Several of Grassroots International’s partners and allies in Haiti released a statement following the disastrous wave of hurricanes. In their own words, they describe the deeply rooted obstacles they must overcome to rebuild a better Haiti.
Position of Numerous Organizations and Institutions on the Situation Facing the Haitian Survivors of the Hurricanes, Fay, Gustav, Hanna and Ike, September 14, 2008.
The organizations signing this note honor the memory of all the people who lost their lives due to the four hurricanes that have hit each of the country’s 10 departments. We offer our solidarity to all of the victims’ families and to all the people suffering from the consequences of the four hurricanes.
What is the situation today?
For some time Haiti has been experiencing tremendous despair and desolation that has been made worse by the 2008 hurricane season. After having been hit by Fay, Gustav, Hanna and Ike, we are exhausted by having to count the number of dead, the homeless, the orphans, and trying to find the people who are still missing. And on top of all this we have to calculate the terrible economic impact on the country at this time.
In nearly all corners of the country we find valleys under water, terrible landslides, vast quantities of earth washed into the sea, huge numbers of trees uprooted, many fields and gardens washed away, countless numbers of livestock drowned, and a lot of houses under water and many others destroyed. Bridges have fallen down and primary and secondary roads have been left inaccessible.
Today we find many people from the towns as well as from the rural areas in passive resignation. It is like ripping open a raw wound, since the country’s economy has already taken a huge blow from the political decisions of the Haitian State intertwined with the policies of the IMF, World Bank, Inter-American Development Bank, World Trade Organization, USAID, etc. The inappropriate policies adopted by these international institutions, together with the bad policies of the Haitian State, have caused this ever-worsening catastrophe, leaving the country unable to respond. The State finds itself in a situation where it has lost authority. It cannot respond to the problems. It cannot manage the national territory when things are normal, much less in times of catastrophe. It does not provide its leaders with the tools to manage, nor to organize, nor to plan ahead. It is even incapable of preserving what is left of natural resources.
One reason that is often given for the way the hurricanes always hit this country is environmental degradation. However this degradation is a result of the economic, social, cultural, and political choices of the ruling class – choices based on an unequal distribution of wealth which encourages the pillage of the country’s resources and allows a small group to make millions. That is why when we look at the situation that has developed in the agricultural sector, we see peasants who have difficulty in finding good soil to work with. They are obliged to sit it out in the mountains to hope to grow a little food to feed their families, while it is they in fact who keep the country’s economy going.
There are other examples, such as the energy crisis that the country has been going through for some time. The State can never seem to sort out this problem which has become a stick with which to beat the population. The consumption of wood increases day by day – we find bakeries, dry-cleaners, the use of wood for scaffolding poles, all putting pressure on the environment – while at the same time nothing is done to find an alternative source of energy or to increase wood production in the country. We do not see any reforestation program or any programs to protect the environment. The absence of State policies has serious consequences for the issue of housing and other urban problems, because people build wherever they can, and shantytowns spring up like mushrooms.
This dire situation that we are living through today has come at a difficult juncture where the country is already suffering from a food crisis and an increase in the cost of living. What is even more worrying is that the humanitarian relief services are often insufficient, and unable to reach the most needy disaster victims. We have witnessed many who have been saved from the floods, only to die from a lack of food afterwards.
What is to be done? What can we do?
Confronted with this dire situation, we must stop responding with patchwork solutions. It is only by organizing a substantial long-term mobilization that the country will be able to emerge from the hole it is in. We, as human rights and progressive organizations who have signed on to this declaration/statement in complete solidarity with disaster victims, have put together a provisional structure in order to:
- Act as mediators between disaster victims in the peasant community and government officials, as well as NGOs, by giving information so that the rights of the victims are recognized and so that they can get the help they need.
- Assess the hurricane damage in the areas where we are working (and have established contacts), and give support and succor to those communities in their time of need.
On the other hand, we must redouble the fight to get the State to take measures to tackle the roots of the problems by:
- Carrying out comprehensive agrarian reform, as called for in the country’s Constitution
- Clearly defining zones for agriculture, zones for construction, zones for forest use, and zones for forest conservation
- Guaranteeing that the country takes responsibility for its own food production and exercises food sovereignty
- Reducing the economic pressure on our natural resources, and then setting up, controlling and subsidizing other sources of energy for the country
- Increasing the production of wood for consumption
- Protesting against the payment of US$5 million due for debt service in September, and insisting that it instead be added to the mere 51 million gourdes (US$1.3 million) that the State has so far allocated for disaster relief
- Demanding the State stop paying the external debt and instead uses the money for the reconstruction of the social, economic and physical environment of the country
Signed by the following institutions:
- Platfòm Oganizasyon Ayisyen k ap Defanm Dwa Moun yo (POHDH)
- Platfòm Ayisyen k ap Plede pou yon Devlòpman Altènatif (PAPDA)
- Enstiti Kiltirèl Karl Leveque (ICKL)
- Enstiti Teknoloji ak Animasyon (ITECA)
- Sosyete Animasyon ak Kominikasyon Sosyal (SAKS)
- Solidarite Fanm Ayisyèn (SOFA)
- Mouvman Demokratik Popilè (MODEP)
- Tèt Kole Ti Peyizan Ayisyen (TK)
- Pwogram Altènativ Jistis (PAJ)
- Solidarite Ant Jèn (SAJ/VEYE YO)
- Mouvman Peyizan Papaye (MPP)
- CHANDEL (Oganizasyon Popilè pou Edikasyon Popilè)
- Sèvis Ekimenik pou Devlopman ak Edikasyon Popilè (SEDEP)
- Gwoup Apwi Teknik an Animasyon Pedagojik (GATAP)
- Antèn Nòdwès
- Fonds International pour le Développement Economique et Social (FIDES)
Camille Chalmers : Platfòm Ayisyen kap Plede pou yon Devlòpman Altènatif (PAPDA)
Antonal Mortimé : Platfòm Oganizasyon Ayisyen kap Defanm Dwa Moun (POHDH)
Translated from Creole by Charles Arthur for the Haiti Support Group and edited by Salena Tramel for Grassroots International