Missing Pieces: Housing in Haiti, Democracy and Inequality, and More
August 17, 2012
People sit outside a house that was destroyed by the January 2010 earthquake in Port au Prince, Haiti, January 3, 2012 (Swoan Parker/Courtesy Reuters).
In this edition of Missing Pieces, Charles Landow highlights topics ranging from Haiti to Zimbabwe, with inequality and agricultural development in between. I hope you enjoy the selection.
- Housing in Haiti: More than two-and-a-half years have passed since Haiti’s January 12, 2010, earthquake. But according to a New York Times piece, “the most obvious, pressing need—safe, stable housing for all displaced people—remains unmet.” As the article explains, “while more than 200,000 houses were damaged or destroyed,” international efforts have produced only “an estimated 15,000 repairs and 5,700 new, permanent homes so far.” Some 390,000 Haitians languish in “abysmal” camps. Tens of thousands more have been ejected from camps and “remain homeless.” Others, ostensibly luckier, have received temporary homes built by humanitarian groups. But these are often too small and isolated from jobs and services. Finally, still other Haitians have rebuilt with their own hands. Though their comforts are modest, they seem happiest of all. As one says, “When I die, I will have something to pass on to my daughter.”
- Democracy and Inequality: An article in the American Political Science Review tackles a longstanding debate: how does inequality affect democratization and democratic stability? In theory, inequality should encourage the masses to try to overthrow elites and install democracy in order to redistribute resources. The authors find that between 1980 and 2000, such class conflict “played some causal role in propelling” 55-58 percent of transitions to democracy—hardly an “overwhelming” proportion. The rest came thanks to other factors, such as “international pressures” or discord among elites. Though “transitions occurred at all levels of inequality,” the authors write, class issues played a stronger role in highly unequal countries. By one measure, 75 percent of transitions in such states were driven by “distributive conflict.” As for regressions to authoritarianism, the authors find that these “cluster at the middle and high levels of inequality;” more equal countries suffer fewer democratic breakdowns. But distributive conflict, in which either elites or “authoritarian populist[s]” derail democracy to gain control over resources, caused only 37-50 percent of regressions.
- Food and Fuel: With global demand rising for biofuels and food, a brief from the Chicago Council on Global Affairs discusses ways to boost agricultural development and “reconcile the needs of both calories and energy.” Recommendations center on four themes: “smallholder productivity,” food waste, conservation, and “high and low technology solutions.” To address these issues, the brief urges attention to areas ranging from extension services and food storage to more efficient irrigation systems and “mini-grid or off-grid energy solutions.” Isobel Coleman has discussed food security in two recent blog posts (here and here) and a CFR.org interview.
- Zimbabwe’s Crisis: A Policy Innovation Memorandum by CFR’s John Campbell urges the United States and South Africa to team up to resolve Zimbabwe’s gathering political crisis. Aging strongman Robert Mugabe and Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai ostensibly govern Zimbabwe together thanks to a power-sharing deal reached after bloody 2008 elections. But their parties “are wrangling over a new constitution and the timing of upcoming elections,” Campbell writes. With Mugabe’s military allies skimming cash straight from the country’s diamond mines, “the prospect for political violence, even civil war,” is rising. Campbell argues that Washington and Pretoria “have parallel interests” in a peaceful and democratic outcome. He calls for close bilateral coordination in insisting on free and fair elections; monitoring the elections; and, should Mugabe’s party commit violence, resisting another power-sharing agreement and sanctioning Zimbabwe’s elites.
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