As we get closer to May, the rains will become more frequent and intense. Even brief rainfall to date gives an indication of how vulnerable the displaced in Port au Prince are to flooding and mud-slides. Some, such as the displaced at the Petionville Golf Club are being relocated to the hastily prepared Corail-Cesselesse site 15 km north of Port au Prince. Six other sites require urgent evacuation before the rainy season. Other sites can be made safer with engineering interventions. Disturbingly, hundreds sheltering at the National Stadium were reported to have been forcibly removed. Close coordination and rapid action are urgently needed to protect the displaced from the upcoming rains.
Haiti is forever changed. At least 150,000 people, equivalent to the population of Tallahassee, have died. At least 600,000, more than the population of Seattle, are without homes. Over 130,000, approximately the population of Syracuse, have left Port au Prince for the countryside. After a disaster of this magnitude, life does not go back to normal. Still, even in the face of great uncertainty, life goes on. Telecommunications are mostly up and running, some banks are opening, more gas stations are functional, markets and factories are re-openening. Neighborhood committees are meeting and people are attending church services. All agree it will take many years to rebuild. The question is how Haiti can recover and be built back better than it was before?
Hard to believe that just a year and a half ago, there were food riots in Port au Prince and other Haitian cities. Since then, Haiti has become become politically stable to the point where firms involved in agriculture, textiles, infrastructure development and tourism are considering investing in Haiti. Livelihood opportunities are sorely needed given that half of Haitians live on less than two dollars a day. Still, the majority of Haitians are small farmers. Without opportunities to provide for themselves and their families, the influx of the rural poor to urban centers will only accelerate. Increasing agricultural productivity/opportunities is key to improving food security in Haiti.
President Obama is in the United Kingdom this week as part of the G20 Summit. As Nicholas Kristof wrote an op-ed, more is at stake than banks. According to World Bank estimates, the global economic crisis will cause an additional 22 children to die per hour, throughout all of 2009. Robert Zoellick, President of the World Bank, stated, “In London, Washington and Paris, people talk of bonuses or no bonuses...In parts of Africa, South Asia and Latin America, the struggle is for food or no food.”
World Water Day has come and gone. About 1.1 billion people still do not have access to safe drinking water, and two in every five people on the planet still have no access to a proper toilet. The international community has become increasingly aware of the disastrous consequences of the status quo for public health and economic growth. It will take more than awareness to change the current situation - it will also take political will, long term committment, and a new approach.
What a year. The soaring costs of food and fuel, political unrest, and natural disasters prevented any real progress toward food security. The international community tunes in and tunes out to Haiti’s struggle to feed itself. For now, there is attention. Two of the main tasks of the Haitian government and civil society in 2009 will be to begin reversing environmental degradation and reinvigorating the Haitian agricultural system. The challenges remain daunting, but are not insurmountable. There is much that we, as friends of Haiti, can do for a better year in 2009.
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.