One of the most common questions I’m asked by those who first learn about the unfolding humanitarian crisis in Haiti is:
How did the situation in Haiti get so bad?
This is a difficult question to answer, in part because across the centuries international influence has withered what otherwise might be a thriving Caribbean nation. Tracing the contours of that history deserves much more than a blog post–you can get a brief overview here.
What I’m interested in briefly discussing here are a handful of recent events that have made life in Haiti even more challenging. In fact, a recent report by the IPC (Integrated Food Security Phase Classification) indicates that about 5 million Haitians (roughly half of Haiti’s population) are currently facing “high levels of acute food insecurity”.
Over 500 Haitians are dying from starvation every day.
What follows are key markers in the deteriorating reality facing Haiti:
When COVID-19 was officially designated a global pandemic, predictions about how the virus would impact Haiti were profoundly grim. Some experts suggested that as many as 800,000 Haitians could die from COVID. Fortunately (and miraculously) this catastrophe never materialized. Some suggest that poor recordkeeping and minimal access to testing kept COVID numbers artificially low. And while to some extent that might be true, our two clinics (which treat about 13,000 patients each year) saw very few suspected cases of COVID during the pandemic. In spite of Haiti’s “COVID’s miracle” the fallout from the global pandemic reverberated across the island nation, materializing in two primary ways.
Haiti has long been referred to as “a republic of NGOs”. In other words, nonprofits are relied upon to provide the essential services that, in other nations, federal or local governments provide–things like education, healthcare, eldercare (i.e. social security/medicaid), critical infrastructure, and more. As COVID swept across the globe, many of the nonprofits serving Haiti reduced their services or left the country altogether. In addition to Haiti’s reliance on these organizations for critical support, nonprofits provide a large percentage of Haitian jobs. So when nonprofits reduce services or shutdown, Haitian families suffer in myriad ways. Furthermore, for the first several months of the pandemic, global shipping was ground to a halt. For a nation like Haiti, which in 2017 imported about 51% of its food (a number which has almost certainly grown since), this proved catastrophic.
Less than 18 months after COVID became a global pandemic, on July 7th 2021, Haiti’s president (Jovenel Moise) was assassinated in his home. This tragedy created a massive power vacuum, which has largely been filled by Haiti’s warring gangs (more on that below). Jovenel’s assassination effectively handcuffed the government. In the following months, Haiti’s parliament and judiciary dissolved. To this date, there are no serious plans to conduct elections in Haiti. Indeed, the deteriorating security situation makes elections nearly impossible to carry out.
One month after the assassination, a magnitude 7.2 earthquake struck the southern peninsula of Haiti. This devastating quake cut-off the nation’s breadbasket (the southern peninsula) from its population center (Port-au-Prince). Not only were the roads and bridges which allowed farmers to get their crops to markets in Port-au-Prince largely destroyed, Haiti’s gangs quickly established chokepoints in places like Martissant to terrorize and rob farmers.
INFLUX OF ARMS TO HAITI’S GANGS
In the wake of Jovenel’s assassination, the leaders of Haiti’s gangs realized that there was an opportunity to expand their influence. Shipments of automatic weapons and tactical gear began showing up in Haiti’s largely unregulated ports (much of it coming from the US), which were being increasingly controlled by gangs. Over a period of months, gangs began clashing with the Haitian National Police, and using their newfound firepower to control greater swaths of territory. Today, gangs control roughly 90% of Port-au-Prince and about ⅓ of Haiti’s police force has fled to the US under the expansion of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s parole program to include Haiti.
DIMINISHED NONPROFIT PRESENCE
The swelling power of Haiti’s gangs coupled with the Haitian National Police’s increasing ineffectiveness has created an untenable situation for many nonprofits serving Haiti. Over the past several months, we’ve noticed several historically impactful nonprofits focusing more of their energy on trying to get their key Haitian leaders out of Haiti versus advocating for international intervention in hopes of reestablishing rule of law. While this is certainly understandable, the aforementioned parole program only provides an exit for Haitians with US connections who are able to navigate the profoundly difficult application process. In other words, this parole program amounts to a massive “brain drain”, leaving Haiti with fewer capable leaders who might be called upon to lead Haiti out of their current plight.
INFLATION & CHARITABLE GIVING
On top of the extreme violence many Haitians face daily, the cost of basic resources like wheat, cooking oil, fuel, and meat have skyrocketed at a pace inconceivable to most Americans. At the same time, the value of the Haitian currency has plummeted. This has created a perfect economic storm and contributed to the widespread malnutrition and starvation Haiti is currently facing. Furthermore, inflation in the US has led to a noticeable downturn in charitable giving. This, combined with Haiti’s out-of-control inflation, means that the fewer number of nonprofits still operating in Haiti and faced with a growing aid vacuum, have to try and do more with less.
If I had only one word to describe the character of the Haitians I’ve met over the years, it would be resilient. The pressures and tragedies Haiti has faced (just in the past three years) are almost inconceivable. And yet, the people of Haiti continue to cling to tattered threads of hope that, somehow or someway, things might change. Despite being ignored by the international community, Haitians press on. At Healing Haiti, we’ve been particularly impressed by the members and leaders of our churches–Grace Church in Titanyen and Hope Church in Cite Soleil–which have witnessed 155 Haitians embrace Jesus as their Lord so far this year. This is more than double any other 12-month period in our ministry’s history.
Historically, the Church has experienced its greatest impact amid the most dangerous times. So, this shouldn’t be a surprise. After all, Jesus’s greatest triumph came in the wake of his greatest heartbreak. Still, it’s difficult to fathom how we, as Americans, might find the resolve to display such faithfulness if we faced the same circumstances. That’s why it’s our honor to continue standing alongside our Haitian staff. We have so much to learn from them, and we’re certain that their witness will continue to inspire many to trust in God’s unfailing love.