Sewage Sleuths

Sewage sleuths: the men who revealed the slow, dirty death of Welsh and English rivers

But in the past couple of decades, that progress has flatlined. It is not just Hammond and Smith who are alarmed about their local river: so are anglers, swimmers, canoeists and naturalists all over the country. And it is not just urban rivers that are in trouble. Even rural rivers that stayed pristine throughout the years of heavy industry are suffering now.

I live near the River Wye, which rises in Wales before crossing into England. As a boy in the 1980s, I swam past vast swarms of mayfly and huge leaping salmon. I have seen nothing like that for years. Farther south in Wales, the River Usk is, according to a recent report, “degraded and deteriorating”, with trout stocks at their lowest on record. And if the situation is bad in Wales, where less than half of rivers are classed as having “good status” by the government’s own standards, it is worse in England. Barely a seventh of English rivers achieve that level.

“Some of our best loved and most iconic wildlife face a perilous future. We must act now to ensure that generations to come can marvel in the joys that our freshwater habitats can provide, from the magical sight of otters playing in our streams, the vibrant blue flash of kingfishers in flight, and the epic migration of the Atlantic salmon,” said a joint appeal by all of Britain’s major conservation organisations published last September.

Dead fish in a waterway in Hampshire after sewage was released from a water treatment works. Photograph: Rob Read/Alamy

Much of the damage has already been done. The return of otters to Britain’s rivers has been a conservation highlight of the last few decades, but the latest Welsh survey shows the first decline in their population since the 1970s. The number of salmon caught in rivers by anglers in England and Wales has dropped from about 20,000 a year in the mid-1980s to fewer than 10,000 a year now. Almost 90% of English rivers deemed sites of special scientific interest are not being properly conserved despite their highly protected status. The improvement in water quality we were so proud of as a nation has stopped.

This is baffling. Not only do we have strict laws against pollution, but parliament has just given us a new one, in the shape of the Environment Act 2021. And we have – in England’s Environment Agency and Natural England, in Natural Resources Wales, the Scottish Environment Protection Agency and the Northern Ireland Environment Agency, plus the newly created Office for Environmental Protection – public bodies aplenty with the powers to enforce those laws.

So why is the situation so bad? It was a question that Hammond and Smith kept asking themselves. “Slowly but surely, we widened our interest to other rivers nearby, which were getting to a similar state. Fish were disappearing, the weed was disappearing, the bird life was shrinking,” Hammond said. “And I thought: why can’t the Environment Agency see this?”


ammond and Smith look remarkably similar. Both are slim, both have grey hair, both wear rimless glasses, both talk passionately but with a similar feel for irony. When they give webinars about the state of our rivers, they almost operate like two halves of the same person, even using the same chair. Instead of moving the camera, they stand up and change places when it’s time for the other one to speak.

Their professional qualifications – the academic and the sleuth – were to prove perfectly complementary when it came to uncovering what has poisoned Britain’s waterways. Smith hunted out information with the same seriousness he once brought to his investigations for the Thames Valley police, while Hammond revealed the truth hidden in the data.

“I was sure there was something wrong, and I started asking questions of the Environment Agency, expecting – very naively back then – a professional response and an honest one,” Smith said. In response to Smith’s letters, the regulators and the water companies insisted that everything was fine, despite the collapse in fish populations he could see with his own eyes.

It was a chance encounter with an old friend – an ecologist who had what he called a “dossier of despair” packed full of correspondence with officials, which had achieved nothing – that convinced Smith to change his approach. So, in January 2017, he launched his own investigative efforts, sending freedom of information requests to reveal how many times untreated sewage had been dumped into the Windrush over the previous three years.

“The answer came back: 240, which we were completely shocked by, though it turned out to be a far rosier picture than reality,” Smith said. Sewage kills rivers by flooding them with nutrients, which leads to an increase in algae, which in turn exhausts the oxygen and blocks out the light, thus suffocating fish, insects and plants. The Windrush is a small river, and this volume of sewage would do terrible damage. Remarkably, this sewage dumping had all been waved through by the Environment Agency.

Raw sewage escaping into a river in Carmarthenshire in Wales. Photograph: Camera Lucida Environment/Alamy

Hammond and Smith wanted to understand more about what was happening so they, along with their neighbours, set up Windrush Against Sewage Pollution (Wasp) in 2018, and went to work. They sent water companies dozens of environmental information requests (EIRs), which allow members of the public to obtain information from public bodies, and were able to gain an increasingly accurate picture of how exactly the sewage plants had been operating.

Before he retired, Hammond’s academic speciality lay in using computers to help physicians diagnose medical conditions in children. By scanning multiple datasets, his software distinguished the characteristic facial features of people with particular genetic or other developmental conditions. His published papers have titles such as Objectifying Micrognathia Using Three-Dimensional Photogrammetric Analysis. Now, he repurposed his software to search charts of sewage data for flaws, just as it had searched photographs for signs of chromosomal abnormalities. “And it worked,” he said. “It worked really well.”


sewage works processes waste in different stages. First, it separates the solids from the liquids, then it uses helpful bacteria to destroy harmful bugs. The solids end up either as fuel or fertiliser, while the treated water flows into a river or stream. However, the situation is not always so smooth: many of our sewage works receive not just liquids from our homes, but also water that has run off roads, roofs and elsewhere. This means that when there is heavy rainfall, the increased volume of water can overwhelm the works’ capacity to treat it.

On a normal day, Hammond’s graphs showed two humps of high activity, one in the morning and one in the evening, which is when people are flushing their toilets, having showers, washing up and otherwise sending waste down the pipes to be treated, meaning the sensors reported high volume. But when it rains, that pattern changes, water flows through the works continuously, and the dip between the humps rises. Eventually, the flow is so heavy that it overwhelms the plant’s capacity to cope, and the water company faces a choice: either let the sewage back up and gush out of drains and toilets like particularly foul geysers, or vent it into the river untreated.

This is not illegal: water companies are allowed to vent raw sewage at times of exceptional rainfall, but they have to inform the regulators when they have done so. Because the flow of sewage through the works is monitored every 15 minutes, and Hammond had obtained that dataset, he could see what was happening in great detail. He trained his software to spot the characteristic change to a sewage treatment graph that shows the plant has been venting waste without treating it. Then he cross-referenced his findings against the water companies’ own admissions to see if they had informed regulators about them all.

Hammond (left) and Smith by the Windrush. Photograph: Sam Frost/The Guardian

They had not. “For a start, there were gaps,” Hammond told me. “It’s even a breach of permit to provide data to the agency that has gaps of certain sizes in it, like a two-week gap. But we were finding gaps of three months, nine months, a year.” That was bad enough. “And then I got the data about the spills,” Hammond continued. “And I could see pumps were failing, sewage was going into the river and the agency hadn’t noticed. As I dug into it, there was just more and more horror.” But the problem went beyond water companies failing to report when they had vented sewage during heavy rainfall, and failing to maintain their equipment in order to prevent accidental spills. Looking into the data, Hammond noticed something even more shocking: works were venting untreated sewage despite there being no rain at all. Anglers had been complaining about such “dry spills” for years, but until Hammond came along, no one had been able to prove their existence. “Remember, we had no investigatory powers, just the ability to send these EIRs. But Peter took the haystack and found not just one needle, but thousands of needles,” said Smith. “I was delighted.”

In England and Wales, the water companies were privatised in the late 1980s (in Scotland and Northern Ireland, they remain nationalised). The prices they can charge customers are regulated by Ofwat, and their environmental performance is controlled by the Environment Agency or Natural Resources Wales, although – because water crosses the English-Welsh border without regard for politics – Dŵr Cymru (Welsh Water) is regulated by both. It is a bewildering mishmash of overlapping responsibilities but, when lockdown was imposed in March 2020, Hammond expanded his focus by sending yet more requests for information to everyone involved. He then plotted more charts, which his software scrutinised for abnormalities.

His analysis of the two sewage works on the Windrush became an academic paper with a markedly different slant to his previous ones. He also had a new co-author: Ashley Smith. The paper – titled Detection of untreated sewage discharges to watercourses using machine learning – was published in the well-regarded journal NPJ Clean Water in March 2021. Hammond was able to find almost 1,000 unreported instances in the previous 11 years when raw sewage had been vented, some of them lasting for weeks.


t bears repeating: the water companies were polluting Britain’s rivers on an almost unimaginable scale, and yet the regulatory agencies had completely failed to spot it, despite having had access to exactly the same data as Hammond, and despite having conducted the very surveys that showed how much of the country’s water was rated “bad, poor or moderate”. How could such a monumental failure have occurred?

Government ministers like to point out that the Environment Agency has 10,500 staff and a generous budget of £1.6bn a year. If the agency isn’t doing the job demanded of it, they say, the fault lies with its managers, not with elected politicians. Superficially, it looks as if they have a point, because the government’s funding for the EA has indeed grown by 20% in the past five years.

However, if you delve beyond the headline figures, you see that the vast majority of the government’s funding is allocated exclusively for flood defences, while the money ringfenced for environmental protection has been cut by 80% since 2010. Over the same period, the annual enforcement budget has fallen from £11.6m to £7m – £100,000 less than the sum earmarked for the EA to manage issues around Brexit in 2019-20.

As the enforcement budget has shrunk, so have prosecutions. Today, if a company violates environmental regulations, it needs not worry much about the consequences. In 2007-8, the number of prosecutions brought by the EA reached a peak of nearly 800; by 2020-21, that number had fallen to just 17. Since 2016, when dealing with water companies, which are large and well-resourced, the EA has taken to relying on “enforcement undertakings” – voluntary agreements to do better, often involving a donation to a local Rivers Trust. These do little to discourage wrongdoing, but they have one advantage for the EA – they are an easy way for a cash-strapped organisation to save money, as they do not require any costly court proceedings.

A swan among rubbish and pollution in the River Thames in east London. Photograph: Nigel Bowles/Alamy

The EA has had to cut its monitoring budget, too. Peter Lloyd, a recently retired EA scientist, told a parliamentary inquiry last year that its pollution monitoring system was “so poor, so inadequate and so misleading” – and, he added, it was getting worse. For much of its information on pollution, the agency relies on members of the public calling its hotline. But managers now respond only to the most serious reports – categories 1 and 2, which involve either major or significant impact on the environment. “If someone says ‘the river is a bit green’, that’s category 3 and no further action is taken,” one recently retired EA inspector said, when I asked him what explained the problems in my local river. “If we used to monitor 80 points on the Wye, it’s probably 20 now.” Summing up the problem, he said: “It’s drip, drip, drip. Death by a thousand Tory cuts. There’s never been just one cut, it’s a slow gradual decline.”

The gradual nature of that decline means there has never been a single disaster that the public or politicians can seize on to grasp the scale of the problem, but the regulators’ failure to adequately respond even to the most serious incidents shows how overstretched they have become. In July 2020, people living along the Llynfi, a tributary of the Wye that drains the western slopes of the Black Mountains, spotted hundreds of dead fish in the water. It was a clear category 1 and they phoned it in. But inspectors from Natural Resources Wales, which has been responsible for enforcing environmental regulations in Wales since 2013 (and which has seen its budget cut in line with funding cuts to the whole Welsh government), were already busy at two other callouts, so no one was available to come and take samples. By the time an inspector arrived the next morning, the pollutant responsible for killing the fish had vanished downstream and Natural Resources Wales closed its investigation without prosecuting anyone.

Last year, a lawyer named Guy Linley-Adams sought to access the EA database that details how its officers have responded to different alerts, which must by law be available to members of the public. After months of obfuscation, he was permitted to visit the EA office in Lichfield, where he was ushered to a 2003-era Compaq PC running Windows XP, a version of the software so old it hasn’t been supported by Microsoft for almost a decade. The computer crashed whenever he tried to open a large document, and Linley-Adams was unable to download or print anything, since it couldn’t communicate with the printer. “What was particularly frustrating is that it had taken months for them to agree what office I could to go to; first it was Shrewsbury, and then Tewkesbury, then eventually I get to Lichfield and it’s a complete waste of time,” he told me. “The level of incompetence now within the agency has hit a critical level. The institution is bust. The best you can say for it is that it is managing the terminal decline of the environment in England.”

I mainly write about corruption and kleptocracy, but what’s extraordinary is how similar the situation around environmental enforcement is to that around financial crime. On paper, the laws are perfectly acceptable and regularly updated. The problem is that they are rarely, if ever, enforced. The result is government by press release; Potemkin enforcement; regulatory theatre; decriminalisation by underresourcing.

But there is a key difference between the battle against financial crime and the struggle against pollution – namely, Hammond and Smith, who bypassed the regulators and essentially created their own investigative agency in miniature.


s Hammond continued analysing more data, he became convinced that most of England’s sewage treatment works – of which there are several thousand – were breaking the law. He tried taking these findings to the regulators: to Ofwat and the Environment Agency in 2019 and in 2020. In February 2021, he even gave a zoom tutorial to EA staff explaining how his techniques had exposed all these unreported spills.

“I was showing them the simple methods I use, and I just put a little bit of algebra on a screen, and they said: ‘Oh, we’re not qualified to look at that kind of thing.’ And I just thought, surely there must be somebody there that can do this,” said Hammond. “And that’s how it went on. We just kept exposing stuff to Ofwat. And they didn’t seem to do anything but, say, bring in some Environment Agency people who we’d already spoken to and been completely unimpressed by.”

Then, at the end of 2020, parliament’s Environment Audit Committee announced an inquiry into the state of rivers in England and Wales, and the Wasp team spotted an opportunity. Committee chair Philip Dunne, whose constituency sits on a tributary of the Severn in southern Shropshire, had already been talking to Smith and Hammond for a private member’s bill intended to improve river quality, and was very receptive to hearing from them. When I spoke to Dunne, he described Wasp as “a formidable campaigning organisation, because they had data to back up the anecdotes”.

Hammond drew up a detailed account of his findings, and submitted it to the committee, whose members were appalled. The MPs invited him to answer their questions in April 2021, then came to see the Windrush for themselves in July. In November that year, Hammond published a new paper that showed how the Mogden sewage works, which is the third-largest in the UK and adjacent to Twickenham Stadium, had been sending vast quantities of waste into the Thames. “On each of two days in October last year they spilled 1bn litres-plus, which is the equivalent of 400 Olympic-sized pools of sewage each day. That is 16 Olympic swimming pools an hour for two days,” he told MPs.

Mogden sewage treatment works in west London. Photograph: Thames Water

Billions of litres of raw sewage going straight into the Thames, next to the home of English rugby – that’s the kind of claim that doesn’t go unnoticed for long. The Environment Agency might have been able to overlook an academic publication such as NPJ Clean Water, but could hardly stand by when those allegations were repeated in national newspapers. On 18 November 2021, Ofwat and the EA finally announced an investigation into the water companies in England and Wales.

The next month, all of the water companies bar one (the small Welsh provider Hafren Dyfrdwy) admitted their treatment works might have been non-compliant. The EA said its investigation into the information provided by those companies would require examining billions of data points and could take two years, but preliminary checks suggested “widespread and serious non-compliance”.

It seemed obvious from the timing that Hammond’s revelations had sparked the investigations, but officials were curiously bashful about it, repeatedly referencing “new information” and “these reports”, without saying what the information was or where the reports came from. When pressed, EA chief executive Sir James Bevan recognised that Hammond’s work had fed into the EA’s case and, in one odd exchange with MPs in June last year, even said the EA was “working with” him, which came as quite a surprise to the Wasp team.

“It’s like one of those corruption movies – you take the case to the boss, then realise the boss is the person in charge of it,” said Smith, as we ate chocolate digestives in Hammond’s living room. “They are terrified of crediting us because it exposes them as being utter failures. In their great rewriting of history they keep saying water companies came to them. But that’s utter bollocks. The reason they’re investigating the spillage is because Peter Hammond’s already done it.”

And few industry observers have any doubt of how central Hammond’s work has been. When the Ends Report, a magazine that specialises in environmental policy, published this year’s Power List of the 100 most influential people in the sector, it included Hammond. It wrote: “Arguably he has done more in just over a year than the Environment Agency – and many established NGOs – have in the past decade to convince government of the urgent need to reduce pollution in English rivers.”


ince then, even more investigations have begun. Not only are the regulators investigating the water companies, but the new Office of Environmental Protection – which regulates the regulators – is now probing the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), Ofwat and the Environment Agency, too, which perhaps helps to explain why the EA’s rhetoric has recently become so combative. “Over the years the public have seen water company executives and investors rewarded handsomely while the environment pays the price,” wrote the chair of the EA, Emma Howard Boyd, in her foreword to the agency’s July 2022 review of the industry’s performance. “The water companies are behaving like this for a simple reason: because they can. We intend to make it too painful for them to continue as they are.” Boyd called for “prison sentences for chief executives and board members whose companies are responsible for the most serious incidents.”

Whether or not company directors do face prosecution – and, frankly, I’ll believe it when I see it – Smith and Hammond’s revelations have launched a shake-up of the water industry that will hopefully bring life back to the River Windrush. Before too long, perhaps Hammond’s motion-activated cameras will once more pick up otters playing in his garden, and Smith will see chub and barbel spawning on the golden gravel.

But sadly that won’t do much good for my local river, the Wye – and scores of other rivers around England and Wales – where most of the pollution comes from agriculture, rather than from sewage works, and where there is no quick fix for the problem. Regulators have retreated from checking whether farmers are following the rules around pollution, just as they did for water companies, with identical consequences. And, because the pollutants can flow from fields and farmyards the length of the river, rather than from a limited number of pipes, there is no trove of data that can reveal who in particular is responsible for it.

Or perhaps everyone is responsible. When EA inspectors checked farms along the River Axe in south-west England between 2016 and 2019, they found that almost every farm was non-compliant with the rules for storing slurry, silage or fuel oil, all of which are harmful if they leach into rivers. On almost half of the farms, the inspectors saw pollutants entering the waterway. Farmers told the inspectors they had been flouting the rules because they saw the risk of enforcement as being so low – a problem the regulators know all too well. “Last year, we had sufficient resources that would allow us, in theory, to visit every farm … less than once every 200 years,” Bevan, the EA chief executive, told a parliamentary committee last year. “That is not a great disincentive to a farmer to stay on the right side of the line.”

“I get bloody irritated, and so do most people in the EA,” one veteran EA inspector told me. “The problem is that we don’t have the resources or the legislative muscle to do what everyone knows we need to do. But you only have to look at some of the farms in Herefordshire – they are big businesses, they are not scared of loose legislation or penalty notices. They can ignore all that.”

A year ago, the government provided funding for 50 additional inspectors to check farms in England, which will increase the headcount to 80, but that will only repair some of the damage caused by a decade of underfunding. “Given the length of the river system in this country, having only a few hundred people to oversee them is a pretty tall ask,” said Bevan, in evidence to parliament.

Such interventions from Bevan are noteworthy for their laconic understatement, but the ex-inspectors and current insiders who were prepared to talk to me spoke more in the language of crisis. Although little is being done to prevent sewage and manure from poisoning our rivers, at least we recognise the problem and are seeking to understand it. With regard to other threats, such as those from antibiotic-resistant micro-organisms, microplastics or “forever chemicals” such as polyfluoroalkyl substances – which are used in dozens of consumer products and have been linked to multiple serious diseases – the collapse in funding has reduced research, meaning we are always looking at pollution in the rear view mirror. “We don’t know what’s getting into the rivers. Nobody’s looking,” said another former EA inspector who took early retirement thanks to the funding cuts. “That’s a complete failure.”

So, what’s the answer? Some local groups – such as the Friends of the Upper Wye and the Wye Salmon Association, near where I live – have started testing the rivers for themselves, trying to discover the extent and the origin of the pollution. But gathering the volume of data that Hammond had access to requires resources far beyond even the largest NGOs. Truly understanding what is happening to our waterways could only come from the regulators doing the kind of monitoring and analysis they used to do before their budgets were gutted.

Meanwhile, Hammond and Smith continue to work away at the problem. Hammond is still searching for flaws in what information is available. “It’s never-ending,” he said. “The data is sometimes unreliable, or actually false. And I’m just kind of cataloguing those.” And Smith is analysing the financial returns of the water companies in an attempt to find out what they’ve done with all the money they didn’t invest in improving our infrastructure. Alongside the legal organisation Wild Justice, the Wasp team is seeking a judicial review of the whole water industry, whose profits, they claim, have been made through cheating on an industrial scale.

“What Peter does is actually show the consequences of that,” Smith said. “You’ve got a circle of co-opted regulators, and a deeply embarrassed government that ought to not have had this pointed out by a bunch of volunteer amateurs. Even if you made the government’s response 10 times better than it is now, it would still be rubbish, and it will still be eroded. It needs a complete overhaul to take away criminality being rewarded. Because that’s the model.”

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A tide of effluent, broken laws and ruthless cuts is devastating the nation’s waterways. An academic and a detective have dredged up the truth of how it was allowed to happen – but will anything be done?

Thu 4 Aug 2022 01.00 EDT


eter Hammond’s house is so picture-perfect – honey-gold stone, scarlet postbox by the door, pink roses climbing towards the first-floor windows – that it could host a murder in a detective drama. It is a converted mill, and the garden is long, narrow and exuberant, with water on both sides. To the south is the millrace that once drove the stones that ground the corn; to the north is the River Windrush, which runs through Gloucestershire and Oxfordshire on its way to join the Thames.

Hammond, a retired professor specialising in machine learning, arrived here two decades ago, and delighted in the variety of wildlife he could see in his garden: voles, otters, deer, foxes, badgers, grass snakes, lizards, swans and ducks, as well as chub, barbel and grayling swimming among the long fronds of the water-crowfoot as it swayed over the gravel beds. Kingfishers perched in the willows. It was only in 2013, when he gained a new neighbour – a keen angler and retired detective superintendent called Ashley Smith – that he realised something was wrong with his Cotswolds paradise.

“It took a fisherman’s eye to see it was so bad,” said Hammond, who has steel-grey hair and a determined jaw, as we walked through his garden recently. Every year the river had got worse, but so gradually that he hadn’t noticed it. “It’s like how you don’t notice yourself getting older, then a friend sees you and says: ‘My God, you’ve got old.’

Smith remembers the two of them leaning on the bridge rail and looking for fish swimming up to spawn in the gravel. That first year, he saw five barbel and two chub. By 2014, the chub had gone, and he saw just three barbel. And that was that. “I haven’t seen a fish since,” he told me.

By now, anyone leaning on that rail wouldn’t see a fish even if it existed: the River Windrush is opaque, its once-clear water running khaki-grey. Where the gravel beds were golden, they are now mired in scum. It’s not just the fish that have vanished, so have the crowfoot plants. “We used to get swans breeding on the little island near our bridge, but they’re gone,” said Hammond. “There’s nothing for them to eat any more.”

Until recently, the story we told ourselves about Britain’s rivers was one of recovery and rebirth. During the Industrial Revolution, the country used rivers as a waste-disposal mechanism, and they died by the score. But, after the second world war, industries were obliged to be more careful, and water companies were forced to clean up sewage. Gradually, life returned. Thanks to decades of careful and laborious work, salmon returned to the Thames and trout to the Taff.

The History Of The Porsche Automobile:

Today's selection-- from Iconic by Miles S. Nadal and Ken Gross

“Porsche’s founder, Ferdinand Porsche, led a successful design consultancy in Stuttgart, Germany, before World War II. He had previously worked at Austro-Daimler, had designed and developed racing cars at Auto-Union, and designed the first Volkswagen. He created a dynasty with cars that combined a lightweight platform frame, an aerodynamic body, and an air-cooled horizontally opposed rear-mount engine--a formula the company first adopted in 1938-39 with the Berlin-Rome Type 64 racecar. Looking back at that prophetic prototype today, one can visualize the entire lineup of Porsche models that followed.

“Porsche AG began serious auto production in 1948, when Porsche’s son, Ferdinand ‘Ferry’ Anton Porsche, built a Volkswagon-based ‘special’ roadster, the 356. It received critical acclaim after a Swiss magazine published a favorable road test. Designed by Erwin Komenda, the 356 coupe is sleek, streamlined, and innovative. The tiny two-seater used a strong platform frame and a modified Volkswagen-sourced W 1.131-cc air-cooled four-cylinder engine mounted behind the rear axle. Its suspension was independent all around with torsion bars, front trailing links, and rear swing axles. It handled extremely well for the era, despite its cable brakes and an 85-mph top speed limitation.

“The elder Porsche died early in 1951 but not before he saw his cars beginning to challenge the world’s best. Ferry Porsche understood that in lieu of large advertising budgets, racing was the crucible in which to prove Porsche’s superiority and capture global attention. In 1951, a single Porsche qualified for the 24 Hours of Le Mans. It won the 1,100-cc Class and finished 20th overall. (Porsche would repeat its Le Mans class-winning feat the following year, and has taken home eighteen constructor titles since.) 

“Ferry Porsche realized that modified production cars were not sufficient to win major races. So he initiated Project 500, a purpose-built racing coupe designed for the lowest possible aerodynamic drag in 1952. Victories at Le Mans, Mexico’s La Carrera Panamericana, and at countless other venues established the small Stuttgart-based automaker as a ‘Giant Killer.’ Porsche’s production cars developed a loyal following worldwide.

“In 1963, the 356 models morphed into the 911, and the company exploded. Conceived as a bigger four-seat 356, the all-new 911 featured a new chassis with MacPherson struts, semi-trailing arm and torsion bar springs, and a brand-new air-cooled, flat six that initially produced 128 hp from 1,991 cc. Designed by Ferdinand Alexander ‘Butzi’ Porsche, Ferry Porsche’s son. Its shape echoed the 356’s familiar fastback silhouette but was modified enough to look like a whole other beast. Today, that design has evolved many times but is still recognizable as a 911. Truly iconic. 

1952 Porsche 356 K/9-1 prototype

“Porsche AG always took competition seriously, and the company marshalled its best engineers, led by Ferry Porsche’s cousin, Dr. Ferdinand Piëch, to ensure the cars would be as advanced as any in the world. Legendary racecars like Porsche’s vaunted and technically sophisticated 917 and 962 were virtually unmatched in their era. They initially surprised Ferrari and others simply because no rival thought that Porsche would ever offer racecars with larger displacement engines than their road-going models. 

“Today, Porsche AG, which became part of the Volkswagen Group in 2011, is a full-time manufacturer. The collecting of vintage Porsches, especially cars with racing provenance, has led to skyrocketing prices. Comedian Jerry Seinfeld, retired pharmaceutical executive Bob Ingram, and Miles Collier, founder of the Revs Institute, are among this country’s top Porsche collectors. With nine Porsches in his stable, Miles Nadal is in good company."

Iconic: Art, Design, Advertising, and the Automobile
author: Miles S. Nadal, Ken Gross  
title: Iconic: Art, Design, Advertising, and the Automobile

HMS Endeavour

HMS Endeavour Replica

Today's selection -- from Fifty Ships that Changed the Course of Human History by Ian Graham.  A converted coal ship called the HMS Endeavour made scientific and navigational history in the late 1700s, commanded by the legendary James Cook:

“In the middle of the 18th century a humble coal ship took part in an expedition that changed our view of the world and its place in the solar system. At that time, the size of the solar system was unknown; no one knew how far away the Sun is. Observations made by scientists who voyaged into the Pacific Ocean aboard HMS Endeavour would resolve this mystery. The expedition's commander, James Cook, then headed for New Zealand and Australia on a secret mission.

Endeavour started her working life as a collier (coal ship) called the Earl of Pembroke. She was built in the coal pore of Whitby on the northeast coast of England. Her hull was made of white oak, her keel and sternposts were elm and her masts were pine and fir. She was a strongly built ship with a flat bottom that enabled her to sail safely in shallow waters and also allowed her to be beached for repairs without needing a dry dock. In 1768, King George III approved plans for an expedition to the Pacific Ocean to observe the transit of Venus across the Sun the following year. The expedition had been requested by scientists who wanted to use the observation to help calculate the distance between Earth and Sun. The Admiralty combined the expedition with a secret mission to look for a southern continent that was rumored to exist but had not yet been found or mapped.

“James Cook (1728-79) was chosen to command the expedition. He had a reputation for highly accurate survey and mapping work. The Admiralty bought the Earl of Pembroke and had her converted from a collier into the scientific research vessel HMS Endeavour.

“The conversion included the addition of an extra deck of cabins and storerooms. The crew of 85 included a dozen Royal Marines. There was also a naturalist (Joseph Banks), an astronomer and two artists on board. The ship might have to defend herself against attack, so she was armed with six cannons and 12 swivel guns.

“Endeavour left Plymouth on August 26, 1768. Cook had to reach Tahiti, a tiny island less than 30 miles (45 km) across in the middle of the vast Pacific Ocean, before the following June. He reached Cape Horn in the middle of January, After 3 days battling against storms and tides, he finally sailed into the Pacific. He stopped for Banks to collect plane samples from the coast and then set out across the ocean for Tahiti, which he reached in April.

HMS Endeavour off the coast of New Holland by Samuel Atkins c. 1794

“The crew set about building an observatory on the shore. It was surrounded by earth banks topped with wooden palisades and defended by guns from the ship. When the transit occurred on June 3, it was difficult for the observers to time it precisely because of a blurring of the edge of the planet Venus as it neared the edge of the Sun's disk; this is called the black drop effect. Nevertheless, using observations from Tahiti and elsewhere, the average distance between Earth and Sun was calculated to be 93,726,900 miles — an error of only 0.8 percent, as the correct distance is 92,955,807 miles (149,597,870 km).

“With the transit completed, Cook opened sealed orders that instructed him to search for the southern continent, or Terra Australis. He sailed for New Zealand and mapped its entire coastline, thus proving that it wasn't part of a huge continent to the south. Then he continued west and reached the east coast of Australia, the first European to do so. This, too, was not part of a bigger continent thought to be lying to the south. He claimed the land for Britain and called it New South Wales. On April 29, he made landfall at a place he named Botany Bay. As she was leaving, Endeavour ran aground on the Great Barrier Reef and her hull was holed. It was patched temporarily with a piece of sail. When the crew found a suitable place for repairs, they beached the ship. Then they continued to Batavia (Jakarta) in the Dutch East Indies for supplies and more permanent repairs to the leaking hull, which proved to be in far worse condition than anyone had thought. Many of the crew succumbed to malaria and dysentery, which were raging through the Dutch colony like a forest fire. Cook continued west with his surviving crew, completing his first circumnavigation in July 1771,3 years after he had left.

“Cook would go on to make two more voyages of discovery, but not in Endeavour. For these voyages, Cook chose another convened collier, HMS Resolution. During his second circumnavigation (1772-75), he looked for the southern continent again. He sailed far enough south to reach the pack ice and even circumnavigated Antarctica, but he never sighted land. He thought the pack ice might extend all the way to the South Pole.”

Fifty Ships that Changed the Course of Human History
author: Ian Graham  
title: Fifty Ships that Changed the Course of Human History  
publisher: The History Press

Haiti and the Failed Promise Of US Aid

This article is more than 4 years old

After an earthquake struck in 2010, the US pledged to help rebuild the Caribbean country. A decade later, nothing better symbolises the failure of these efforts than the story of a new port that was promised, but never built

Fri 11 Oct 2019 01.00 EDT


hen Bill and Hillary Clinton travelled to the Caribbean nation of Haiti as newlyweds in 1975, they were enchanted. Bill had recently lost a race for Congress back home in Arkansas, but by the time they returned to the US, he had set his mind to running for Arkansas state attorney general, a decision which would put him on the path to the White House. “We have had a deep connection to and with Haiti ever since,” Hillary later said.

Over the next four decades, the Clintons became increasingly involved in Haiti, working to reshape the country in profound ways. As US president in the 1990s, Bill lobbied for sweeping changes to Haiti’s agricultural sector that significantly increased the country’s dependence on American food crops. In 1994, three years after a military coup in Haiti, Bill ordered a US invasion that overthrew the junta and restored the country’s democratically elected president to power. Fifteen years later, Bill was appointed United Nations’ special envoy to Haiti, tasked with helping the country to develop its private sector and invigorate its economy. By 2010, the Clintons were two of Haiti’s largest benefactors. Their personal philanthropic fund, The Clinton Foundation, had 34 projects in the country, focused on things such as creating jobs.

Over their many decades of involvement there, the Clintons became two of the leading proponents of a particular approach to improving Haiti’s fortunes, one that relies on making the country an attractive place for multinational companies to do business. They have done this by combining foreign aid with diplomacy, attracting foreign financing to build factories, roads and other infrastructure that, in many cases, Haitian taxpayers must repay. Hillary has called this “economic statecraft”; others have called it a “neoliberal” approach to aid.

The most significant test of this approach in Haiti began on 12 January 2010, when a magnitude 7.0 earthquake struck just west of the capital, Port-au-Prince. In a nation of 10 million people, 1.6 million were displaced by the disaster, and as many as 316,000 are estimated to have died. The earthquake also dealt a huge blow to Haiti’s economic development, levelling homes and businesses in the most populous area of the country and destroying crucial infrastructure, including the nation’s biggest port.

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Within days of the earthquake, the Clintons stepped up to lead the global response. Bill was selected to co-chair the commission tasked with directing relief spending. As US secretary of state, Hillary helped to oversee $4.4bn that Congress had earmarked for recovery efforts by the US Agency for International Development, or USAid. “At every stage of Haiti’s reconstruction – fundraising, oversight and allocation – a Clinton was now involved,” Jonathan Katz, a journalist who has covered Haiti for more than a decade, wrote in 2015.

There was no greater embodiment of the neoliberal approach to aid in Haiti than the US’s largest post-earthquake project – a $300m, 600-acre industrial park called Caracol, on the country’s northern coast. To make the park more attractive, the US also agreed to finance a power plant, and a new port through which firms operating at Caracol could ship in materials such as cotton, and ship out finished products including T-shirts and jeans.

The Clintons and their allies believed the Caracol project would attract international manufacturers, which they saw as the primary fix to Haiti’s faltering economy. “Haiti has failed, failed and failed again,” wrote the British economist Paul Collier and his colleague Jean-Louis Warnholz, who have both advised the Clintons, in the Financial Times two weeks after the earthquake. By building “critical assets such as ports”, they argued, the US and its allies could help Haiti attract private, foreign investment and create the stable jobs it needed to prosper.

Ten years later, the industrial park is widely considered to have failed to deliver the economic transformation the Clintons promised. But less attention has been paid to the fate of the port. Last year, after sinking tens of millions of dollars into the port project, the US quietly abandoned it. The port is now one of the final failures in an American post-earthquake plan for Haiti that has been characterised by disappointment throughout. It is also the latest in a long line of supposed solutions to Haiti’s woes that have done little – or worse – to serve the country’s interests. “The neoliberal, exploitative economic model currently being imposed” on Haiti “has failed many times before,” Antony Loewenstein, author of Disaster Capitalism: Making a Killing Out of Catastrophe, has written. The result, he adds, is that many Haitians are living “in a state of despair and daily desperation”.


aiti makes up the western third of the island of Hispaniola – the other two-thirds are the Dominican Republic – situated between the Atlantic and the Caribbean along several major international shipping lanes. “It’s a strategic location,” says Claude Lamothe, the former director of a small port in the northern city of Cap-Haïtien. “All the big boats from the US pass right by here.”

For decades, the vast majority of goods coming to or leaving Haiti travelled through the ageing port at Port-au-Prince in the south. In the 70s, that port handled 90% of Haiti’s imports and 60% of its exports (including thousands of baseballs destined for the US, some for the Major League). But by the late 2000s, the fees it charged companies to dock, load and offload their goods were higher than any other port in the region. So companies turned to ports in the Dominican Republic, Cuba, the Bahamas or Trinidad and Tobago instead. When the earthquake hit, a large section of the port at Port-au-Prince collapsed into the sea. “The damage was unbelievable,” said Russell Green, a civil engineer at Virginia Tech University, who arrived to survey the port a few weeks after the disaster.

Just before the earthquake hit, Paul Collier had published a report for the UN that laid out a vision for Haiti in which international manufacturing and trade would create hundreds of thousands of jobs in a few short years and drive the country’s economy into the future. His plan was a particularly clear expression of the neoliberal prescription for aid: reduce taxes on businesses to attract foreign investment, reduce tariffs to make it cheaper to buy and sell goods and offer loans to finance the infrastructure necessary to accommodate the rest. All this would create jobs, and these new wage-earners would then spend their money on goods from abroad. Everybody, in theory, would win.

Port-au-Prince in Haiti during the aftermath of the 2010 earthquake. Photograph: Olivier Laban Mattei/AFP/Getty

The new port was a key part of this vision. There were several obvious locations for it in and around the earthquake-devastated capital, where hundreds of thousands of displaced people would have provided a ready workforce. Ultimately, however, USAid decided to build the park and port near Cap-Haïtien, on the country’s northern coast, 650 miles south-east of Miami, Florida.

A 2011 US government report declared: “With its proximity to Miami, a new container port in this region could become a hub for the north,” which had “untapped potential” in light manufacturing, such as garments, and in certain kinds of high-value agriculture. Companies such as the major Korean textile manufacturer Sae-A, which became one of Caracol’s first tenants, would be able to ship in cotton and ship out apparel. “A port – that was the carrot for these companies,” Jake Johnston, a Haiti expert at the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR), a liberal thinktank, told me.

But the location was attractive for other reasons, too. “Land was readily available in the north,” and the “hundreds of small farmers who had to be moved” to make way for the park and port “were far less resistant than the wealthy landowners in the capital,” Johnston wrote in 2014. Members of Haiti’s northern elite were also lobbying Bill Clinton to invest in the region, says Leslie Voltaire, who served alongside Bill as Haiti’s special envoy to the UN from 2009 to 2010.

Haitians themselves had remarkably little control over these plans. Between April 2010 and October 2011, decisions about how to rebuild Haiti were made not by Haiti’s parliament, but by the Interim Haiti Recovery Commission, which Bill co-chaired. This was supposed to be a Haitian-led body, but in December 2010, the 12 Haitian members of the committee wrote a letter declaring: “In reality, Haitian members of the board have one role: to endorse the decisions made by the director and executive committee,” which included donors and other Clinton allies.

Haiti’s then-president, a musician-turned politician named Michel Martelly, seemed reluctant to push back against the US’s redevelopment ideas, according to Voltaire. “At that time, Clinton was very close to Martelly,” he told me. “Martelly is an amateur and he respects Clinton’s ideas. They would follow whatever USAid and Clinton would say.” (Martelly did not respond to a request for an interview.)

“You have to put it in context,” Voltaire continued. “Almost all the countries in the world would want someone like Bill Clinton to be a lobbyist for his country.” A former US president with ties to major investors across the globe was expending political capital to help Haiti rebuild. For Haiti, “it was a double asset,” Voltaire went on, “because his wife was secretary of state,” and had influence over USAid, which controlled most of the US’s post-earthquake spending.

In the months after the earthquake, Bill worked tirelessly to attract manufacturing companies to the Caracol industrial park. When construction on the park broke ground in 2011, Bill laid the first foundation stone. A year later, at the park’s opening ceremony, Bill looked on as Hillary delivered a speech promising that the park would lead Haiti toward economic independence.


nternational trade has dictated Haiti’s economy almost since Christopher Columbus landed on Hispaniola by mistake, in 1492. After Spain and later France colonised the island, they imported African slaves to produce one of the most lucrative commodities in history – sugar – and exported it around the globe. By the eve of Haiti’s independence, which Haitians won in 1804, global trade had made the country one of the most profitable pieces of land in the world.

But all this international commerce has rarely benefited the vast majority of Haitians. Little of the wealth generated in the country has ever stayed there. For almost its entire history, Haiti has owed a trade debt to other nations – most notably, a $21bn (in today’s money) burden levied by France after independence. During the two centuries that followed, the effect of these debts has been to severely impoverish the country, and to make it beholden to the rich nations who have acted as its creditors. In the past 100 years, the US and the international financial institutions it partners with have been the most important of these creditors, indebting Haiti by extending foreign development loans and creating a trade imbalance – an early form of the neoliberal model.

But what worked for the US’s interests worked less well for Haiti. By the 1950s, neither Haiti’s agricultural economy, nor the dollars spent by thousands of American tourists every year, was enough to pay back those debts. By 1961, the US was sending $13m in aid to Haiti – half Haiti’s national budget – in part to help the nation bolster industry. Much of this early US aid to Haiti was looted or wasted by Haiti’s autocratic leaders, especially François “Papa Doc” Duvalier, and his son, Jean-Claude, who spent it on personal militias that terrorised Haiti’s citizenry. “Since 1946, the United States has poured about $100m in economic aid … into Haiti without much to show for the money,” the New York Times reported in 1963.

Aid from the US and loans from international financial institutions failed to lift Haiti out of poverty. And yet, American aid kept pouring in. When the Clintons and their allies sought to mould Haiti’s economic future around manufacturing and trade, it was essentially the same neoliberal programme that the US had been pushing for decades.

The most pernicious part of this programme was the agricultural policies that the US imposed on Haiti beginning in the 70s. The US pressured Haiti to reduce its tariffs on imported crops, then shipped surplus American crops into Haiti’s ports under the guise of “food aid”. Haitian farmers could not compete with all the artificially cheap rice and other food crops from abroad, which was part of the point. The strategy was to create another market for American farmers while pushing Haiti’s labour force away from the fields and into factories. As president, Bill Clinton furthered this programme, creating massive surpluses of crops such as rice by extending hundreds of millions of dollars in subsidies to US farmers. In Haiti, the result was that thousands upon thousands of farmers lost their land, but industrialisation never moved fast enough to replace their livelihoods.

Only years later would Bill Clinton acknowledge how this policy had failed Haitians.“The United States has followed a policy … that we rich countries that produce a lot of food should sell it to poor countries and relieve them of the burden of producing their own food, so, thank goodness, they can leap directly into the industrial era,” he told Congress in 2010. “It may have been good for some of my farmers in Arkansas, but it has not worked … I have to live every day with the consequences of the lost capacity to produce a rice crop in Haiti to feed those people.” By the time the earthquake struck, in 2010, a nation that in the 70s grew enough rice to feed itself was now importing 80% of it from abroad.

“Artibonite used to be rich, but now it’s poor,” Denis Jesu-car, a rice farmer in one of Haiti’s most agriculturally rich regions, once explained to me. “We produce rice, but it doesn’t sell.”


espite his acknowledgement that the US’s prior attempt to liberalise Haiti’s economy had decimated its agricultural sector, in 2010, after the earthquake struck, Bill Clinton and his allies prescribed the same, familiar medicine – this time in the form of construction projects and clothing, instead of rice.

One year later, Bill presided over a conference at which building firms from across the globe presented their designs for permanent housing for the displaced, most of which never came to fruition, in part because many were financially or practically infeasible, and in part for lack of land on which to build them. The largest piece of real estate of Haiti’s post-earthquake reconstruction was not built for poor Haitians at all, but for wealthy ones and foreigners: a new Marriott hotel in Port-au-Prince, financed by a multinational telecoms corporation whose chairman was a friend of Clinton’s. The Clinton Foundation brokered the deal, and Bill inaugurated the hotel in 2015.

The flagship projects of Haiti’s reconstruction were the Caracol industrial park and a power plant and new port that were to come with it. “Each must be completed and remain viable for the others to succeed,” the US Government Accountability Office, Congress’s official financial watchdog, wrote in an audit of the project in 2013. But the audit also found that USAid, which was leading the port project, lacked “staff with technical expertise in planning, construction, and oversight of a port.” USAid, the audit pointed out, “has not constructed a port anywhere in the world since the 70s”.

Former US president Bill Clinton visiting a new power plant in Caracol, Haiti, in 2012. Photograph: Larry Downing/AP

The audit offered a damning account of USAid’s efforts to build the port. Construction was delayed from the start. The time needed to build the port was revised from an initial estimate of two-and-a-half years to 10 years – and then indefinitely. USAid had “no current projection for when construction of the port may begin or how long it will take”. This was “due in part to a lack of USAid expertise in port planning in Haiti”.

To make matters worse, in June 2015, a USAid feasibility study found that “a new port was not viable for a variety of technical, environmental and economic reasons”. What’s more, the US did not have enough money to finish the job: “USAid funding will be insufficient to cover a majority of projected costs,” with an “estimated gap” of $117m to $189m. Not only was the port not viable, it was not even wanted: the private companies USAid had hoped to attract to Haiti’s north “had no interest in supporting the construction of a new port in northern Haiti”, the feasibility study determined.

While the port stalled, the industrial park underdelivered. When Bill and Hillary Clinton flew to northern Haiti to inaugurate the $300m Caracol park in 2012, the overall project had created just 1,500 of the 65,000 jobs that were promised. In fact, many Haitians may have lost their livelihoods because of Caracol: in the end, 366 families were evicted from their land to make way for the project, according to a report by the NGO ActionAid. By June 2017, Caracol still employed only 13,000 people. (In an email, the Clinton Foundation wrote that “The Clinton Foundation did not have a role in building the Caracol Industrial Park and has never invested any funds into the park,” but acknowledged that as part of its wider goal of facilitating investment in Haiti, “the Foundation helped identify potential tenants, including Haitian companies, for the park”.)

As the US’s failure to deliver on its promises for the industrial park made international headlines, the faltering plans for the new port went overlooked. In 2013, USAid reallocated almost all of the $72m that was supposed to be used to build a new port to instead expand and modernise the small, dilapidated port in nearby Cap-Haïtien. US officials knew they were throwing good money after bad: two years prior, a study by the State Department concluded it would be a bad idea to attempt to expand that port because there simply was not enough land on which to do so.

The Cap-Haïtien port “is locked into the city”, Voltaire said. “There is no way you can expand the hangers, the customs, the container areas. There’s not enough space.” But USAid officials went ahead with it anyway. “To scrap it or to stop allocating money is to admit failure,” Johnston, the Haiti researcher said. “And that’s not something that USAid is good at.”

Finally, more than seven years after the port was conceived, USAid confronted reality. In May 2018, almost three years after a new port was originally supposed to be completed, USAid entirely abandoned its plans to build a new port or expand the old one. In August, a spokesperson explained the decision to me: “Based on proposals received and the current marketplace, it appeared that the cost of the project would significantly exceed the business forecast, cost estimate and available funding.” In short, a port was simply not economically viable. Which was precisely the conclusion that US audits and reports had come to dating back to 2011 – reports that USAid had ignored.

After the project was abandoned, US officials did not even bother to tell Haiti the news. When I visited Cap-Haïtien in December, Haitian port authorities were unaware that USAid had scrapped the project. “Last conversation we had, they told us the money is there,” Anaclé Gervè, the director of the Cap-Haïtien port, said. I told him what a USAid official told me: it had decided to cancel the port project six months earlier. Gervè leaned back in his chair. “Wow,” he said. “They didn’t tell us that.”

When I asked Gervè what the US’s $70m had achieved, he pointed to two concrete electricity poles, erected as part of a plan to connect the port to the public grid. USAid had paid for the poles, but had not strung the cables needed to electrify them.


y January 2019, nine years after the earthquake, USAid had spent $2.3bn in Haiti. Most of it was given to American companies and hardly any passed through Haitian hands. Less than 3% of that spending went directly to Haitian organisations or firms, according to research by CEPR. In contrast, 55% of the money went to American companies located in and around Washington DC. Most likely, according to the research, the majority of what USAid allegedly spent on Haiti’s recovery ended right back in the US.

It is not clear what happened to the money allocated for a port in Haiti, because USAid would not tell me. In August, it released a factsheet claiming that it still planned to invest in “infrastructure upgrades” at the port, such as “improving the electricity system”. Some of these were things the agency had committed to doing previously, but that had yet to be achieved by the time I visited last December. The factsheet gave no indication of how much money was being directed to these projects, or when they would be completed. In other words, even after abandoning the idea of building a new port in favour of expanding the old one, then abandoning plans to expand the old one, too, USAid is still making new promises, still claiming it will at least do something, despite its failure to make good on earlier promises dating back almost a decade. The only physical improvements the agency claims to have made at the port are “electrical lines, security wall upgrades, a pilot boat and a security card machine”. It also claims to have trained 575 Haitian customs officers, but did not say how many of them are employed at the Cap-Haïtien port.

Over the past 12 months, I have repeatedly asked USAid spokespeople for a breakdown as to how the $70m allocated to the Cap-Haïtien port was ultimately spent. In July 2018, I submitted a Freedom of Information Act request for documents relating to the port expenditures, and last October I resubmitted the request in further detail after discussing it on the phone with a USAid official. The agency acknowledged my request, but has yet to send me a single document in response to it.

“Seventy million dollars? It’s a lot of money” for a project that never materialised, said Voltaire. For that amount, “we could have a nice port in Saint-Marc”, just a few miles north-west of Haiti’s capital. In Canaan, a new city on the outskirts of Port-au-Prince that was formed after the earthquake, he added, “they could do 72km of nice road, or 72 primary schools,” with all that money. At the end of last year, Canaan – which is now Haiti’s third-largest city – had fewer than 5km of paved roads and just one public school, for a population of 300,000.

“Here you have an industrial park an eight-hour drive north from where the quake was,” said Johnston, referring to Caracol. “And then you have this city that’s just 8km north, that was created from the earthquake – and it’s gotten nothing.”

In post-earthquake Haiti, there were all manner of things the US could have spent its money on. It could have spent that money to revitalise Haiti’s agricultural sector. In a country where only one in four people have access to basic sanitation facilities, the US could have invested in building things such as flush toilets, sewers and sewage treatment plants. In a country where 59% of the population lives on less than $2.41 per day, the US could have simply given Haitians the money. Studies have shown that such “unconditional cash transfers” can be a more effective way to increase income and access to education and housing than many types of traditional “project-based” aid. But policies like cash transfers would have undermined the approach to aid in which rich countries simply prescribe “solutions” for poor ones, rather than allowing people to take their futures into their own hands.

Little about the US’s foreign policy toward Haiti has changed since the 2010 earthquake. The US continues to send the country surplus crops through the Food for Peace programme to this day. Hillary Clinton stepped down as US secretary of state in 2013, but her successors have championed the same sort of private-sector-focused development. USAid continues to spend money to boost Haiti’s textile industry, and the US government continues to advertise Haiti as a business opportunity for US investors.

In spite of its failures to ring in a new era of prosperity for Haiti by building an industrial park and a port, the US is undeterred in its belief that industry and manufacturing are the key to Haiti’s future. “Despite the challenges, there are opportunities in the Haitian market for small-to-medium-sized US businesses,” wrote the US Department of Commerce in August. “The apparel sector is the most promising opportunity in the manufacturing sector in Haiti.”

Hawaii's Kama'ehuakanaloa Seamount, a.k.a. Lō'ihi

Kamaʻehuakanaloa Seamount is an active submarine volcano about 22 mi off the coast of the Big Island

Today's selection -- from The Underworld by Susan Casey. The monumental violence of underwater volcanoes:

“In 1996, the seafloor around Hawaii rattled with a swarm of four thousand earthquakes, the largest seismic event ever recorded in Hawaii. ‘Nobody had any idea what was happening,’ Kerby recalled, raising his eyebrows for emphasis. ‘It just sounded like something major was going on.’ A Pisces expedition was quickly mounted. Descending into a deep-sea eruption is not on the average person's to-do list, but this was an event scientists couldn't afford to miss. That didn't mean it wasn't wildly dangerous.

“Submarine volcanoes don't always present themselves politely. During one notorious tantrum in September 1952, the U.S. Navy's deep-sea hydrophones detected a series of loud explosions in the Pacific Ocean, 230 miles south of Tokyo. It was a known spot for frisky tectonics, part of a longer arc at the seam where two oceanic plates collide. Active volcanoes had been charted on the nearby seafloor.

“Over the next week the blasts continued, becoming so convulsive they generated multiple tsunamis. Often these outbursts were accompanied by thunder and lightning that lasted for hours. ‘Great sparks rose into the sky,’ one fisherman noted. Someone else called in a ‘pillar of fire.’ Marine observers watched a two-hundred-foot dome of water swell up on the surface like a colossal bubble, its edges running with waterfalls. They heard roaring and moaning noises that seemed to come from the ocean itself, which had turned a sickly green color and was puking up dead fish. When U.S. Air Force pilots flew over the site, they saw spiky black rocks emerge in a boil of whitewater, and then sink back into the depths.

“For marine geologists this was blockbuster stuff, so when the explosions stopped—momentarily, as it turned out—a group of thirty-one Japanese scientists and crew motored out on a research ship, the Kaiyo Maru 5, to document the action firsthand. We'll never know what they witnessed that day, for the ship was never seen again. A few days later, scraps of it were found floating nearby. The wreckage was shot through with lava shrapnel.

Ocean bottom observatory (OBO) at Pele's Vents

“It's hard to imagine the force that's needed to propel hundreds of tons of volcanic mayhem upward through a mile of water, but it's safe to say that you don't want to be near it in a submersible. And the Hawaiian Islands have hosted a lot of turbulent rocks. On a wall outside Kerby's office, I'd noticed a bathymetric map of Hawaii that revealed vast debris fields on the seafloor. Rocks the size of bungalows, buildings, and city blocks had, at some point, careened across thirty-eight thousand square miles of submarine real estate, an area five times larger than the combined landmass of the islands.

“I felt humbled by the sight of the map because I knew what it meant: monumental violence had occurred here in the past, when the volcanoes rose to a point where they shuddered and partially collapsed, generating mighty submarine landslides. (Some of the slides would have caused mega-tsunamis, which explains why coral fragments have been found high on the slopes of the Big Island.) During a massive earthquake swarm, anyone familiar with this submerged carnage would've instantly wondered: Was Lō'ihi shifting and sliding and shedding its skin in that same way now?

"'It was nerve-racking,’ Kerby confirmed. ‘We got out to the site and there was still activity coming off the bottom. The ship was getting hit with these shock waves, just—BANG. I was supposed to go down there to see what was going on.’ He laughed. ‘I never would have done a dive like that if I hadn't been exploring that volcano for nine years already.’”

The Underworld: Journeys to the Depths of the Ocean
author: Susan Casey  
title: The Underworld: Journeys to the Depths of the Ocean  
publisher: Doubleday