Edward G. Nilges
15 Jan 2010
To whom it may concern:
In “Flawed building practices are widespread in country” (IHT 15 Jan 2010), Henry Fountain reports with a basic factual accuracy and genuine compassion that “flawed building practices, inadequate materials and shoddy construction practices most likely contributed to the collapse of many buildings” in Haiti’s tragic earthquake.
However, engineering even in developed countries is a matter of tradeoffs and even in the most advanced countries, in my experience, it is like sausage making or legislation: the details are rather unpleasant, because just as in Haiti, costs as well as science dictate decisions.
And, in Haiti, costs must be minimized because ever since Haiti had the bad taste two hundred years ago to take The Rights of Man and Citizen seriously while black, it has been locked in a cycle in which victim blame plays a major role. As to earthquake engineering, it was never a consideration since Haiti does not have frequent earthquakes.
In software engineering in the United States, I saw the most vicious forms of corner cutting in which developers who spoke up for reliability were sidelined and fired, and as a result of poor financial engineering, overly complex software systems for assembling “tranches” of bad loans collapsed like a Haitian building in 2008, impoverishing thousands of ordinary people while making bankers rich and loth to part with bonuses even today.
The good intentions of Henry Fountain and other observers will unfortunately be used by the likes of Rush Limbaugh and Pat Robertson to blame Haiti and this will perpetuate a 200 year cycle that started with forced reparations to the French slaveowners in the 1820s…reparations that the slaveowners should have paid the slaves.
The engineering wasn’t “poor”. The country is.