Two Very Scary Excerpts on the Condition of Haiti

On the Haitian economy:

All but one of Haiti’s textile plants – which account for 90 per cent of its exports – were in Port-au-Prince. Consequently, the earthquake has essentially knocked out the country’s entire export sector. The Port-au-Prince region also accounted for 85 per cent of government revenues.

And on Haiti’s dependence on UN food supplies:

The UN says that yesterday it managed to feed 40,000 people and that it hopes to increase that to 1 million people a day within two weeks, and 2 million in a month.

“By the end of Monday, we will have distributed more than 200,000 food rations in and around Port-au-Prince,” the UN World Food Programme announced in a statement. It said that it was establishing food kitchens to feed the hungry.

If the Food Program needs to be supplying rations to that many people a month out from the disaster, that is very foreboding news for Haiti’s long-term future. The population of the entire affected region is around 3 million — and some estimates have as many as 300,000 people there dying in the earthquake and its immediate aftermath. If so, that would mean the UN is gearing up to be responsible for the food supply of nearly three fourths of the people in the greater Port-au-Prince area. That is, to say the least, an unsustainable situation.

In a post last week, I brought up the issue of whether a state without a territory is still a state. But having a government is also one of the formal requirements of statehood, a condition which Haiti now only nominally qualifies for. I don’t think it’s too much of a stretch to say that it is only inertia and the continued communal belief that Haiti-is-a-State by the rest of the world that makes Haiti a State at all.


How Exactly Did The U.S. Come to Be In Charge of the Port-au-Prince Airport, Anyway?

Hundreds of media articles covering the ongoing events in Haiti report that the U.S. has “taken over”or is “running” the airport in Port-au-Prince. This has, predictably, already caused conflict with other States regarding the coordination of relief efforts, with France in particular criticizing U.S. administration of the airport.

What I cannot find, however, is any explanation of what the nature of the U.S. authority over the airport is and how it came to be. Did the Haitian government — which has taken no official action that I am aware of since the earthquake happened (and weren’t making that many before the earthquake either, for that matter) — come together long enough to authorize a U.S. administration of the airport? Is the U.S. simply in charge of the flight schedules, or is it literally in charge of the entire airport area?

I am beginning to suspect that the United States simply showed up first and announced it was in charge of the airport, and then because no one objected to this claim too loudly, it became a self-fulfilling declaration.

This article from the American Forces Press Service seems to suggest that is exactly what happened:

In his update, Elton underscored the speed with which Air Force personnel began operations after landing at the badly damaged airport around 7 p.m. on Jan. 13.

“Within 28 minutes of landing our first aircraft, we had special tactics combat control teams controlling the airspace around the airfield, and sequencing in the arriving aircraft that night,” he said.

That the United States simply seized control over the airport is not necessarily a bad thing, at all — someone needed to take point on the situation, and because the U.S. is the closest major power, it is the obvious choice — but it also raises a lot of thorny jurisdictional questions.

A quote from this article seems to suggest a possible legal source of authority, however:

Tucked between Port-au-Prince airport and the giant UN compound is a one-storey building with no security or reliable communications and only two small suites of grubby offices.

Before the earthquake hit, this was the headquarters of Haiti’s judicial police. It is now the seat of the Haitian Government and the office of President Préval, but it is seldom occupied, has no reception staff and people peer through the windows.

Hillary Clinton, the US Secretary of State, insisted yesterday that [President] Préval remained in full charge of both Haiti and the aid effort that is still failing to reach those who need it most. Mr Préval himself declares that he is in charge of events and the UN says that it directs rescue teams and distributes aid according to information received from his administration.

The idea that President Préval is currently exercising any significant government control right now is not credible. However, from a legal standpoint, it is in the best interest of the U.S. and the UN insist that yes, Préval is in charge, and yes, he has authorized various foreign and international entities to exercise jurisdiction over parts of Haiti. It clears up a lot of very messy legal problems that would otherwise exist, even if, in reality, the authority for the intervention comes ex post from a man sitting in a shack who has absolutely zero real power to exercise any control over Haiti.


Update: As soon as I put up this post, I stumbled across a better explanation how the U.S. presence is being justified under international law. Note that the following was issued just this weekend — a full four days after the U.S. took control over the airport.

A joint statement Saturday from the Haitian president and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton referred to an expanded U.S. security role.

“President Préval, on behalf of the Government and people of Haiti, welcomes as essential the efforts in Haiti by the government and people of the United States to support the immediate recovery, stability and long-term rebuilding of Haiti and requests the United States to assist as needed in augmenting security in support of the government and people of Haiti and the United Nations, international partners and organizations on the ground,” the document reads.

How much do you want to bet that the statement in question was a legal formality, drafted by some State Department lawyers and handed over for Préval to rubber stamp? Shoot, I’d probably even take a bet that Préval never actually read the document.

Haiti, Humanitarian Assistance, and Extrinsic vs. Intrinsic Motivation: Why an International Law of Humaniatarian Assistance Would Reduce Foreign Aid

Right now, thousands of individuals from at least a score of nations are in Haiti, having been rapidly deployed there to offer assistance to the millions of Haitians now homeless, injured, or worse, as a result of the recent earthquake. Hundreds of millions of dollars have been pledged in aid, with more donations pouring in every day.

In Haiti, as has been the case in the wake of many other recent natural disasters, the state practice of rendering aid to the devastated region is widespread and pervasive. However, as far as I am aware, not a single nation has announced that it is sending aid to Haiti because it believes international law requires that it do so. There is no opinio juris, but merely states acting on the basis of their own independent motivations. And yet, it seems that every state that can offer assistance is doing so — not to mention so is every international organization, NGO, and corporation out there. Sub-state entities are offering help, too; a search and rescue team from Fairfax, Virginia, has been sent down to Haiti to help victims trapped in the rubble. Hell, even tiny little Togo has offered aid, along with a number of other developing nations. For a more complete account of who is doing what, a very detailed listing can be found at Relief Web. The list is as impressive as it is diverse.

Although human rights play a very large role in today’s international law jurisprudence, I suspect that, at least in cases involving high profile natural disasters, placing an affirmative duty on states to provide humanitarian assistance would ultimately reduce the amount of aid rendered.

Simply put, there just is not a need to give such a principle the force of law. For many reasons, among them moral duty and political posturing, states are already adequately motivated to supply aid in times of humanitarian crisis.
Aid — in the form of money, food and water supplies, search and rescue teams, infrastructure support, medical personnel, and much more — was immediate and widespread. The difficulty in getting aid to Haitian citizens has nothing to do with foreign states failing to act in support and everything to do with the horrendous conditions on the ground.

But if rendering humanitarian assistance were made to be an affirmative duty under international law, all the reasons for which states now offer foreign aid would be vastly diminished, and the total amount of aid given would almost certainly decrease.

“Crowding out” — otherwise known as the motivation crowding effect, to distinguish it from other kinds of crowding out — holds that offering external rewards or punishments to encourage someone to perform a task can, somewhat counter-intuitively, actually reduce people’s incentives to act, as the extrinsic reward undermines their intrinsic motivation. Developed both by economists and psychologists, the motivation crowding effect theory is a widespread phenomenon that appears in many different situations: [PDF]

The basic idea that rewards, and in particular monetary rewards, may crowd out intrinsic motivation emanates from two quite different branches of literature in the social sciences. Thirty years ago in his book The Gift Relationship Titmuss (1970) argued that paying for blood undermines cherished social values and would therefore reduce or totally destroy people’s willingness to donate blood. Though he was unable to come up with any serious empirical evidence his thesis attracted much attention. A second literature stems from psychology. A group of cognitive social psychologists have identified that under particular conditions monetary (external) rewards undermine intrinsic motivation. The application of rewards for undertaking an activity thus has indirect negative consequences, provided intrinsic motivation is considered to be beneficial

[T]here exists indeed compelling empirical evidence for the existence of crowding out and crowding in. This conclusion is based on circumstantial evidence, laboratory evidence by both psychologists and economists as well as field evidence by econometric studies. The evidence refers to a wide variety of areas of the economy and society: children’s learning behavior; patients’ readiness to take prescribed medication; monetary and symbolic rewards for undertaking various laboratory tasks; the tendency to reciprocate in the laboratory setting reflecting work conditions in a firm; the amount of trust exhibited in a laboratory situation of incomplete contracts; the reaction of managers to various forms of supervision by their superiors; the preparedness to offer voluntary work; the observation of time schedules in daycare centers; the on-time flight performance in the airline industry; the readiness to accept nuclear waste repositories (and other locally unwanted sites); and the amount of civic virtue exhibited, in particular with respect to fulfilling one’s tax obligations (tax morale).

If offering humanitarian assistance to foreign nationals struck by disasters became a legally mandated duty, either as a part of customary international law or enshrined in treaties, I see little reason to believe that there would be any increase in the amount of aid rendered. In the wake of disasters, the citizens of states who were now obligated to send money to foreign countries would feel resentment, not generosity, towards those in need of aid. States could no longer compete for moral brownie points with one another, or use aid as a means of obtaining soft power to support their political agendas. All of these motivating factors are far more compelling reasons for states to give aid than would be international law, which is a notoriously flimsy motivator of state action.

States would likely still give aid, of course, if they believed they were required to by law. But they would give only enough to satisfy whatever their duty was, and would use clever lawyers to reduce the amount they were required to give, or to explain why a “humanitarian disaster” was not really a humanitarian disaster and therefore no duty to render aid existed.