An appeal for Haiti

Monday, January 15, 2018

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It was quite painful to read the appeal by the Haitian Government last week for US$252 million in aid to respond to natural disasters this year.

Painful because the people of our sister Caribbean nation have suffered so much over so many years that we have come to wonder whether they will ever enjoy a reprieve of the misfortune that seems to plague the country.

We remember well how eight years ago a devastating earthquake, described as one of world's worst natural disasters, killed more than 300,000 people and resulted in damage or total destruction to more than 300,000 buildings, including in the capital Port-au-Prince.

Last week, it was reported that, since then, more than 38,000 people are still living in makeshift camps, struggling to get work and access to clean water. That is not comforting news, especially given that approximately US$13 billion in aid was poured into the country after the earthquake.

Readers will also recall that in October 2016 Category Five Hurricane Matthew slammed into Haiti, killing more than 500 people and leaving widespread damage estimated at US$1.9 billion. In fact, after the hurricane's passage, approximately 1.4 million people were assessed to be in need of humanitarian aid.

Last week we were told that more than one million victims of that hurricane are still in need of humanitarian assistance.

A year before that, at least 230,000 Haitians — 16 per cent of them minors — were forced to leave the neighbouring Dominican Republic following brutal and uncaring changes to immigration law. Many of those Haitians, we are told, are still in need of help to resettle in Haiti.

According to a wire service report, the humanitarian response plan to that crisis was created in partnership with United Nations agencies working in Haiti, but risks falling short of the needed funding, as it has in the past. In 2017, only 37 per cent of the funds needed were raised.

“We are in a period of declining external aid. The Government is now exploring how to achieve empowerment to finance recovery and make the transition to development,” the French news agency Agence France Presse reported Planning Minister Aviol Fleurant as saying.

Haitian President Jovenel Mose has been critical of aid programmes, arguing that they have failed to lift Haiti out of extreme poverty. “Thirty years of assistance and several billion dollars spent by our international partners, mostly to finance small non-structural projects, have sadly demonstrated their limit,” he was reported as saying last week.

While he may have a point, given that many of the more than 50 countries that promised help after the earthquake were found to be procrastinating, President Mose and his Government must accept that they have a duty to ensure that aid programmes that are actually implemented are effective. If he and his Government are being sidelined in that effort they need to speak out, otherwise they will risk the country becoming a victim of donor fatigue.

Our hope, though, is that the international community will rally to Haiti's assistance and that any aid programme will be properly implemented and monitored for the good of the Haitian people.

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