missed

Over the past week we’ve seen a lot of news from the domestic U.S. political front: Obama’s speech at the Democratic National Convention, McCain’s pick of Sarah Palin for his Vice Presidential candidate.  What’s been going on in the rest of the world?  Here are five important stories from the past week.

1. The worldwide economic downturn continued last week.  On Friday, the Japanese government announced a new economic stimulus package.  Analysts are holding out little hope that it will make much of a difference.  In the United Kingdom, Chancellor Alistair Darling conceded that the current crisis will likely be “profound and longlasting.”  He forecasted that it might be the worst economic crisis faced by the United Kingdom in the past 60 years.  Similarly, figures released by the Canadian government last week show that the country is on the brink of recession, with gross domestic product growing by  a mere 0.1% in the second quarter.  All of this suggests that the current economic crisis is global in scope and potentially long in duration.

2. Ongoing political violence in Thailand last week culminated in the closure of three major international airports and blockades of the country’s rail, road, and port infrastructure.   Earlier in the week, protestors had laid siege to state buildings.  The protestors—a loose coalition of business, royalists, and activists under the banner of the People’s Alliance for Democracy—are demanding the resignation of Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej and his government.  So far, the military has refused to become involved in the political crisis.

3. In an interview on Tuesday, Zwelinazima Vavi, leader of the Congress of South African Trade Unions, declared that South Africa would need to radically change its economic policies to avoid the “ticking bomb” of poverty, unemployment and crime.  Vavi is a close ally of Jacob Zuma, the leader of the African National Congress and the person mostly likely to become president of South Africa after Thabo Mbeki’s term expires next year.  Many analysts believe Vavi’s views reflect the policies favored by Zuma.  Many South Africans believe the economic policies pursued by Mbeki have not improved the quality of life for ordinary people.  His complete interview is available through the Financial Times website.

4. The North Korean government announced on Tuesday that it would suspend the processing of disabling its nuclear facilities and was considering reactivating the Yongbyon reactor.  The announcement, which North Korea maintains is a response to the failure of the United States to make good on promises made during the six party talks, raises new concerns about the effectiveness of the talks and the progress made there.  On Thursday, South Korea announced that it would drop the label “main enemy” when referring to North Korea in its biannual defense white paper.  According to Major Seo Young-suk, the decision to drop the term “does not mean that we have changed our stance.  North Korea is still a substantial and present threat.”

5. In a report issued Thursday, the World Health Organization (WHO) condemned health inequalities between rich and poor around the world, describing them as “unfair, unjust, and avoidable.”  According to the WHO “a toxic combination of bad policies, economics, and policies [was] killing people on a grand scale.”  The complete report, entitled Social Determinants of Health, is available through the WHO website.