Haiti a potential melting pot of crisesMay 27, 2020 in Uncategorized
Ten years ago, on January 12, 2010 a deadly magnitude 7.0 earthquake shook the nation of Haiti for 35 seconds causing devastating destruction to the country. Since then, the nation has faced ten years of disarray which have included political corruption, economic difficulties, violence linked to anti-government protests and a humanitarian crisis. The direct aftermath of the earthquake saw the death of around 300,000 and the most recognisable buildings in Port-au-Prince Haiti’s capital levelled. Haiti is particularly vulnerable to national disasters and only two years prior, in 2008, was hit by four hurricanes. In 2016 Haiti experienced further devastation from Hurricane Matthew. The 2010 earthquake however was reported to be one of the mostly deadly recorded in history and in response to the devastation experienced by Haiti, nations around the globe including the United States, the United Kingdom and China pledged to provide aid, money, and support to help save lives of those affected.
In October 2010, while trying to recover from the devastation of the earthquake, a cholera epidemic broke out across the nation, which took nearly a decade to overcome with some cases still lingering. During the peak of the epidemic in October 2012, only two years into the outbreak 7,000 had already died from the outbreak,by 2018 nearly 10,000 people had died from the disease with over 800,000 becoming sick from the outbreak. At the onset of cholera outbreak, hundreds of thousands of the Haitian population were still living in temporary camps of tents which were overcrowded, with limited access to electricity, water, and food, making them extremelyvulnerable to the disease.
The cholera outbreak further affected the weakened Caribbean nation which prior to the earthquake was already suffering food shortages, a political crisis and had a damaged health care system that was put under further pressure with the outbreak. With most hospital facilities significantly damaged in the wake of the 2010 earthquake, medical care to treat those affected by the cholera outbreak was being provided in temporary hospitals while construction was taking place to rebuild permanent ones. At the time of the outbreak it was not known what caused the epidemic, which resulted in some of the population becoming scared and as the fear spread across the country a wave of violence erupted. This fear resulted in priests of the Caribbean religion of Voodoo facing unwarranted violence, which lead to the death of 45 priests who were blamed for the outbreak. It was only in the later years of the outbreak that it is true cause was revealed – a United Nations aid workers had accidentally started it; with the introduction of peacekeepers in 2010 where they were re-deployed from Nepal, where a cholera outbreak was underway, to help in emergency work following the earthquake. Scientists believe that waste from the base where these peacekeepers were located leaked into the river starting the outbreak. While the UN admitted that the outbreak had been caused by one of their peacemakers who had deployed to the country from Nepal, a civil case brought against the UN resulted in no prosecution or accountability. In October 2018, eight years after the outbreak initially began, it started to stabilize, though it did not completely disappear.
Donations and Funding
Following the 2010 earthquake, billions of dollars were raised and donated to Haiti to help rebuild the nation. However, it has been a slow road to recovery with very little seeming to have been done. In 2012 the Prime Minister of Haiti Gary Conille reported that the aid provided to Haiti was scattered and there was a lack of coordination. Furthermore, aid groups were being criticized for their lack of shifting from emergency aid to focusing on helping the country develop and rebuild. The political situation at the time also hindered the aid process. Due to a long history of chronic government corruption, a number of non-governmental organizations and aid donors set their own priorities with minimal coordination. By the time that President Jovenel Moise came to power in 2017, he had reported that he was unsure where the aid was spent as little had been achieved to show for it. People were still living in temporary camps, though they were now equipped with electricity and access to clean water. At the time, President Moise disclosed that he believed only a fraction of aid went directly to the government. Experts however have blamed bad governance, excessive bureaucracy, and inflated contracts with foreign companies. One of the main projects of the financial aid was the rebuilding of the state university of Haiti hospital, and it is one of the most advanced projects to date with some construction having been started; however, the hospital remains unfinished with piles of building materials lining the road to the new hospital and as of January 2020 the old hospital is struggling to serve the community. President Moise has requested further funding to help establish the economy and the country, and has stated that he is actively working to improve collaboration among the institutions in Haiti and also international bodies to ensure that money is spent effectively in the future.
As well as facing a cholera outbreak and continuing to recover from the damage caused by the devastating earthquake in 2010, Haiti is now facing one of the worst humanitarian crises with 1 in 3 people, around 3.7 million, in urgent need of food assistance. Due to Haiti being impacted by natural disasters on a relatively regular basis, the country has suffered from high levels of instability, including droughts which have ravaged harvests and which have resulted in shortages of food and inflations of prices of basic necessities. Furthermore, a collapse in the Haitian currency of Gourde in 2015 which continues to depreciate every year, made it more difficult for the population to access food which is imported into the country, as the average income per person is around $0.40 a day. As well as limited access to food due to droughts and price inflation, food and resources became hard to come by because of protests against the government, during the closing months of 2019, protesters blocked roads, which prevented the transportation of goods and food aid for the people of Haiti. These actions prevented those in need getting vital aid, which has only amplified the humanitarian crisis which has left large swaths of the Haitian population struggling to get food and survive. International aid has been provided however, to overcome the poverty and lack of food furtherinternational intervention is required.
While Haiti continues to be impacted by a poor economic situation, coupled with an ongoing humanitarian crisis and unstable political situation, it has to date not been severely impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, which globally has seen over 300,000 deaths and over 4 million confirmed cases. To date, Haiti has reported at least 182 cases and 15 related deaths. This figure however is likely low and the situation on the ground is likely significantly worse. The number of tests being carried out in Haiti is unknown, which can explain why the official figures coming out of Haiti are so low. The limited access to resources and the damaged medical system which is still recovering from 2010s earthquake means that higher test rates are not being carried out. However, some analysts have said that along with the low-test rate there may actually be a lower number of cases due to the political turmoil and protests, having kept international travellers away from the country keeping the figures low. However, due to the low number of tests being carried out this is only speculation and unable to be proven until more tests are being carried out, with true figures being represented.
Another reason why the figures for COVID-19 might not be true is people are afraid to come in and get tested, due to groups of gun toting vigilantes threatening to lynch people infected with the virus. This fear of people being lynched and attacked due to the virus are strong due to the actions and violence which took place during the cholera outbreak. As well as patients being attacked, doctors and nurses are also facing hostility and violence with some being doused in bleach by people on the streets in Haiti. In order to protect patients and medical staff alike, hospitals have taken to releasing recovered patients in the middle of the night. On top of the fear of attack on patients and medical staff, leaders of the Voodoo religious community, with fresh memories of the attacks on priests during the cholera epidemic, have been appearing on radio and television to dispel any notion that they may be linked to the virus and that they did not conjure it up.
Further complicating the situation is the fact that there is a strong belief amongst the local population that the government is lying about the amount of cases and deaths, to gain financially. This has in turn resulted in doubts about following health precautions and has even led to some disbelieving COVID-19 diagnoses. Which has resulted in a number of cases where families have turned up to hospitals and have physically removed family members from medical care, often resulting in the patient’s death. In one instance in the south-eastern Cotes-de-Fer region, fifty people came and removed a family member who had tested positive for COVID-19. The individual died the following day; however, members of the entourage have since refused to be tested and have even set up barricades on the roads into their village to prevent authorities or medical teams coming in to test them.
As well as people who are infected or recovered there has been a growing fear over the people who have died from the virus. With families being blocked from graveyards and prevented from burying their loved ones as some fear that those who have died from COVID-19 being buried in the graveyard could cause contamination. One solution to this has been that individuals who have died as a result of COVID-19 are now being buried 13 feet down with concrete poured on top to prevent contagion. Despite every precaution the country has taken and can take considering the limited access to resources there is a huge fear that the pandemic could, potentially still hit the country hard. This is likely to increase as a lot of Haitians return from the Dominican Republic due to job losses. This migration of population could increase the number of cases as the Dominican Republic is one of the worst hit nations in the region, with 15,264 confirmed cases having only had 8,534 recovered with 468 deaths. On top of this basic sanitation is a challenge in the slums and rural hinterlands in Haiti, which are still present following the 2010 earthquake, all of these can affect the possibility of COVID-19 hitting Haiti hard. Along with the increasing fear and evident lack of resources, Haiti could have a higher case count then recorded as people are not able to be tested due to the medical system not having the ability to test. As well as the population having a growing fear of the virus and disbelief of the seriousness of the illness not willing to get tested if offered. . All of these issues, lack of resources, a growing disbelief in the virus and even the fear of it can contribute to the virus already being widely present in the country, or even hitting the country harder when he does pick up speed.
The current situation in Haiti complex, with a lot of the issues stemming from the 2010 earthquake and a lack of reconstruction in the years that followed. The low official figures of cases are attributed to the fact that there is not enough resources to carry out tests, with analysts and medical professionals believing the number of cases in Haiti to be a lot higher than is recorded. However, the current situation in Haiti is not only affecting the medical system and the possible increase of cases of COVID-19, it has also affected the economy and created a humanitarian crisis for the nation. With an unstable government in Haiti over the years has restricted the amount of aid they can access from the international community, with hundreds of millions of dollars in international aid funds as well as loans from the World Bank, and Inter-American Bank earmarked for Haiti. Looking at the events over the last 10 years it can be said that Haiti could be facing a catastrophe if the pandemic hits the country hard it could lead to an overwhelming number of cases. Which will put further pressure on the already struggling medical system and a people with high suspicion and fear of such a pandemic. Due to the poor use of international aid from the earthquake, Haiti could find itself struggling to counter the pandemic and could prevent further international support.