Needless to say, a lot has happened in Haiti over the last few weeks. We saw food rioting in Port au Prince, Les Cayes, and Gonaives. Reuters has photos available here. Food insecurity and the rising cost of living were the primary (but probably not the only) factors. These tensions have been building up for quite some time and it is frustrating that the government did not intervene sooner. In the end, the Prime Minister was ousted and President Preval made an appeal to the international community for support. Now is a good time to review both what the Haitian government has done in response and which donors have stepped up to offer their support during this difficult time.
Protests, tire burnings, clay biscuits and/or questionable studies on HIV/AIDS are what it usually takes for Haiti to make the news. When reporters do visit Haiti, they rarely make it outside of Port au Prince. I was pleased to come across "Assignment Haiti" with Calvin Hughes (Local 10 News in Miami.) The report captures both the scope of the challenges facing Haiti as well as the country's tremendous potential. The fundamental question asked is whether there is hope for a New Day in Haiti. After you watch this piece, we think you will agree that there is.
Every county has a Diaspora. The governments of some countries such as El Salvador actively encourage their Diaspora to participate in the country by voting, investing, and applying (or runnning for) government positions. Haiti is behind the curve in this respect. However, the Haitian Diaspora has knowledge, skills, and resources with which to make a difference. The Internet is an excellent way to engage them. An entrepeunerial individual from Thomonde where I served as a Peace Corps Volunteer has created Thomonde.com. It could be a model for other Diaspora communities.
Former Central Plateau Resident, Professional Archaeologist, and Peace Corps Colleague Dan Broockmann sent in the following story about latrine usage in Maissade. 2008 has been designated the year of sanitation and latrines are important for public health. Every Haitian family would like to have one but the cost is prohibitive for many. And as Dan writes, even latrines need maintenance eventually...
If you visit the webpage of the World Food Programme (WFP), you'll see an appeal for funds with which to assist Haiti is on the front page. We have a very serious problem in Haiti and the WFP knows it. Food insecurity brings political instability and the inevitable protests that are taking place in Port au Prince. Rural Haiti will feel the reverbations. It would not be realistic to expect WFP to feed all of Haiti. However, if the agency receives the funds it needs, it can ensure the most vulnerable individuals and communities are assisted.
We get quite a few emails from young people with a week or two off of school who would like to volunteer in Haiti. Without knowing Kreyol or having special skills, opportunities are somewhat limited but they are out there. Through volunteering you can learn about the country, its culture, and develop an awareness of the developmental challenges, and just as important, how to addresss them. When you come back, that's when the hard work starts. You may well find that you can do more for Haiti stateside.
I expected to hear of food riots in Haiti. Life has never been easy for Haitians but escalating food costs have made just getting by more and more difficult. If you and I went a day without eating and did not know if the next day let alone the next week would bring more of the same, I would not be writing this and you would not be reading this - we would be out in the streets protesting!
Haitians are no strangers to hunger. Yet, the past six months of rising food and fuel costs has hit the country hard. But Haiti is not alone. Citizens of other countries are being squeezed as well. Burkina Faso, Mauritania, Mexico, Mozambique, Senegal, Argentina, Peru, and Indonesia have all seen protests over rising food costs. Those who were struggling but making ends meet have found themselves spending more and more of their household income on food (and by extension less in other areas such as education.) Will our children and grandchildren inherit a hungrier world? If so, their world will be less democatic, more instable, and more dangerous.
Easily the greatest benefit of living, working and studying in Washington, D.C. is the opportunity to meet incredibly passionate people who are making a real difference in the world. If you stay here long enough, you learn that circumstance is as much a contributor to institutional change as innovation and intellect.
According to Caribbean Net News, Haitian Prime Minister Jacques-Édouard Alexis gave a speech on March 28th to the Organization of American States (OAS) highlighting significant improvements in both security and governannce. A stable, democratic Haiti is strategically important to the Americas. Haiti needs the help of its neighbors but doing so will require convincing them that Haiti can sustain this progress - that this is not another false promise.