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January 12th 2010, a 7.0-magnitude earthquake struck Haiti and reduced much of its capital, Port-au-Prince, to rubble. February 27th, a devastating 8.8-magnitude earthquake struck Chile, setting off a tsunami which threatened a quarter of the globe. March 11th 2011, a 9.0-magnitude earthquake occurred in northern Japan and resulted in a major tsunami.
The same phenomenon but three very different post-disaster scenarios. Here is an example of why a cause-and-effect relationship is a very simplistic explanation for the events that occur in the complex world we live in. Why have Japan and Chile almost recovered while Haiti remains a no-man’s land?
In the days after a humanitarian catastrophe, we worry about the people who have lost their family and the scarcity of food, water and medical aid. Nevertheless, though this is important in the short-term, in countries with huge political instability such as Haiti, the priority in the mid-long term should in fact be to stabilize and reconstruct the political system. It is said that natural disasters do not exist, but rather poor management of natural phenomena is the true disaster.
Few days after the earthquake in Haiti, UN affirmed that is was “the worst disaster the organization has had to face in terms of logistic, due to the complete collapse of the local government and infrastructures.” Logistics, as defined by Cambridge dictionary, is “the detailed organization and implementation of a complex operation” and plays a key role in the distribution of humanitarian aid.
But, as the UN pointed, infrastructures and a strong political system are needed to guarantee that help could travel safely from one point to another. And both requirements failed because infrastructures and government, already in ruins before the earthquake, both literally and symbolically collapsed after the shake.
Since Haiti’s birth in 1804, it has been up hill all the way. Despite being the world’s first black-led republic and the first independent Caribbean state, Haiti is now known for being the poorest and the most environmentally devastated country in the Western Hemisphere.
Before the earthquake, it was already one of the worst ranked countries in the Failed States Index of Foreign Policy and at the Corruption Perception Index of International Transparency. For two centuries, violence and instability have stopped the development of a country which has a long standing background of authoritarian political regimes and exploitation of blacks by whites, first, and blacks by blacks after.
Since the end of the Duvalier era in 1986, Haiti has been engaged in a lengthy and arduous political transition. Despite the 1987 Constitution’s commitment to representative and participatory democracy, political turmoil became the norm. Numerous coups, counter-coups and widespread violence during the past two decades dampened popular enthusiasm and optimism for reform. From 1991 to 2004, eight UN peacekeeping missions were deployed in Haiti.
After President Aristide’s fall in 2003, the UN established the Mission for the Stabilization of Haiti (MINUSTAH), which launched the current Security Sector Reform (SSR) programme. Three of its four main objectives were stabilizing the country, guaranteeing free elections and disarming guerrilla and delinquents groups. Despite considerable international investment in reform, Haiti’s security system remains dysfunctional in many areas and none of these goals have been achieved.
While donor aid to the justice sector has focused primarily on training, equipping and strengthening administrative structures, the judiciary suffers from deep-seated corruption and serves only a small portion of society. Lack of independence of magistracy, the absence of civil service security and the rather low salaries contributes to the development of corruption within the judicial personnel.
Prison conditions have improved, but overcrowding, poor health and sanitation conditions and extended pre-trial periods continue to plague the system. In addition, French is the language of use in official law whereas the Haitian population mostly speaks Creole. Given this background of weaknesses in the formal Haitian judicial system, an informal justice tends to take place.
Corruption and anarchy have especially endangered women and children. Prior to the earthquake, levels of violence against women were already high and 1.2 million Haitian children were extremely vulnerable, according to the UN. Because of the earthquake, many children were separated from their families and became easy targets for criminal networks engaged in human trafficking.
Many were kidnapped and brought to the neighboring country, Dominican Republic, and other countries for illegal purposes. Despite the increase of international judiciary cooperation to fight human trafficking, the border between Haiti and its neighbor is today very porous.
The fourth MINUSTAH’s objectif, the strenghtenen of the administration and the economic and fiscal system has nor been achieved. After the earthquake, many people were wounded or killed, and security institutions were unable to react out adequately. The affected population was left to seek shelter, food and protection on their own and large numbers resettled into makeshift urban camps; which posed further security challenges to newly weakened national institutions.
Currently, over 70% of the population lives below the poverty line, the informal economy represents a significant percentage of GDP and foreign aid almost accounts for half of the national budget.
The chaotic scenario described above and the failure of international financial institutions facilitated the establishment of many NGOs in the country after the earthquake. Since 2010, Haiti has increased its dependance on external aid and the large and disorganized presence of NGOs has contributed to maintain corruption instead of fighting it. NGOs constitute a kind of parallel state, more powerful than Haitian government and aid groups, which provide 80% of social services.
It creates an environment in which Haiti never develops and remains dependent on others. The wide presence of NGOs has “infantilized” Haiti, creating a vicious circle: the government lacks the money and has been historically unable to provide social services; so NGOs provide these services and desincentivate the government to improve.
The international community’s approach towards Haiti might be wrong. MINUSTAH have launched a Security Sector Reform programme, but to have a reform you must have a base, something you can build on. Since its foundation, Haiti’s judicial system, which was imported from France, needs to be rethought; we should talk about constructing a Haitian justice system before talking about a reform. The state security apparatus is as much a source of the problem as a solution.
The Haitian National Police (HNP), thin, poorly equipped, minimally trained and unable to confront any regional smuggling threats, is in dire need of reform. In addition, the fact that the reform agenda is imposed from outside limits local ownership of the process.
Nevertheless, the problem it’s not only economical or political; but also cultural. In Haiti, the resteavek (to stay with, in Creole) practice is very common and accepted; a modern form of slavery where children are forced to serve the families they’ve been sent to by doing domestic work.