Haiti’s humanitarian crisis

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Map of Ayiti. Image courtesy of Pixabay

Haiti is struggling to survive. It seems to me that there are no easy answers but many opportunities for a truly bad outcome. What seems to be happening in Haiti can be compared to a drifting vessel at the mercy of currents, moving toward an inevitable disaster. I infer that many western governments feel the anxiety from the political dysfunction that is currently occurring on the island.

According to various news media, officials are still unraveling the plot behind the assassination of President Jovenel Moise, and the answer to that question could easily topple the already fragile situation on the ground. At any moment, the issues in Haiti might spiral out of control but, for now, everyone hopes that the situation remains calm, in order for peace to prevail.

Today, there are conflicting signs about where Haiti is going, with many asking if Haiti is a failing state or is it, as they say in French, “a la dérive?” Several factors seem to point in this direction. Haiti has not had a functioning government since the dismissal of Prime Minister Jean-Henry Ceant. In fact, the physical dysfunction constantly occurs in the Parliament which includes fistfights among parliamentarians, with others throwing furniture and objects at each other.

In addition to the dysfunctional government, more consequences loom for the economy. The country has been functioning without a ratified national budget which has also drastically affected its economic short-term prospects. A loan agreement with the International Monetary Fund, signed earlier this year, was initially suspended then subsequently expired due to the absence of a ratified budget. As the economic woes continue, other streaming funds have been delayed from the World Bank and the European Union causing budgetary gaps and forcing thousands of public sector employees on the bread line.

The political and economic dysfunction has also had dire consequences in the streets of Haiti. The country has had a rolling series of public demonstrations for the past 12 months, including violent explosions that partially shut down the country, reinforcing the public’s perception of governmental ineffectiveness. Nationally, violence is up with murders, rape and robbery skyrocketing each day. An underlying theme of public sector corruption permeates much of the street and gang violence, with the massive embezzlement of the petro-dollar funding only the most visible expression of the problem. The scale of the issue has created its own civil society dynamic, most notably the “petro-challengers” a loosely coordinated politicized group that pushes for greater accountability and transparency within the public sector. A report from the Cour Superieure des Comptes et du Contentieux Administratif (roughly equivalent to our Government Accountability Office [GAO] but with more autonomous legal authority) was issued on 31 May 2019, and further expands on earlier reporting accusing PetroCaribe, and a large swath of Haiti’s government machinery, of embezzlement.

Many have warned that unremitting armed violence has precipitated Haiti’s descent into the worst human rights and humanitarian situation in decades. People are being killed by firearms, and dying because they do not have access to safe drinking water, food, healthcare; while women are being gang raped with impunity. The levels of insecurity and the dire humanitarian situation have been devastating for the people of Haiti.

Yet, I don’t recall viewing this devastation on international media channels. People need to be aware of the instability taking place on America’s front porch. Haiti is on the verge of an abyss. We cannot repeat the mistakes of the past. While urgently tackling violence is a priority, Haiti’s future and sustainable recovery requires urgent and sustained action to tackle the root causes of this multifaceted crisis. Also required is the Government’s firm commitment to accountability and the rule of law.

Subrina Hall-Azih is a Trinidadian educator residing in New York.

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