Foreign Policy Blogs

Super Storm Sandy Exposed Haiti’s Failed Reconstruction

Sandy’s aftermath

Transforming Haiti into a consumer nation, ultimately meant that a short-supplied world would force its population into mass starvation, a recurring nightmare Haitians are currently experiencing amid the recent global food crisis, which caused a wave of sporadic protests to erupt throughout the country last month.

Rampant inflation sent food prices hovering well beyond the nation’s reach, amplifying voices of discontent with the Martelly/Lamothe administration, seemingly unable to implement any sustainable solutions to Haiti’s deteriorating political and social climates. Appealing to the international community for immediate assistance, the Haitian government declared a month-long state of emergency one week after Sandy drenched the country, killing at least 64 people with dozens more still missing and damaged about 18,000 homes, including hospitals, schools and public buildings.

“According to preliminary estimates by Haitian Officials,” wrote Gabrielle Duchaine who reported on Sandy’s aftermath for La Presse, a Montreal daily. “70 percent of the crop that was ready for harvest in the South of the Country was destroyed, including bananas, beans, rice, avocado and corn.” She further indicated cattle were lost, as the estimated damaged surpassed $450 million. Some farmers reported losing 90 percent of their crops, which according to the United Nations shoved Haitians closer to a catastrophic food crisis. In fact, U.N. officials said 5 million people, 50 percent of the population, risked suffering food shortages with at least 2 million facing malnutrition.

Urging preventive measures from the international community, Bijay Kumar who is Head of Emergencies for ActionAid, a nongovernmental organization assisting farmers in Southern Haiti, drew a parallel between the Caribbean nation’s looming catastrophe and the widespread famine that recently slammed the Horn of Africa. “We have seen what happens when we do not act early enough,” cautioned Kumar. “The food crisis in the Horn of Africa in 2011 could have been averted if we had responded before it reached crisis point,” he recalled, adding, “We must not make the same mistake again in Haiti.” The early warning signs are there, reasoned Kumar, and the international community must pay attention to them, he insisted. However, the precarious food insecurity is no new phenomenon to Haitians.

Sandy survivors navigating through flood waters

Those early warning signs Kumar alluded to, precursors to Haiti’s infamous food riots, were present in 2008, yet failed to prevent the country’s free fall into the pits of chaos and instability that resulted into considerable loss of life, instilled a climate of fear and caused extensive property damage.  Nationwide mobilizations to protest skyrocketing food prices ignited around the country, as protesters clashed with the police and U.N. troops, looted stores, burned tires and blocked national highways. The international media’s subsequent characterization reduced Haiti to a dangerous, violent and hopeless place where people eat salty mud cookies.

More than four years after the Haiti Food Riots, 2013 promised to be yet another disastrous year for Haitians, as the U.N. predicts widespread famine, in spite the international community’s commitment to provide massive aid to rebuild the country, following the monstrous 2010 earthquake that killed an estimated 310,000 people and displaced more than 1.5 million others.

Even more alarming, the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) published a new report earlier this month that cited persisting food insecurity among many factors threatening human security in Haiti. Commenting on the report, Souhayr Belhassen, FIDH’s president, said, “In the short term, public policy cannot guarantee the people’s access to fundamental rights, particularly their rights to housing, food, healthcare and education,” an extremely precarious situation Hurricane Sandy exacerbated last month.

Meanwhile, the United Nations Office of the Special Envoy in Haiti declared, on September 26, 2012:

“An analysis of pledges made at a donors’ conference shortly after Haiti’s 2010 earthquake revealed that $2.79 billion, or 52.3 percent of the approximate $5.33 billion pledged by 55 donors for recovery activities between 2010 and 2012, has been disbursed.”

Those exceptional humanitarian efforts, taken place over a two-year period, have not deterred Haiti’s looming humanitarian disaster that could cause 1.5 million Haitians to starve next year, unable to properly access food or any basic human needs. It is a human rights issue that not only exposed the country’s incompetent leadership, but also raised serious concerns about reconstruction endeavors.

Drawing a parallel between Haiti and the Iraq War helps provide some context into the U.N.’s failure in Haiti. The U.S. invaded Iraq, a country with a far more complex society plagued by sectarian violence, defeated Saddam Hussein and the subsequent relentless insurgency, rebuilt its fragmented army, returned sovereignty to Iraqis and exited the country in less than eight years. On the other hand, U.N.’s decade-long presence in the impoverished Caribbean nation has yet to produce a national security force capable of protecting its population or porous borders, any proactive strategies to help Haitians cope with the next major rainstorm, or a comprehensive exit strategy that would return sovereignty to Haiti’s natives. Instead targeted assassinations, high-level kidnappings, senseless violent crimes, a lethal cholera epidemic and a litany of sexual abuse cases on minors highlighted U.N.’s decade there. Meanwhile, natural disasters, such as hurricane Sandy that only hit Haiti with its outer bands, continue to kill hundreds, further destroying the country’s poor infrastructure.

Following Sandy’s devastation, the United Nations Food Relief Agency and the Haitian Government sought to raise $74 million in 12 months, funds they said would help the ravaged agricultural sector recover, as begging on behalf of Haitians became big business. While the U.N. said little about the nearly $3 billion donors already disbursed on behalf of Haitians, a robust response of the international community with more aid dollars was necessary, judged Adam Yoa, U.N.’s Senior Emergency Coordinator in Haiti.  Similarly, The World Food Program (WFP) estimated it needed more than $20 million to provide food assistance to some 425,000 victims, according to Spokesperson Elisabeth Byrs. However, their urgent calls for assistance fell on death ears, as the U.S. had its own hands full with Sandy that claimed 125 lives within its borders and victimized hundreds of thousands.

Sandy’s destruction is another strong indication that, rather than relying on the heroism or empathy of the international community, Haiti must emerge as a self-sustained, autonomous state, on the heels of the reconstruction efforts. It is also call to duty for Haitians leaders that prioritized politicizing over ensuring a safe and prosperous future for younger generations. Should U.N. persists on its current course, the next rescue mission from a preoccupied international community might prove too late for Haitians.