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Getting our arms around Haiti


People from the Ozarks and around the world want to help the people of Haiti. Many people from the Ozarks, especially religious groups, have been assisting Haitians for many years. Haiti is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere.

To understand the magnitude of the tragedy in Haiti, a brief geography lesson can be helpful.

Haiti occupies the west end of the island of Hispaniola, which is immediately east of Cuba and west of Puerto Rico. The east end of Hispaniola is occupied by the Dominican Republic.

The population of Haiti is about 10 million, which is roughly equal to the combined population of Arkansas and Missouri. About one third of the population (equivalent to the population of the St. Louis metro area) resides in Port-au-Prince, which is near the epicenter of the earthquake.

The area of Haiti is just under 10,000 square miles, which is one seventh the size of Missouri.

The physical shape of Haiti is like a backwards C, or the open mouth of a fish with a lower jaw longer (250 miles from east to west)  than the upper (100 miles from east to west).

The two “jaws” surround the Bay of Port-au-Prince. The capital city of Port-au-Prince sits at the base of the lower jaw. The opening between the two jaws is about 80 miles from north to south. To get a grasp of the relative size of Haiti, you can imagine Jefferson City, Missouri at the tip of the upper jaw and Springfield at the tip of the lower jaw, with the Lake of the Ozarks area being in the bay.

The island chain of which Hispaniola is a part is called the Greater Antilles, which are the tops of volcanic mountains. Haiti’s bottomlands have traditionally been sugar cane plantations. The uplands have been almost totally deforested, resulting in horrible erosion and desertification of the soils. Most of the population lives by means of subsistence agriculture.

The people of the Ozarks will join with others in attempting to alleviate the suffering of Haitians caused by the earthquake, as they have in response to many hurricanes.

But the long term outlook for Haiti is dismal, due to the destruction of its ecology, overpopulation, political corruption, and lack of capital. The economist Tyler Cowen solicited ideas today about why Haiti is so poor, generating many insightful and informed comments.

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About Harry Styron

I'm a lawyer who lives in Branson, Missouri, whose professional interests involve real estate, construction and local government.

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