Jan. 12 marks the 10-year anniversary of the devastating 7.0-magnitude earthquake that struck Haiti, leaving as many as 300,000 dead, and chaos and cholera in its wake. Even though much has been done to try to bring the country back to life following the catastrophic event (see the In Focus on Pages 9-12), the sad reality is that the people of Haiti — the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere — continue to suffer. And not just because of natural disasters.
For the past several months, the country endured the kind of sociopolitical unrest that would have been disruptive in any society, but in Haiti, it has resulted in a full-on economic crisis. Citizen protests, caused by frustrations surrounding government corruption, a gasoline shortage and growing economic hardship, have paralyzed the Caribbean nation. More than 40 people have lost their lives. Fuel is scarce, businesses have been shuttered, and the exchange of goods was not able to take place, leading to widespread hunger. For months, 2 million children were unable to attend school. Challenges are particularly acute in Haiti’s rural areas, which have been hardest hit by some of the demonstrations.
The unrest, largely ignored by the international media, originated with dissatisfaction regarding the government of sitting president Jovenel Moïse, and protesters spent weeks calling for his resignation. Despite the lack of confidence from his people, Moise recently reiterated his commitment to remain in power. His term is not up until February 2022, which could mean even darker days lie ahead for the challenged country.
In early December, children began returning to school, albeit slowly. And while the protesters mostly have dissipated, Haiti has now settled into what the Associated Press is calling “deep economic aftershocks” following the unrest.
“We are nearing a total crash,” Haitian economist Camille Chalmers told the AP. “The situation is unsustainable.” He added that economic recovery will be slow if the political instability continues, making this situation the worst the country has faced in recent years. “A lot of crises came together,” Chalmers told the AP. “Not only the economic one, but the political and fiscal ones.”
According to a report by the Catholic Register in Toronto, if nothing happens to correct the situation, “by March, 42 percent of Haitians, more than 4.5 million people, will be on the edge of starvation.”
This week’s In Focus (online Jan. 10) takes a close look at the important work of the Church during Haiti’s time of great need following the 2010 earthquake. Because the earthquake was a major news event, the country had no problem raising funds. Throughout the world, millions of dollars were funneled to the country to help with disaster relief. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops contributed $28 million dollars to the recovery effort.
This time, however, Haiti’s crisis has not captured headlines. But the need is just as dire — especially for the most vulnerable.
“While we still have assessments underway, one of our concerns is the potential augmentation of acute malnutrition cases, especially among children and among pregnant and lactating women and girls across the country, including in urban areas,” said Raphael Guevin-Nicoloff, a Canadian program officer with the United Nations World Food Programme.
In response, on Dec. 6, the World Food Programme launched an $82 million campaign to provide food to those in need in Haiti. The campaign is for immediate assistance to approximately 3.7 million people, or 1-in-3 Haitians, who are in need of urgent food assistance thanks to the country’s recent difficulties. This includes, they added, 1 million people who are suffering from severe hunger.
As we enter into this new year and new decade, let us work together to actively assist our brothers and sisters in the impoverished nation of Haiti. In addition to the World Food Programme, faith-based organizations, too, are on the ground offering assistance, including Cross Catholic Outreach, Catholic Relief Services, Caritas Internationalis and Malteser International. Many of you helped Haiti during its time of great need 10 years ago. We hope you will prayerfully consider doing the same again now.
Our Sunday Visitor Editorial Board: Gretchen R. Crowe, Scott P. Richert, Scott Warden, York Young