The phrase “pull yourself up by your own bootstraps” is a classic American phrase that highlights the idea of personal self-reliance that the US so loves to harp on. However, how does one improve their situation when they don’t even have any boots?
Economically speaking, Haiti is the poorest country in the Americas and one of the poorest nations in the world. 60% of the 10 million Haitians who call the island home live below the poverty line ($2.41 per day) and 25% live below the extreme poverty line ($1.23 per day). In addition, it is an incredibly unequal country, with a tremendously wide income gap that touches extremes on each end. At the moment, the Haitian Gourde is worth 0.016 USD. However, this disparity looks like it may be improving, as the depreciation of the Gourde has slowed considerably with the application of programs designed to combat inflation.
One of the largest problems with the economic development of the Caribbean nation is their geography. More than 90% of the population is at risk of being in the path of at least one type of natural disaster. Earthquakes, Hurricanes, and tropical storms have consistently battered Haiti, forcing the nation to be in a constant state of rebuilding infrastructure rather than building a future. In fact, Haitian internal revenues reach only about 13% of their GDP. When Hurricane Matthew touched down in 2016, it caused $2 billion worth of damages and cut long-lasting scars into the agriculture and fishing industries. In addition, this storm came only 6 short years after the devastating 2010 earthquake that killed 160.000 people and caused $8 billion in damages.
One disaster after the next, paired with the history of corruption made famous by the Duvalier dynasty makes for very bleak prospects. Their largest industry, agriculture, makes up a quarter of Haiti’s GDP and employs two-thirds of their population. With farm fields being consistently flooded and fisheries torn up by the terrible power of Mother Nature, over 6 million Haitians constantly have their livelihoods in doubt. This uncertainty, this persistent state of recovery and Red Cross efforts could easily create an air of pessimism of the ground, but the Haitian people, as resilient as anyone on this Earth, go right back out into their fields and their communities with the hope and the expectation that they may build a better Haiti.
The Philippines, however, seem to be on more stable ground. Although they were once known as the “sick man of Asia,” the nation has been one of the best-performing countries in the area. In fact, they have been growing at a faster rate than China. Like many other small Southeast Asian countries, they have experienced a boom in exports over the past couple decades due to rapid industrialization and an emphasis on cutting-edge technology. The future seems bright for the Philippines as they now have an $8.4 trillion infrastructure plan in the works until 2022.
However, the Philippines faces the same stumbling block as Haiti: Geography. The nation is made up of over 7,600 islands, which makes any large-scale operation extremely difficult to implement. In addition, the Philippines sit right on top of the geologic crosshatch known as the ‘ring of fire,’ or typhoon belt, making it the country with the highest exposure to tropical storms in the world. Each year, 6-9 typhoons make landfalls. With climate change increasing the intensity and frequency of these storms, these numbers are sure to go up both in totals and magnitude. The combination of small, isolated islands and frequent typhoons makes for yet another country that has to rebuild quickly and often. Like Haiti, the Philippines also relies heavily on their agriculture industry. In the typhoon season, fields are underwater as often as the surrounding reefs and farmers are in constant need of support systems.
In the past year, another factor has created widespread instability throughout the nation. President Rodrigo Duterte’s War on Drugs has claimed 12,000 lives since it began when he took office on June 30th of last year. The Human Rights Watch has launched their own variety of investigations into this shady proxy-war, finding that police were falsifying evidence to justify extrajudicial killings and that the rural poor were disproportionally being affected the most.
The two separate countries, on opposite sides of the world, are both greatly hampered in their economic development simply by the location of their nations. There is no more destructive force than that of nature, and thus recovery efforts have become their own industry in these areas. Although the Philippines is growing swiftly and steadily, they are playing against a stacked deck. In Haiti, a history of corrupt authoritarian governments has stunted the growth of infrastructure and dissuaded foreign investment. However, the people of each nation have weathered many storms, literally and figuratively, and have an interminable strength that allows them to bounce back from even the deepest pits.