| 11.2°C Dublin

Desperate Haiti still needs our aid

IT would be easy to despair of conditions in Haiti, one year after the devastating earthquake, and to turn one's back on the suffering of its people. More than 800,000 are still living in camps, in squalid conditions, in the open spaces of the capital Port-au-Prince. Conditions are worse outside the capital, where the television cameras rarely go.

Indeed, one of the fears of international agencies is that the disaster will widen the gap between Port-au-Prince and the rest of the impoverished country, as the aid effort takes the line of least resistance, or maximum political advantage.

With most governments around the world strapped for cash, more appeals from Haiti could well fall on deaf ears. There would probably be little public objection, especially since it seems such a hopeless case.

One of the difficulties is that Haiti is almost the definition of a "failed state"; one crippled, not by war, but by its inability to create a functioning administrative system. In a cruel twist in such a situation, around a fifth of the country's civil servants were killed in the earthquake, which destroyed their modern but inadequately constructed offices.

The fact that conditions in the camps are often better than those in Haiti's slums or poor rural areas does not come across to those in rich countries. But it is clear, for instance, that the cholera outbreak, which killed almost 4,000 people, might have resulted in tens of thousands of deaths without foreign aid and the efforts of those administering it.

Haiti does have a political system, but it may not be helpful in this process. The presidential run-off in a few weeks time will get more than normal publicity, of a kind which may weaken the case for continuing the aid programme.

Yet taking that view would be a mistake. Dealing with natural disaster is always slow and difficult, even in more favourable conditions than Haiti. Naples still has scars from the earthquake of 1980. A lot of human suffering has been avoided by the Haitian aid programme, but one cannot film suffering which has not happened.

The cry will inevitably go up that we cannot afford it. That is a spurious excuse. For all our problems, we are immensely more fortunate than the inhabitants of Haiti, or billions more around the planet.

Not only should that spur us to generosity, it should remind us to curb our complaints and count our blessings.

Irish Independent