On the tenth anniversary of Haiti’s devastating earthquake, Haitians need aid policies that focus on an equitable and livable future

January 10, 2020 – Washington, DC – January 12th marks ten years after a 7.0 magnitude earthquake struck Haiti’s capital, Port-au-Prince. Human rights groups, faith-based organizations, policy institutes, and humanitarian organizations of the Haiti Advocacy Working Group (HAWG) honor those who lost their lives on that day. HAWG was formed after the earthquake to coordinate advocacy efforts for effective and just disaster relief, reconstruction, and long-term United States development policy toward Haiti. In this tenth year, we believe that honoring those who passed requires that we reorient actions to focus on supporting Haitians to build a better country for future generations.

Haiti has a young population with more than one-half under the age of 23, and 34 percent under the age of 15. The majority of Haitians were children when the earthquake hit and the country began to address the aftermath of over 200,000 lives lost and one million others displaced. In pledging $13 billion in disaster and reconstruction funds, the motto of the international humanitarian response was to “Build Back Better.” Yet, building back better has been an unfulfilled promise. Moreover, these funds have played a significant role in perpetuating unjust systems with transnational roots and have helped manifest the country’s downward spiraling conditions that have culminated in the current crisis.

The significant loss of life and other devastation from Haiti’s January 12th earthquake was a result of man-made policies and poverty, not mother nature.  By comparison, Chile’s 8.8 earthquake six weeks later resulted some 500 deaths. Haiti’s current economic and political crises leave its people vulnerable to future natural disasters, which as the third most vulnerable country to climate change in the world, is only a matter of time.  International development and humanitarian aid models must shift towards a bottom-up approach that accompanies diverse civil society groups, with a focus on decentralization. Haitian youth face a grim future unless dramatic changes are made.

The Current Crisis

Ten years after the earthquake, Haiti’s political system is ever more unstable. The country has been in a state of ongoing protest since July of 2018, in large part due to allegations against President Jovenel Moise and others of the misuse of some $2.2 billion in aid from Venezuela, known as PetroCaribe. Compounded with fuel shortages and general frustration toward the country’s conditions and government mismanagement, nationwide protests shut down the country in what has been called “Peyi lok” (country lock-down).  The protests closed schools, hospitals and most businesses for nine weeks between September and November of 2019.  In addition, gang violence has spiked, including the politically motivated recent civilian massacres in neighborhoods La Saline and BelAir, which together left at least 75 people dead.

As a result of widespread instability and insecurity, the Haitian government’s ability and will to support the most basic needs of its citizens has further declined. An inflation rate of 18.6 percent has exacerbated a humanitarian crisis resulting in an estimated one-third of Haitians in dire need of food aid, with predictions for an even more grim 2020. Ongoing political crisis continues with great uncertainty as the terms of two-thirds of the members of Parliament expire this month due to untimely elections, leaving an unconstitutional government.

Role of International Interventions & Aid

Since the 1950s, foreign aid has largely supported the same civil society actors, mostly based in Port-au-Prince.  As a result, a weak and divided civil society has shown little to no support for the agenda of the countryside or the country’s young population. Due to neglect in developing the countryside, where over half of Haitians live, residents continue to flock to the cities, largely landing in growing slums.  The international community should do more to create a just Haiti for future generations, rather than reinforcing the status quo shaped by Haiti’s colonial history and neoliberal aid policies of recent decades.

While large sums were slotted for relief and reconstruction immediately after the earthquake, the more recent programs of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) have focused on: food security and economic growth, health and education, infrastructure and energy, governance and rule of law, humanitarian and disaster assistance, and sustainability. Although these areas may align with the country’s needs, implementation of that assistance could be more effective in bringing about positive results. In particular, USAID, international financial institutions, and other donors continue to practice a top-down approach while claiming community participation. Local community assets are largely overlooked and Haitians sidelined as masters of their destiny. Aid should focus on a solidarity model, rather than one of charity.

Supporting Systematic Change and Haiti’s Next Generations

For Haiti to have a brighter future, a new systemic approach is necessary to reverse the damage of the past.  In crisis, there is also the potential for major shifts to occur. This time in history should be seen as a moment where international solidarity partners can offer real support to Haiti and its people. Today is an opportunity to find the courage to make the right decisions moving forward.

Members of the HAWG strongly encourage the following shift in international assistance that focuses on supporting Haitians:

  • Contextualize Haiti within a history where Haitians fought determinedly for their freedom and sovereignty, where Haiti is more accurately described as impoverished not poor
  • Listen to and support the demands of the Haitian people, especially the youth, women, members of the LGBTQ+ community, rural peasants/smallholder farmers, and those living in low-income neighborhoods
  • Foster increased inclusion of women in public spheres and governance
  • Support strengthening anti-corruption measures including pursuing accountability for PetroCaribe
  • Employ community engagement methodologies that focus on asset-based community development driven by Haitians
  • Support decentralization of governance, infrastructure, institutions, businesses, and power as envisioned in the 1987 Constitution to promote more even development across Haiti
  • Support local agriculture production that is culturally appropriate and conscious of the environment
  • Increase coordination between different sectors of society to work towards more understanding and national healing
  • Support ways for Haitians to deal with trauma both individually and collectively
  • Support the building of collective memory as important to social inclusion and a more just society
  • Support appropriate diaspora engagement
  • Support for policies that promote the creation of decent employment that enables Haitian workers to adequately and autonomously care for themselves and their families

HAWG urges these systematic policy shifts in solidarity with the families of the victims of the 2010 earthquake and to those suffering due to vulnerabilities created by human made policies. We must learn from these past mistakes. In our capacity, we hope that we can genuinely work towards a more equitable future for Haiti and Haitians.

For more information, contact Jessica Hsu at [email protected]