Haiti had been on the verge of recovery in its agricultural sector with much needed crops nearing harvesting when Hurricane Matthew, packing category four force winds of 209-251 kilometers per hour (130-156 mph), tore through the nation, stopping that recovery dead in its tracks.
Haiti has been in the path of natural disaster in the past decade in ways that cannot be fathomed by anyone not living there.
Just as they did in the aftermath of the horrific magnitude seven earthquake that hit the country in January 2010, foreign governments, aid organizations and everyday people are again responding.
What has to be of concern, however, is where aid money is going and to what extent it is reaching the people most affected by these devastating natural disasters.
It has not gone unnoticed that aid agencies like the Red Cross received billions of dollars for Haiti in the aftermath of the 2010 earthquake yet, when Hurricane Matthew hit, tens of thousands in Haiti were still living in tents. Such shelters have little resistance to any storm, never mind winds of category four level.
Furthermore, in some areas, as much as 80 per cent of rebuilt structures were demolished by the force of the hurricane.
The loss of life in Haiti in the wake of Hurricane Matthew has reportedly reached 1,000. However, that number would likely increase since a cholera epidemic that is plaguing the country has been exacerbated by the storm.
Helping organizations have been rushing into the nation but getting supplies to areas that have been cut off by the storm is a real concern. The main road providing access to Haiti’s peninsula was not accessible after the storm destroyed the bridge in Petit Goâve, for instance.
Yet, it is not enough to be saddened by yet another disaster in Haiti. The state of the nation has to become a focus not just for rescue but also for development, and not just the focus for Haitians at home and abroad.
An important concern is that centralization of government and decision-making power in Port-au-Prince prevents the kind of autonomy that would have facilitated greater local response. This has been a structural issue that has handicapped Haiti’s development since the turn of the 20th century.
A history of external meddling and paternalism particularly from the United States and France has been Haiti’s burden almost from the moment the people of Haiti fought for and claimed independence from France.
Natural disasters notwithstanding, when we ask what the problem is for Haiti, we must always look to burdens placed on the nation that have carried well into the present day.
Haiti was impoverished by France’s insistence that it pay a penalty of what would amount to billions of dollars in today’s value for what France deemed “loss of property” following the Haitian revolution.
In response to the difficult conditions many Haitians have left their home country to seek more stable lives elsewhere. It may come as a surprise that after migrants from Jamaica, Haitians make up the largest group from the Caribbean now living in Toronto.
Haitian culture is rich. From that country have come great thinkers and artists who have earned international admiration and attention. Therefore, we need not weep for Haiti. What is needed, rather than tears, is a serious overhaul of the structures that have shackled this nation for far too long. What appears to be missing is political will by those in power in Haiti to carry the revolution forward with desperately needed reform.