10A054 Cholera! by Jim Davies, 10/26/2010

With luck, each of us learns something every day, and yesterday I received my share of that good fortune. I learned that cholera is not contagious. Without checking, I'd always thought it was - that the terror clipped to the word resulted from it sweeping uncontrollably through any crowded city like a busy day for the Grim Reaper. Perhaps such early images as this one had set me up.

But no, it's contracted by ingesting contaminated water or food, and while it's dreadful indeed once caught (healthy on rising, writhing in horrid diarrhoea by noon, dead by evening) it cannot transmit to anyone else without some rather serious kissing or other close contact; and in those circumstances, contact is seldom that close. Chlorinate the water supply, treat quickly with plenty of fresh clean water with nutrients, and most recover.

So last week's cholera scare in Haiti turned out not quite as badly as it might have; yesterday reports of new cases leveled off. Fast action to distribute clean water and strong warnings may have nipped the epidemic in the bud.

Seven months ago I wrote in Quake about the tragedy there last January. The worse tragedy is that the population has never known the kind of freedom for enterprise that we used to take for granted here; so the massive task of rebuilding a city while trying to live in it is crushing indeed.

Government junkies taunt us by asking "So what would happen in Haiti without government?" - to hand out desperately-needed welfare and medical care etc. in this near-impossible situation. Such people caused the problem over several centuries, then cannot find a solution, then scorn us for having none either.

I know of no quick fix for the mess that governments have created in Haiti. The least slow one would be to dismantle its government and let members of the population each figure out what to do - using whatever charity is offered (and a great deal would be offered!) plus whatever investment is proposed by people looking to make a buck from the situation. Almost all such providers (of assistance and capital) would be from overseas, for Haitians have always been looted of what they produced, by their rulers. They have little to offer, so they will trade simple, low-cost labor plus the strong qualities of patience they have had to develop. Those are not trivial; business people from here and elsewhere would find opportunity in that beautiful island for constructing resorts and freeports that would employ its residents and teach them skills they could parlay during the next couple of generations into some real prosperity.

After all, in 1945 Hong Kong was almost as poor, and almost as crowded. After less than two generations, with a minimal government, it had become the most prosperous country on the Pacific Rim. Even limited freedom most certainly works.

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