Haiti and the huge problems facing its people have dropped out of the news recently. The Washington Post and the New York Times call the reason “donor fatigue.” However, that doesn’t mean the tremendous difficulties Haiti faced before the January 2010 earthquake, which were worsened by that disaster, have lessened. It only means the big-business press have stopped talking about them.
Hunger worse than ever
Hurricanes and floods last year left 1.5 million Haitians classified as “severely food insecure” — a fancy way of saying they’re chronically hungry. A drought earlier this year exacerbated the situation.
United Nations World Food Program’s figures based on Haiti governmental reports understate the problems. Three-quarters of Haitians live on less than $2 per day; half earn less than $1 per day. Some 6.7 million people — two-thirds — of an estimated 10 million are often hungry.
Over half the food is imported — including about 80 percent of the rice — meaning food prices can fluctuate drastically.
WFP’s website states, “One-third of newborn babies are born underweight” and “23.4 percent of children suffer from chronic malnutrition,” while “58 percent of women 15-49 and two-thirds of children under 5” have anemia.
About 35 percent of Haitians can’t access clean water. Some 77 percent of urban residents have access to potable water, compared to only 48 percent of rural dwellers. Nearly 3 million Haitians drink untreated water out of rivers and streams. Only 25 percent of Haitians have access to sanitary facilities; nearly two-thirds face health dangers without them.
While Port-au-Prince’s streets are cleared of ruble, almost none of the destroyed housing, public schools and hospitals has been replaced. Hundreds of thousands of people are still living in tents and sheds, which continually deteriorate. Many people have moved back to their old housing, even if it suffered severe earthquake damage.
Cholera: still a major problem
As of Sept. 9, says Haiti’s Ministry of Public Health and Population, the cumulative total of cholera cases is 675,745, with 8,265 deaths. Since mid-August, 100 people have been diagnosed weekly, with half needing hospitalization. While the death toll has lessened since the epidemic started, survivors often face weeks of pain and debilitation.
Most of the world’s cholera is now found in Haiti. Given the dire sanitation and water situation there, cholera spread rapidly in 2010 after U.N. troops dumped their excrement into a tributary of a major river. The U.N. — whose soldiers have occupied Haiti since 2004, replacing U.S. and French troops — adamantly refuses to accept responsibility for introducing the disease.
‘Impeach and imprison Martelly’
As living conditions worsen, Haitian protests have grown against the corruption, brutality and profligate waste of President Michel Martelly’s administration. Demonstrations have opposed Martelly since he came to power in May 2011.
Yet, they increased in intensity and size when the Aug. 14 Bois-CaÏman anniversary was commemorated by big protests all over the country. That date marks the start of the Haitian Revolution in 1791.
In Port-au-Prince, Cap-HaÏtien, Petionvil and GonaÏves and especially in the Cité Soleil sector of Port-au-Prince — where police tear gassed protesters — thousands of people marched, demanding the impeachment and jailing of Martelly and the end of his government. In Cap-Haïtien, protesters called for “Elections or resignation!” and “We want democracy, not demogoguery!” and they told Martelly he can’t count on the North to stay in power.
Senator MoÏse Jean-Charles, who represents this area in the Parliament and is leading the parliamentary struggle to impeach Martelly, spoke in Cap-HaÏtien. He stressed, “The struggle to safeguard democracy, the struggle to safeguard our democratic gains, the struggle against hunger, against misery must not be stopped until it has spread throughout the whole country.” (HaÏti-Liberté, Aug. 21-27)
HaÏti-Liberté reported that the government is preparing a budget some progressives describe as “a weapon to destroy the masses.” Jean-Charles says the proposed budget, with cuts in funding for essential social programs and greater allocations for the national police force and prime minister, shows preparation for political repression.
Another wave of demonstrations swept through Haiti in the second week of September. They were larger and more numerous than those in August, but also demanded “Impeach and imprison Martelly!”
The struggle will continue as long as the Haitian people face terrible living conditions, and repression is the only response of the U.S.-backed government.