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How Natural Disasters and Climate Change Affect Poverty in Haiti

SEATTLE, Washington – The Republic of Haiti, situated on the western half of the island of Hispaniola, lies squarely in the center of what climatologists call a “hurricane corridor.” This has made the small Caribbean nation notorious for its frequently harsh weather conditions. To make matters worse, climate change is intensifying the effects of the natural disasters that so frequently plague the nation. In a country where one in two citizens are below the poverty line, this could have dire consequences for poverty in Haiti.

Natural Disasters and Poverty in Haiti

Due to the geography of the island, 96% of Haitians reside in areas that are particularly vulnerable to natural disasters. This results in widespread destruction of lives and property when hurricanes, floods, droughts, landslides and earthquakes occur.

To see a sobering example of what happens when a powerful natural disaster strikes an area so densely populated, one only needs to look to the infamous earthquake that struck Haiti on January 12, 2010. Registering at a magnitude of 7.0, the epicenter of the earthquake was located just sixteen miles from the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince. The resulting devastation caused the death of more than 250,000 Haitians, while injuring 300,000 and displacing a further 1.5 million. Then, as a consequence of Haiti’s now ruined infrastructure, the nation would find quickly itself struggling with a cholera outbreak, which it would not be able to contain until 2019, causing an additional 10,000 deaths.

Natural disasters also significantly impact the agricultural sector, acutely affecting the two-thirds of Haitian citizens that rely upon the industry for their income. Across all productive sectors, nearly 50% of damages from the 2010 earthquake and Hurricane Matthew occurred in the agricultural sector. This only served to exacerbate economic hardship and food insecurity for an already struggling population.

Climate Change and Poverty in Haiti

Haiti is among the top ten countries in the world most at risk of the effects of climate change.  Furthermore, Significant exposure to the elements, agricultural dependence, sprawling domiciles from overpopulation and lack of effective development infrastructure places the nation in a precarious position.

For example, as of 2012, only 3% of Haitian canopy cover remains due to years of harvesting wood for fuel and charcoal. A lack of roots to grasp nutrient-rich soil, along with unsustainable agricultural practices, have also contributed to harmful soil erosion. This exacerbates the destruction wrought by natural disasters because it allows tropical rains and floods to flow without the hindrance of natural obstacles.

As the World Bank notes that those living in poverty often settle in coastal areas and flood zones, or areas that are particularly vulnerable to natural disasters, this places Haiti’s poorest in the unfortunate position of being the most directly impacted by any negative effects brought about by climate change.

The Role of NGOs in Fighting Poverty in Haiti

The above factors have led to a powerful presence of NGOs in Haiti that seek to provide basic services to citizens in need. So much so, in fact, that the county is often colloquially referred to as the “Republic of NGOs.

Prior to the 2010 earthquake, 85% of schools and 70% of healthcare services were provided by non-government or private sector organizations. After the earthquake, the Center for Global Development reported that 99% of relief funds went toward NGOs rather than government organizations. In the aftermath of natural disasters, however, fund tracing and allocation are at risk of becoming unwieldy and ineffective. A delicate dynamic thus exists as public and private sector employees strive to implement effective strategies for Haitian prosperity. Developing inclusive policies that enhance government frameworks, finance models and infrastructure are thus highly situated among NGO priorities.

On the whole, however, organizations such as Cesvi dedicate themselves to providing aid to Haitian citizens, particularly during times of crisis. In the aftermaths of the 2010 earthquake and Hurricane Matthew, for example, this included donating medicine, hygiene kits, temporary shelters, potable water and food to those affected.

While the effects of climate change mean that Haiti’s poor have a particularly hard road ahead, many are working to make sure they receive the help they need.

-Suzi Quigg
Photo: Flickr

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