By Sabine Tessono
The final piece of understanding Haiti’s various crises is one that the average American has heard about, but has neglected to keep track of when considering the nation’s poor fiscal standing: natural disasters. Haiti, like many other countries, has had a fair share of environmental catastrophes that lead to disruptions in their economy and in their public order. Though other nations have been able to rebuild, or even surpass their previous industrial growth, the number of horrific calamities, combined with social disorder and government dysfunction, has crushed Haiti’s already teetering system, and forced it to plunge further into uncertainty and chaos.
On January 12, 2010, one of the most terrible events occurred on the island’s doorstep. A magnitude 7 earthquake, almost unheard of in the Caribbean, sent shock waves through Leogane, Port-au- Prince, the capital, and other cities across the region with 52 aftershocks of 4.5 or greater being measured. The death count was also high, ranging from 100,000 to 160,000, with the government estimating that about 250,000 residences and 30,000 commercial buildings were destroyed or severely damaged during the natural disaster. Although there were widespread humanitarian efforts and a push to restart Haitian economy by means of rebuilding roads, broadening access to water, and funneling money into the economy by means of debt relief and loans, Haiti is no better than it was six years ago.
The question then remains: Why isn’t Haiti’s fiscal state progressing despite all the aid it receives? And how did the nation’s image shift from one that other countries see as one that needs support and attention to a forgotten, almost hopeless state? A large part of the answer lies in plain sight: foreign aid. While Haiti has managed to remain independent from other Western powers since its independence in 1804, its economy, both pre and post-quake, has relied heavily on international power. While relying solely on organizations has caused extreme stagnation in employing citizens and reestablishing Haiti as a contributor to the Western market, “NGOs with weak tunnel vision and international aid agencies with top-down agendas hobble the weak government and cite Haiti’s culture of corruption as an excuse to deny distributing aid through local channels”. With disorganized help not reaching the citizens who are suffering, and with self-interested officials in both Haitian and foreign governments misusing large funds, it’s reasonable to assume that any country after an environmental crisis, regardless of economic contribution, would have an increasingly difficult time in trying to maintain Stability both financial and ethical.
Adding on to this lack of focused help, Haiti’s political struggles have lasted for so many centuries that it has seeped into the very fabric of the nation, affecting everything from foreign states taking advantage of weak governments to exploit natural resources, to NGOs contributing to outbreaks of cholera and other illnesses, to even worsening the effects of natural disasters due to deforestation and shoddily-built foundations in an effort to play industrial catch-up. Despite volunteers working to set a platform for the island to rebuild itself, and perhaps shift in a more positive direction, the cycle of crisis response in the midst of environmental disasters continually prevents the underlying problems from being revealed, thus raising feelings of frustration and hopelessness for Haitian citizens and neglect in the wake of other international issues for global superpowers.
In order for Haiti’s problems to truly be addressed, countries cannot remain satisfied with just throwing money at the island and hoping that the issues just disappear. Like countless other nations, Haiti is filled with a rich history, beautiful scenery, and people who still trudge on every day despite the adversity they face. However, systemic corruption, mixed with ceaseless natural disasters, has made its instability and its placement on the international scale a real challenge. Instead of dismissing Haiti as just another “shithole country”, perhaps the nations of the world and their political leaders and citizens can consider the complexities of Haiti’s situation and be reminded that despite its economic weaknesses, Haiti still is a valid and treasured contribution to our world.