In January 2010 the worst earthquake in 200 years struck Haiti, causing catastrophic destruction in the hemisphere’s poorest country. The quake struck near the capital of Port-au-Prince, the most densely populated part of Haiti. The death toll has been estimated at over 220,000 and 1.3 million people were displaced and are now living in temporary shelters throughout the country.
In fact, Haiti was devastated well before the earthquake struck. Nearly 80 percent of Haitians live in extreme poverty, and more than half suffer from malnutrition. Unemployment is a staggering 70 percent, and tens of thousands of people die each year from preventable illnesses related to a lack of clean water. Average life expectancy at birth is only 62 years, and one in 47 women faces a lifetime chance of dying during childbirth.
US & International Intervention
Haiti is the only country in the world that was founded by a slave revolt. Ever since, it has been a target of US and European military and political intervention. In 1918, US Marines invaded Haiti, massacring hundreds, dismantling the constitutional system, enforcing massive land take-overs by US corporations and installing the brutal National Guard, which terrorized the country for decades.
The US also trained and protected the long-standing Duvalier dictatorship and provided military support for a series of other short-lived dictators and military juntas over the years.
In 1991 and again in 2004, the US helped to overthrow Jean-Bertrand Aristide, Haiti's first democratically elected president. Aristide had resisted Washington's economic prescriptions by insisting on social spending for the poor. In 2000, the Bush Administration pressured the Inter-American Development Bank to cancel more than $650 million in development assistance and approved loans to Haiti – money that was slated to pay for safe drinking water, literacy programs and health services.
During both coup d’etat periods, thousands of women were systematically raped by anti-Aristide forces. These attacks aimed to destroy the social fabric of the communities that comprised the base of Haiti’s pro-democracy movement.
Following the January 2010 earthquake, the US and other powerful actors stepped in to plan Haiti’s reconstruction. The policies being proposed are some of the same policies that propelled poverty, social inequality and environmental destruction before the earthquake by prioritizing foreign investment over Haitians’ basic human rights.
Security for Women and Girls
The 2010 earthquake worsened already inadequate and inequitable access to basic social services throughout Haiti. The mass displacement resulting from the earthquake also increased the risk of sexual violence for women and girls, especially those living in camps. Women and girls living in these overcrowded camps are often afraid to report sexual violence because their attackers live nearby.
In the camps established since the earthquake, latrines are shared by large numbers of people and are often in poor condition, greatly increasing the risk of waterborne diseases. Poor sanitation and flooding during the rainy season contaminates the water supply and leads to illnesses such as cholera, dysentery and typhoid.
Haiti’s rates of infant and maternal mortality are the highest in the Western hemisphere. The vast majority of these deaths are preventable, but babies and mothers continue to die because of poverty.
Even before the earthquake, malnutrition threatened half the population. In 2008, rising food prices around the world triggered demonstrations across Haiti, where the price of rice had doubled in less than six months. In the poorest areas of Port-au-Prince, entire families were forced to subsist on mud cakes.
Since the earthquake, Haitians have become almost entirely dependent on international food aid. But aid distribution has been slow and inequitable. In one camp, 75% of women interviewed reported they did not have sufficient food to support themselves or their families.
As Haiti rebuilds after the earthquake, MADRE is calling for the US and other powerful actors to respect Haitian sovereignty and human rights and to support sustainable agriculture, an end to aid dependency, women’s rights and a pro-poor development agenda.