[Viewpoint] Korea can offer Haiti a light of hope

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[Viewpoint] Korea can offer Haiti a light of hope

The night sky over the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince was so beautiful and sorrowful. I could see countless stars shining around Orion in the southern sky. I could not remember the last time I saw so many stars. However, I felt awkwardly sad and uncomfortable as I appreciated the beautiful sight.

Port-au-Prince is the nation’s capital. Ironically, being able to see so many stars means the country’s electricity capacity is miserable.

After sundown, Port-au-Prince is wrapped in darkness.

It is not just because of the earthquake. Haiti has never had an adequate electricity supply network. The Caribbean nation does have a government agency overseeing electric power, but it does not even have statistics on electricity consumption.

Particularly, there is no data on household electricity consumption because stealing electric power is so common.

Power generation is unstable as well. Nearly half of the generated power is wasted in the course of its delivery.

To provide electricity stably, the government needs to know the capacity it can generate and the volume of consumption. It is only natural that supply is unstable because there is neither data.

Even the Presidential Palace experiences frequent blackouts. Luxury hotels and high-class Haitians have their own power generators.

If you want to operate a power generator, you need to burn gasoline or diesel. Since Haiti is not an oil-producing nation, all the fuel has to be imported.

Oil is not only expensive but very scarce. That means electric power produced with the rare and pricey oil is very hard to get.

Households cannot expect to be supplied with sufficient electric power. And industries cannot operate properly without a stable supply of electricity. That’s why there is no established industry in Haiti.

Even with cheap labor, no company would dare to build factories in a country with such an unstable power supply.

As there is little hope for industrial growth, Haiti suffers from an unemployment rate of over 80 percent.

In the aftermath of the devastating quake, the international community has begun to discuss plans for the reconstruction of Haiti.

On Jan. 25, a donors’ summit will be held in Canada. Governments around the world have promised more than $1.2 billion (1.3 trillion won) in relief.

Maybe Haiti will be able to turn the crisis into an opportunity. It might be better to start fresh.

The most urgent task is to provide electricity. With electric power, damaged buildings can be restored and new houses can be built.

Most of all, Haiti will be able to invite foreign companies that can create jobs there.

In the international community, Korea is known to be stingy when it comes to helping poor and underdeveloped countries.

This time, Korea has a great opportunity to redeem its miserly reputation.

When it comes to electricity, Korea ranks with developed countries in terms of technology and know-how.

A local Korean company has completed basic research on the electricity network in Haiti, and East-West Power, a subsidiary of the Korea Electric Power Corporation, and local company ESD were working on building a 30,000-kilowatt thermal power plant in Port-au-Prince.

Combined with government assistance, it would not be so difficult to reconstruct the electricity supply network in Haiti.

And with electricity, Korea has behind it the experience of achieving economic development after the devastation of the Korean War. Korea has much to offer Haiti’s revival.


*The writer is the New York correspondent of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Chung Kyung-min
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