While those of us who have a pulse on global events tend to associate Haiti with the devastation of a natural disaster, the country is one of the most beautiful in the world, with both tropical beaches and lush, green mountains. Sharing the Island of Hispaniola with its neighbor, the Dominican Republic, “Hayti” actually means “land of the mountains.”
This month marks the six-year anniversary of the devastating 2010 earthquake, which killed nearly 300,000 people and displaced 1.5 million. Even after 13 billion dollars in aid poured into the country to help rebuild, Haiti’s population of 10.4 million continues to face humanitarian and developmental challenges. Haiti now ranks 168 of 187 countries on the 2014 Human Development Index, while its neighbor, the Dominican Republic, ranks a much lower and desirable 96. According to the UN World Food Programme, 59 percent of Haitians live in poverty and close to 25 percent in extreme poverty.
Why is such a beautiful country, less than a four-hour flight from the US, facing such massive challenges in 2016? There are a few factors at work here, perpetuating poverty cycles. The history of the country has lent itself to recurring political unrest, peppered with periods of dictatorship. In response, a UN Stabilization Mission has been present in Haiti since 2004. Unrest tends to escalate around elections, which have been steering the national zeitgeist since fall of 2015. Political turmoil often has humanitarian repercussions. For example, daily protests and riots keep food aid from being delivered.
Haiti is also environmentally vulnerable. According to the 2014 Maplecroft Index, Haiti is ranked sixth in the list of countries most vulnerable to climate change. Agriculture provides 50 percent of jobs in the country, yet can’t produce enough food for the population’s needs. This means any spikes in international food prices, specifically rice, has a devastating effect on the food security of the population. In recent months, a drought has caused this season’s agricultural production to be 50 percent below that of typical year, so food insecurity is a reality for many.
Haitians personify resilience. Despite the challenges, there is an underlying sense of community and perseverance throughout its colorful streets. It is the people of Haiti who are rebuilding their country. And we are honored to empower them in that by supporting food aid programming through the WFP. It’s hard to build on an empty stomach.
Photo credit: Lindsey Swedick for FEED & Shutterstock