Haiti before the Earthquake (Part 1) - Blog 3
Part 1 – Haiti Before the Earthquake...
Before one delves into the details of the aid sector for a specific country, in this case Haiti, it is important to understand the reasons that why an aid sector exists in that country.
About Haiti – Politics and Tropical Storms
The Republic of Haiti is located in the Caribbean and today has a population of nearly 10 million. The country’s origins are unique for a number of reasons. Namely, it was the first Latin American independent nation and the first majority black-led republic in the world.
Since its reunification in 1804, Haiti has experienced widespread political violence. In 1990 Jean-Bertrand Aristide was elected as President. Before he was even inaugurated he survived a coup by the former Tonton Macoute leader. Aristride’s substantial reforms left him highly unpopular with Haiti’s private sector and military elite and by September 1991 he was overthrown in a coup d’etat. After external involvement by the US forces, Aristrade was re-elected in 1996 and again in 2000. However the later election process was boycotted by the opposition party Convergence Democratic. In subsequent years there was increasing violence and human rights abuses. This lead to the 2004 revolt, where an armed rebellion forced the resignation and exile of Aristide (Frontline World, 2011).
Haiti also fell victim to a deluge of natural disasters throughout the 20th and 21st centuries. In 2004, the Tropical Storm Jeanne touched the north coast of Haiti leaving over 3000 people dead and extensive flooding and mudslides (Patricia Fagan, 2006). Additionally, in 2008, Haiti was pounded by four tropical storms in the space of four weeks. The lack of resources was such that the number of casualties could not be counted. However it is estimated that around 331 were left dead and over 800,000 were in need of humanitarian aid. These storms had a knock on effect on the political stability of the country and lead to political unrest over soaring food and fuel prices .
Another social pressure was the rapid urban population growth, where the population of Port au Prince grew from 150,000 to 732,000 in 30 years. This did not coincide with the growth in infrastructure, especially water supply systems. Dupuy (2010) argues that the government effectively abandoned the city and provided no meaningful services such as schools, healthcare, electricity, portable water and sanitation.
Through a mixture of long term political instability, exposure to natural disasters and rapid population growth, Haiti was left with very little resources to build a stronger economy and support its population through vital services such as health and education. By 2010, it was ranked 145th of 169 countries in the Human Development Index and more than 70% of Haitians were living on less than $US2 a day. Furthermore, 86% of people in the capital Port au Prince were living in slum conditions and 80% of education in Haiti was provided in often poor-quality private schools. Most importantly half of the people in Port au Prince had no access to access to latrines and only one-third had access to tap water. These conditions lead the Haitian people to look to non-governmental organisations (NGOs) for the provision of these services.
NGOs in Haiti pre-2010
Before the January 2010 earthquake Haiti did not have the luxury of relying on sources of internal revenue to support its population and thus for almost two decades, relied heavily on international peacekeeping and aid interventions. These were aimed at building the capacity of the state. This led to the development of over 10,000 NGO’s in operating in the country. More NGO’s per capita now operate in Haiti than in any other country in the world and Haitians have been known to ironically refer to their country as a ‘republic’ of NGO’s (Edmonds, 2010).
What were the main functions of the NGO’s?
They provided around 70% of health care and 80% of public services. It is for this reason that the government has relied on the ‘let them be’ practices and there also almost total privatisation of basic services.
Haiti’s capacity to withstand natural disasters?
Macnaughton, 2010, stated that the shear level of NGO involvement has been repeatedly justified due to the dire economic and political situation of the country. The Haitian government was also classified by Transparency International as one of the most corrupt and inefficient in the world. However, the fact that financial aid has been channelled directly through NGOs, bypassing government institutions, has (over time) led to the substantial weakening of national government structures. Although many believe that the ‘long term presence in Haiti...experience with civil society, participatory approaches, urban programming, emergency response...served to fill vital social service gaps’ some evaluations observed that the International NGO way of working had not resulted in greater collaboration with local NGO’s. Also that coordination was rudimentary at best with large INGOs only willing to collaborate as long as there was no loss of freedom (Benton et al. 2001).
This notion of increased incoordination between INGOs, local NGO’s and the government and gradual reduction of the governments capacity to provide services to its population has been widely discussed in the disaster relief community after the response to the earthquake. There is a wide consensus that NGO’s became an uncoordinated pillar of Haitian public services.
For a comprehensive report on whether the flood of NGO’s into Haiti were a help or hindrance please click here.
We will end Part 1 on a question, which TasteTheWater feels should have been asked sooner:
Considering there were 10,000+ NGOs present in the country with a vast amount of local expertise, political power and financial backing, but a weak government with little resources; was Haiti’s water sector well prepared to react to a magnitude 7.0 earthquake?
Benton et al., 2001. ‘Strength in Numbers: A review of NGO Coordination in the field’ icva
Edmonds, K., 2010. ‘NGOs and the Business of Poverty in Haiti’ North American Congress on Latin America
Fagan, P., 2006. ‘Remittances in crises: A Haiti case study’ Humanitarian Policy Group
Frontline World, 2011. ‘Haiti’s History’ WGBH Educational Foundation
Macnaughton, N., 2010. ‘Haiti - Putting NGOs in their Place’ The Mantle