Monday marked the 20th global observance of World AIDS Day. Each year, this date provides an opportunity to reflect on what has been accomplished and what remains to be done. Haiti's significant and under recognized progress in its struggle against HIV/AIDS continues. In fact, Haiti's successes have been replicated in numerous countries throughout Sub-Saharan Africa. This is something that we can all be proud of. Below are some thoughts concerning World AIDS Day 2008.
Below is an article by Stephen Leahy on environmental degradation in Haiti, which the head of United Nations Development Program (UNDP)/Haiti calls one of the worst case scenarios in the world. While the situation is grave, there is hope. Small organizations such as Floresta have been promoting innovative and replicable solutions such as "living terraces" that promote livelihoods and prevent disasters at the same time. Larger organizations such as the World Bank, the United Nations, and others are developing a three year multi billion dollar Haitian Recovery Framework to be released later this year. The framework would invest unprecedented funds into preserving Haitian watersheds and promoting food security. Engaging the government, involving communities, and ensuring long term support could help halt, and one day reverse, the environmental damage.
Search and rescue operations in response to the Petionville school collapse have concluded and there are no more survivors. In the Miami Herald article below, Jacqueline Charles notes that 89 individuals were killed and 150 survived, although many were badly injured. Thank you to Martinique, France, the United States and other countries that contributed equipment, search and rescue teams, or financial support. For the families, the mourning process begins. For the Haitian government, the pressure is on as they try to develop a strategy for preventing a similar tragedy from happening again. Nationwide school inspections would be a good start.
Haiti recently celebrated Fet Gede, the Day of the Dead. As Matt notes, it is a time for honoring those who have come before and a reminder to love those who are still here. November 18th marks the anniversary of the Battle of Vertieres, the historic battle which ensured Haiti’s place as the first free black republic and the only country to have led a successful slave rebellion. The juxtaposition of these two holidays reminds us that life is both a gift and a struggle. In Haiti, the struggle against hunger, poverty, and instability continues.
According to Caribbean 360, The Inter-American Development (IDB) has announced a US$25 million grant to improve the road network and road maintenance in Haiti's southwestern departments. If you've travelled the Grande Anse by road, you know how important this is. The grant is part of a four-phase IDB program to provide Haiti with US$100 million to rehabilitate its roads.
During a recent visit to Haiti, World Bank President Robert Zoellick warned that Haiti is at a ''tipping point'' given the billion dollars of damage caused by flooding from tropical storms. For the first time in years, Haiti has a legitimately democratic, albeit struggling, government. Given the World Bank's problematic history in Haiti, the agency should help the government by forgiving its debt -with the caveat that funds would be subject to external oversight and directed to disaster preparedness and response as well as reviving the agricultural sector.
Below is a Miami Herald article on the relationship between environmental degradation in Haiti and natural disasters. Click here to see an audio slideshow of the consequences of deforestation. The article also contains a link to an interview with Jane Wynne, who is intimately familiar with Haiti's environmental issues. As she puts it, "There is hope but only if we have the will to change." There is also a link to an interview with Prime Minister Pierre-Louis. Though it will take all of Haitian society to reverse the deforestation, her role is to prepare and coordinate a governmental response. It is long overdue.
Even before the hurricanes, Haiti was in emergency mode. The rising costs of food and fuel prompted riots and former members of the Haitian military had re-emerged in the north. According to Haitian Agriculture Minister Joanas Gue, the agricultural system has been destroyed. In many parts of the country, staple crops such as rice, corn, plantains, and yams were lost. The poorest farmers need assistance to purchase the seeds, tools, fertilizers and agricultural inputs that will ensure the success of the next harvest. Until then, food security is tenuous.
Natural disasters are a fact of life in Haiti, both in terms of the inevitable tropical storms/hurricanes and the floods/ mudslides left in their wake, largely as a result of the unabated deforestation. Gustav resulted in 22 deaths, but certainly could have been worse. While Haiti can't stop the storms, it is possible to mitigate the damage that they cause. Preparedness is key. Topix carried a Scoop Media World article on the efforts of the international community to help Haiti better prepare for and respond to natural disasters.