Why Haiti?: A case study of human processes in a “natural” disaster

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This thesis problematizes geophysical disasters by examining the human processes that affect the extent of damage incurred by these “natural” events. Using the incredible aftermath of the 7.0 magnitude earthquake in Haiti on January 12, 2010 as a case study, this thesis explores how foreign intervention in its various forms permeated the country from independence to the present day and respectively impacted the scale of devastation. In particular, this lens of foreign activity renders visible historical vulnerabilities and fallacies of aid that have since left the country destroyed and dependent. A critical analysis of Haitian history followed by a comprehensive assessment of various facets of the relief effort illuminate the human implications in the devastation that succeeded the earthquake. Ultimately, this devastation can be used to suggest that the past and present reliance on foreign actors to rebuild and redefine the nation largely failed to recognize local agency, hindering the development of Haitian sovereignty, capacity, and independence. Nonetheless, despite a critical assessment of the relief effort, a point of hope remains for future models of aid provision incorporating local agency and downward accountability. Thus, through a synthesis of historical, environmental, economic, and political fields of study it becomes apparent that foreign intervention has long dictated the course of Haitian state building, and as such, that human processes are implicated in environmental issues.

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