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January 21 & 24: from Cite Soleil - London - New York - the Amazon River

From the wreckage of Haiti, a correspondent's-eye view of a pocket of undamaged optimism amid the ruins.

And it was an earthquake that caused the carnage, but we'll hear why one Canadian analyst says western foreign policy made it worse.

"Are we supposed to kill him or just burn down the house?" We're in the Amazon to document the lawless advance of development into the rainforest.

And a story of survival economics: could you survive on two dollars a day? You'll be surprised how many have to.

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Optimism amid the Ruins

This week, Rick recalls a woman he met in Haiti, in the 1990s:

She was the poorest woman in the world.

She squatted under the only tree in a field of ankle-breaking stones, just outside the capital.

Wearing only a threadbare robe, she seemed a figure of Biblical destitution. And for reasons I didn't fully understand at the time, I was ashamed in her presence.

My beefy interpreter, a Haitian himself, regarded her with lofty contempt. He'd muscled his way out of poverty, and gave the impression empathy was a weakness that might land him back in it.

That woman gave me an image of Haiti I cannot shake. All I gave her was the little money I had in my pockets.

To see a human being...exist like that, made me feel less of one. And now, there are suddenly so many more like her.

A little Haitian girl in Cité Soleil, one of the worst slums in the Western hemisphere. (Paul Hunter/CBC)
The CBC's Stephen Puddicombe has his own memories of the country after a lot of assignments there in recent years. He's back there now, and he's found a ray of hope in a place he's been to many times before: one of the most notorious slums in Port-au-Prince.

Listen to Stephen walk through Cite Soleil...

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Listen to Rick's interview with Stephen about the situation in Haiti now...

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New thinking on Haiti

Foreign aid is arriving daily in the country, by air and by sea.

Food, water, medicine. And soldiers, to ensure orderly distribution amid the ruins.

But a joint statement by prominent human rights groups warns the damage has been worsened by "a history of deliberate impoverishment and disempowerment of the Haitian people."

And when foreign ministers gather to review the aid effort in Montreal shortly, Canadian Peter Hallward for one, will be looking for signs of new thinking.

He's professor of philosophy at Middlesex University in London, England. And author of the 2007 study of Haiti entitled, "Damming The Flood: Haiti, Aristide, And The Politics of Containment."

Listen to Rick's conversation with Peter Hallward....

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Listener Letters

Our documentary about countries and companies buying up arable land in the developing world to grow food and biofuels prompted this note from Rasa Baltutis of Tweed, Ontario:

Not only do they rob these countries of the ability to feed themselves, but they also ensure themselves of cheap labor...These wages prevent families from being able to pay for schooling for their children therefore keeping an ongoing source of labor.

I feel that we need to realize that many of us have investments through our pensions funds and stock portfolios, and that it is up to us as individuals to object and withdraw our funds if these companies continue these practices.

Just before the earthquake in Haiti, we aired a piece about a small group in Port-au-Prince seeking to improve their own living conditions without relying on outside aid.

Mary-Sue Haliburton of Ottawa heard it and writes:

Without the foreign financial, military and business takeover, Haitians would certainly have been self-sufficient and prosperous, probably more so than the rest of us.

Now, the best we can do is to offer to remove them from their "failed" country.

Thanks for that dispatch about Haiti's condition before the earthquake -- the timing could hardly have been closer to enable listeners to compare "before" and "after."

We heard from a not-so-pleased Bobby Burke of Saint John, New Brunswick on that too.

I only completed grade 9 in 1956, but I have thirty-plus years of living and learning. So...regarding your program on Haiti...

The USA never relinquished "slavery," it merely went offshore.To fully express my disappointment in such journalism, would take much too long. But listening to you, makes me think you are reading a script from the CIA.

Our interview with author Barbara Demick whose new book records the experience's of refugees who fled North Korea prompted this from Lotus Yee Fong of San Francisco:

Usually I enjoy Dispatches and look for coverage that is often better -- and always different -- from American perspectives. But Rick's interview with Barbara Demick was so one-sided....I thought I was listening to rightwing radio!

And our interview about the way Hezbollah is promoting the ancient practice of temporary marriages to add to its control of Lebanon's Shia community prompted this letter from Najib Safieddine of Toronto:

Whether the practice ...is becoming more common or not, to attribute Hezbollah's popularity and strength to this practice is naive and silly at best....This case belongs to the long tradition of colonial Orientalism that portays people of the region as people of no political or national or cultural psyches, and minds that get swayed one way or another, purely for sexual reasons, just like herds.

That comment from Najib Safieddine of Toronto.

The Perils of Progress

Thugs in the rainforest: "Are we supposed to kill him or just burn the house down?" That's when he ran. And this is what's left of the house. (Connie Watson/CBC)

Like you, Dispatches has heard the about the global benefits of the Amazon rainforest.

How it creates much of the world's oxygen. Houses a vast array of rare wildlife.

And its vegetation holds medical secrets we've yet to unlock.

We've also heard about ongoing threats to its survival.

The slash-and-burn development, and how it contributes to global warming.

And new highways and bridges, now planned to take the big money deeper into what's left of the interior.

But we wanted to see for ourselves.

CBC Correspondent Connie Watson began her inquiry with a leisurely steam on the Amazon River which turned into a living slide show of the perils of progress.

Listen to Connie's dispatch...

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Getting by on $2 a Day

Saiful and Nargis live with their two small children in a hut in rural Bangladesh.

He does some farm labor, sometimes drives a rickshaw.The family gets by on about two dollars a day.

So do another 2.5 billion people worldwide. But they manage to save some of it too.

Until now, there was no hard data about how they get by. So it's been difficult to create policy, banking and businesses to serve their market.

But a group of academics recently completed yearlong studies in Bangladesh, India and South Africa.

And it changed their perspective on world poverty.

The findings are contained in the book called Portfolios of the Poor. And Jonathan Morduch is one of its co-authors. He's Professor of Public Policy and Economics at New York University. Listen to Rick's conversation with Jonathan Morduch...

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Portfolios of the Poor: How the World's Poor Live on $2 a Day is written by Daryl Collins, Jonathan Morduch, Stuart Rutherford and Orlanda Ruthven. It's published by Princeton University Press.

This program is the work of producers Dawna Dingwall, Alison Masemann and Steve McNally, technical producers Victor Johnston and Tim Lorimer and senior producer Alan Guettel.

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