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Haitian economy challenges rescue

TEXT OF INTERVIEW

Bill Radke: President Obama today promised an all-out rescue and humanitarian effort
to help the people of Haiti after yesterday's calamitous earthquake -- the Red Cross says as many as 3 million affected. The suffering is awful there, and it is intensified by the fact that Haitians survive on a good day within the worst economic conditions in the Western hemisphere. Marketplace's Sam Eaton joins us now live. Good morning, Sam.

Sam Eaton: Good morning.

Radke: Will you describe for us what the Haitian economy was like before yesterday?

Eaton: Well you've got a country here where most people live on less than $2 a day. Many can't even afford the basic staple foods. You layer on top of that decades of political and economic instability, high illiteracy, rampant violence, environmental collapse, and this is a country on the brink of failed state status, even before the earthquake hit. Just about the only thing keeping the economy going were remittances from people who managed to get out and foreign aid.

Radke: And what does this mean for Haiti's ability to recover from a disaster of this magnitude?

Eaton: Well the risk is that it could become the tipping point that pushes Haiti into that failed state territory. And more immediately, it complicates the ability to respond. There's little infrastructure and equipment in place to deal with this, so it all has to be shipped in from outside. I talked to Bill Canny, who directs emergency preparedness for Catholic Relief Services, and he says the state of the Haitian economy poses serious challenges beyond these initial rescue efforts.

Bill Canny: Haiti is also dependent on kind of a short supply chain for foodstuffs -- rice from the United States, oil from countries, soap, you know basic necessities. And if that's interrupted that will lead to certainly complications for people rebounding from this.

Canny says aid organizations like his have pre-positioned supplies in Miami. The big question is how fast they can get them on the ground in Port-au-Prince.

Radke: Marketplace's Sam Eaton. Thank you for that.

Eaton: Thanks, Bill.

About the author

Sam Eaton is an independent radio and television journalist. His reporting on complex environmental issues from climate change to population growth has taken him all over the United States and the world.

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