Another year has gone by and another commemoration of the Haiti earthquake has also passed. For a brief moment the world remembered that terrible day of January 12, 2010.
While there are certainly many success stories of rebuilding and reconstruction in the last four years, the unfortunate storyline of this year’s remembrance is the continued state of crisis faced by many Haitians.
Haiti faces a deeply rooted problem, which pre-dates the 2010 earthquake, of systemic economic injustice and inequality.
While most of the 1.5 million people who were displaced by the earthquake are officially no longer living in tents, a housing and shelter crisis for the Haitian population persists. Many are without options for a sustainable long-term housing solution, which is just one among many other challenges faced by the Haitian population (chronic food insecurity and joblessness are among challenges).
In spite of billions of dollars in aid committed to Haiti, many are left wondering why the cycle of crisis continues.
U.S. aid efforts in Haiti have tended to focus on private-sector industrial growth rather than direct support to earthquake victims. For example, millions of dollars have been spent on an industrial park in northern Haiti. Ostensibly, these types of investments are to create jobs for the Haitian population but it is unclear how low-wage factory jobs that pay $5/day or less will allow Haitians to support their families, much less raise the standard of living for Haitians.
Haiti faces a deeply rooted problem, which pre-dates the 2010 earthquake, of systemic economic injustice and inequality. Decades of economic policies, largely imposed by the international community, have crippled Haiti’s ability to build a society that thrives and prospers.
These issues are rooted in Haiti’s history, which begins in 1804, the year of independence from French colonization and slavery, and the establishment of the first black republic. Haiti was punished with trade embargoes by the United States, France, and Spain fearing a slave rebellion in their own countries and colonies. And it continues with multiple U.S. military interventions, the accumulation of debt by dictators, and unjust trade and economic policies throughout the 1990s.
Even the impact of the 2010 earthquake, a natural event, was made far more disastrous due to human factors. Many farmers had migrated to cities like Port-au-Prince because they could no longer make a living due in part to the cheap imported rice from the United States.
How can Haiti move forward?
Moving forward begins with justice. It requires that international actors in Haiti rethink their approach to development. It begins with changing harmful trade policies that benefit large corporations at the expense of the Haitian people.
God requires us to “do justice and to love mercy” (Micah 6:8). To do justice requires that we address issues of systemic injustice in our response.