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haiti: the aid dilemma: Prioritizing Relief Efforts in Haiti

In the aftermath of the devastating earthquake in Haiti, post-disaster relief is creating a new kind of problem for businesses there. The massive influx of food aid has altered the price of rice, throwing the delicate balance in Haiti’s food supply chain out of whack and threatening to collapse the country’s rice market. In this video, NPR’s Planet Money reporter Adam Davidson examines Haiti’s fragile economic system, and methods of delivering relief that officials hope will help with long-term recovery efforts.

Getting Started

For classrooms studying economics and government, FRONTLINE provides a set of video themes and discussion questions to help students analyze and understand key current events around the globe. Watch the video and start a discussion about the impact humanitarian relief efforts can have on the local economy. Go further into this topic with the Haiti: The Aid Dilemma Lesson Plan that asks students to examine post-quake disruptions to supply and demand in Haiti’s rice industry and determine the form of aid that would best serve Haiti’s short- and long-term needs.

 

Video Themes

  • The massive influx of food aid in Haiti after the earthquake altered the price of rice, making it difficult for wholesale rice distributors like Melissa to stock her store shelves affordably.

  • Since the quake, it is difficult for Haitians to earn money, which decreases demand for rice.

  • Such supply-and-demand disruptions in the local economy can turn a one-time disaster like the earthquake into a crisis that lasts for years.

  • To avoid destabilizing the local economy, international aid organizations are testing the idea of giving people money or vouchers to buy rice, rather than providing the commodity itself.

Discussion Questions

  • Describe the relationships among the following levels of the Haitian rice economy: street vendors, micro-wholesalers, large wholesalers and foreign suppliers. How did the earthquake disrupt these relationships?

  • Explain both positive and negative effects of humanitarian relief efforts on supply and demand for rice in Haiti.

  • Consider the decisions made at the port of Port-au-Prince by the U.S. military and the World Food Programme regarding what products will be allowed to unload with limited docking space. Evaluate the pros and cons of allowing the following supplies to be unloaded: humanitarian aid (food, medical supplies); military supplies (building material, gasoline); or commercial products (products for sale).

  • How can the international community best support Haiti’s short-term needs after the quake without undermining the country’s long-term recovery?

  • What role should the Haitian government play in the country’s recovery?

  • What lessons from Haiti can be applied to future disaster relief efforts?

Go Further

Featured Lesson Plan: “Prioritizing Relief Efforts in Haiti”

Web-exclusive Resources: Q&A with Adam Davidson

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