20 January 2010
The pictures, stories and suffering coming out of Haiti this week are grim. 40,000 people already buried with another 50,000 on the way and experts predict a doubling of that number in the next week or so. Your heart would have to be made of stone not to be moved by all the pain, suffering and death that's happening on this small Caribbean island. How fortunate Solomon Islands has been over the years that a similar earthquake hasn't hit us. What grace has worked on our behalf to have been spared such a fate?
No two countries are exactly alike but some nations do come off being quite similar. Haiti, although on the other side of the world from us, sits on its own 'ring of fire'--earthquake zone--as we do, both are islands nations of almost the same land mass dimensions: Haiti has 10,700 sq. miles while Solomons is 11,100 sq. miles. Haiti's land, however, is basically a single land mass while our country is broken up into major and minor island groupings.
The similarity of social indicators for both countries, however, is striking. Both have huge numbers of youth under 15 years of age--Haiti, 38%, Solomons, 41%; life expectancy for both is low--Haiti, 57, Solomons, 62; there's little difference in Gross Domestic Product numbers: Haiti, $1,300, Solomons, $1,900; and both have Human Development Index (a way of measuring economic and social well-being) scores that are almost the same: Haiti, .521, Solomons, .591. The biggest difference between Haiti and the Solomons is the population base. The Caribbean nation has 20 times our number (almost 10 million) while we have only recently hit the 500,000 mark.
But Haiti's recent devastating earthquake physically shook the entire nation to bits and it has some similarity to our own national 1998-2003 trauma. Haiti's physical destruction and Solomons social destruction literally tore both nations apart. Their earthquake lasted but seconds while our social earthquake rumbled on for more than 5 years. The social destruction, however, was similar for both poverty racked nations.
Each lost its police force but in different ways. Many of theirs died being trapped in the fallen rubble of houses and offices. Our police force became useless either by throwing in its lot with one side of the conflict or the other or completely disappearing when most needed. Haiti's economy is currently in utter shambles while ours during our Social Unrest years dipped well below zero.
Haiti is searching for much needed leadership from their own politicans. Fortunately for this stricken country, other nations--UK, EU, USA, China, Canada, etc. etc.--have stepped into the gap to deliver tons and tons of food, water, medical supplies, housing material, etc. etc. However, their own political leaders seem to have disappeared from sight. Just when most needed, they are no where to be found.
Doesn't the current Haiti scene remind one of what happened during our own social earthquake days of 1998-2003? More than 20,000 oil palm workers were forced out of their homes and lost livelihoods in 1999. To this day, for instance, we still don't have a clear picture of how many people were murdered, raped and abused during that same period. Many overseas people working in Honiara at the time evacuated by ship and air because the nation's social fabric--constant looting in town, stealing of vehicles, lawlessness, etc.--became intolerable.
But here the sameness of the Haiti situation and what actually happened in the Solomons in the early 2000s stops. People's reaction to these two events produced quite different results. Solomons people who lost all police protection and political direction relied on themselves to guard the most vulnerable--olos, children, women--by feeding, protecting and guarding them for more than five years. Solomons people also lost political leadership who became quite invisible and basically inept--except to mount a civilian coup--during the same period.
What was particularly instructive, however, was our people's ability of jump start the national economy from below zero in 2002 to 5.8% BEFORE RAMSI landed in July 2003. As Rick Hou of Central Bank observed in his review of the 2002 national finances, both the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank had never seen such a recovery any where else in the world.
Yet to this day, the debt that the nation owes to the backbone of the country, the villager, has never been recognized and certainly not thanked. SIDT's many Report Cards before and after the Social Unrest period reminds our political leaders what dismal failures they have been. Of course it wasn't simply people acting on their own that produced such a stunning result. They are the first to admit: there but for the grace of God goes the Solomons!