Close your eyes and drift away on a warm breeze to a place where the cool clean blue waters of the ocean meet miles of pristine white sandy beaches that in turn give way to the undulating lush countryside. A place where sugar cane grass grows tall and coconut trees are in abundance. An oasis of flowering plants of varying colors punctuated by the welcoming smiles and kindness of its people as they engage you. You can smell the scents of indigenous dishes being prepared, mouthwatering, enticing you to stay as long as possible. This is ‘Haiti now’, the year is 2040.
A REFLECTION ON HISTORY
Haiti, a country with an embattled and turmoil-filled history, could ill afford more bad news. This nation has long had to deal with natural disasters, civil unrest, and unethical political practices. The disaster prone country suffers a major catastrophe every three years, and has been hit by numerous hurricanes, flash flooding, and landslides over the years. One year after the devastation of the earthquake that killed an estimated 230,000 people injured 300,000 and left more than one million homeless the images that once plastered our television screens and magazine pages were noticeably absent from major news headlines. Ironically, the situation on the ground has remained grim and the one time fascination seems to have worn off as most people have turned their attention to global ware fare. Today’s headlines are dominated by such hot topics as mine explosions, protest in Egypt, political unrest in Tunisia, violence in Pakistan, and terrorist attacks in Russia. Despite the waning media coverage, Haiti is a reality we cannot escape. As the citizens of the country struggle to regain a sense of normalcy the global community cannot dismiss their continuing struggle. But what constitutes ‘normal’ in Haiti is debatable. Whilst many were made aware of the country’s situation as a result of the catastrophic earthquake in 2010, it actually just made the state of affairs much worse.
Years of political instability brought on by power hungry men who put their individual interests ahead of the people they govern has seen Haiti claim the status of the poorest county in the western hemisphere. With draconian infrastructures -even in the capital of Port-au-Prince- residents are left without potable water, proper sanitation, basic healthcare, access to justice systems, and adequate security especially for women and children. In recent months, the outbreak of cholera has crippled an already strained emergency health care system. The plight of young girls and women has worsened as they continue to live in fear of predators who threaten their safety in camps and in public areas. These two aren’t the only groups at risk of exploitation; young children (many orphaned as a result of the earthquake) are being taken advantage of in alarming numbers. In more ‘developed’ countries, it is easy to understand how a natural disaster can cause already established systems to buckle. But in this society, where unemployment numbers were already high, the earthquake has magnified the economic impact on many households, making it difficult for families to get food. Additionally, 190,000 homes were lost creating a desperate need to provide shelter for the 1.3 million people that remain homeless. The tent cities, which revive eerie memories of the movie ‘District 9’, are weathered and now require new materials to replace those that are considerably deteriorated. The loss of important personal documents has also led to disenfranchisement of certain individuals such as landowners laying claim to their properties, children requiring education where a birth certificate is necessary in order to register for school, and individuals trying to open something as simple as a bank account which further restrict access to the very things that can re-establish a sense of ‘normalcy’.
Frustration in dealing with the crisis comes from outside of the country as well. In total, $5.3 billion has been committed to the recovery and rebuilding of Haiti however only $1.2 billion has been allocated to specific reconstruction projects thus far. Fears of political corruption and instability have left some donors reluctant in follow through while future cash commitments are drying up as a result of lowered confidence in the reconstruction efforts. Those shortcomings are also highlighted by the recent courting from a host of persons seeking political leadership, from newcomer Wyclef Jean who lacked political pedigree to the notorious Jean Claude ‘Baby Doc’ Duvalier touting his millions frozen in ‘Swiss’ bank accounts. At a time when so many basic and vital needs are not being met, even the most well intentioned celebrity candidate such as Jean can sway focus from the main agenda: The rebuilding process. It also illustrates how vulnerable this nation is, that ghosts from their past, a la Duvalier, can attempt to re-enter the political fray at a time such as this. The unfortunate inclination of the people to get caught up in the political drama that has stymied them in the past adds further complication to the efforts of those organizations trying to offer aid, as political rallying and demonstrations disrupt the provision of important services. As a result, many are inclined to wonder whether the timing of this new ‘political wave’ is really in the interest of the people.
THE WAY FORWARD
But there is reason to hope, as the out pouring of help for this nation continues to this day. Organizations such as IRC (International Rescue Committee, www.rescue.org), USAID (United States Agency for International Development, www.usaid.gov), OXFAM (www.oxfam.org), and Yele (www.yele.org) to name a few are still present and making valuable contributions to those in dire need. Furthermore, the adoption process has been formalized to avoid the exploitation of young children who have already suffered so much. The Joint Council on International Children’s Services has lauded the involvement of the adoption agencies, governmental authorities, and individuals that have risen to the occasion to provide an alternative and bright future for these children, the future of this nation.
BACK TO THE FUTURE
Today is Thursday, January 12, 2040, which marks the 30th Anniversary of the Haiti earthquake that redefined the history of this country. With aid from our Caribbean sisters and brothers as well as the broader global community the Haiti I love and cherish has reached its full potential and recognized as the respected island nation that was first to win its independence from colonial rule. A generation later our economy is booming, tourism is at an all time high, trade and industry is flourishing, and our democratically elected government is stable and free from corruption. This is the Haiti I know, this is Haiti now.
By Brian Gibbs / Jessie Williams | Photos by Ricardo Saint Cyr | Published in Profiles98 Spring Issue 6 2011