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Haiti: Poverty, Hunger and Development

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Introduction

Poverty is a state where an individual is unable to have human basic needs such as food, good housing, clothing, and healthcare. However, the term also applies to countries that do not produce enough resources to sustain their population; hunger is a condition where people cannot meet their nutritional needs for a certain period due to several reasons such as persistent drought or lack of access to nutritional food products; people suffering from hunger are malnourished. Haiti has been considered to be one of the poorest countries across the globe with efforts to improve the economic situation of the country yielding limited results. Word Bank (2014) notes that with a population of 10.4 million people, 52 percent of the Haiti people live in rural areas while 42 percent live in urban areas. More than 70 percent of the population is living in poverty, with 10 percent living slightly above the poverty line; only two percent of the population can afford $10 each day. The country is also susceptible to natural disaster affecting almost 95% of the population because disasters such weather, climate change, and earth quakes, affects agriculture, which is the main source of livelihood of the country. This essay examines poverty, hunger and development using realist perspective.

Body

Realist perspective of social ontology holds that it is important to focus on social relations when describing social phenomena. The perspective believes that society is composed of social relations, in which social practices are executed (Jones 2011). World Bank considers poverty as living below certain standards that have been considered thresholds; for example, living below $1 a day in Africa is considered living in poverty (World Bank, 2014). The non-fulfillment of human needs can be taken as the interpretation of poverty. Therefore, the realism identifies the poor as people who cannot earn enough money to purchase the minimum material needs required for survival. For example, a project in the rural area that aims at raising the income of farmers is likely to increase the productivity of farmers by enabling them to diversify into cash crops to increase income.

However, humans are complex stratified natural beings with several causal powers where certain conditions have to be met to realize their potentials; the conditions are always perceived as objects of human needs. Human beings meet their needs through self-consciously producing the objects they require to satisfy their needs. The production process involves planning, reflection, learning and causal interaction with material nature and social process that require cooperation and coordination of separate entities. Hence, the knowledge on nature, and various techniques of production are developed, or obtained, and passed on. Poverty, according to realists, “is a condition where by human needs are not adequately met, and the realization of various human powers is restricted or prevented” (Jones, 2011, p.5).

Historical: Haiti, despite its current poverty situation was once considered ‘French Crown Jewel’ during the colonial period that ended in 1804. The chart (diagram 1) below shows that Haiti exhibited a higher GDP that did not match any country in the world, including the United States, and France, during 1760s to 1790s, (Henochsberg, 2016, p.39).

Studies reveal that the country started experiencing problems that indulged it in extreme poverty during the independence war, and after gaining independence; for example, after independence, France imposed a public debt on it in 1825. Haiti, compared to other Caribbean countries experienced infrastructural development challenges that made it difficult to match other countries; these were associated to poor political leadership and the loan management problems that contributed to corruption. The country’s saving was directed as settling the growing debt, leaving fewer resources for investment. The sectors that government managed to invest in, was in education and agriculture; however, despite this effort, education failed because of low enrollment and schooling rates, while agriculture did not succeed because of the underfunded projects (Henochsberg, 2016).

The ballooning public debt made it impossible for the country to diversify its resources; the education system was inefficient despite being sponsored by the government (Henochsberg, 2016). Also, the country was experiencing conflicts that had external interference; this made it impossible for any investment to be productive because peace and political will were low. The external interference such as failure of other countries to recognize the independence of Haiti in 1804, made it difficult to progress economically as other countries were still engaging in slave trade and slavery. In 1806, the United States placed an embargo on Haiti, reducing the export base of the nation at the most critical period of its recovery. Haiti, could not also engage in trade with France during the times since the two nations had been involved in a right.

Current State of Development 

Haiti is currently still struggling to come out of the challenges it experienced after independence. The Word Bank (2014) notes the rising population of the country with little resources to sustain it, is increasing the poverty and hunger levels of the country. Currently, the population stands at 10.4 million people; 52 percent of the Haiti people live in rural areas while 42 percent live in urban areas. More than 70 percent of the population is living in poverty, with 10 percent living slightly above the poverty line; only two percent of the population can afford $10 each day. 64% of the country’s total income is held by 20% of the people living in Haiti, implying that the country has a huge gap between the rich and the poor. The country is also susceptible to natural disaster affecting almost 95% of the population because disasters such weather, climate change, and earth quakes, affects agriculture, which is the main source of livelihood of the country.

Data from World Bank shows that urban population experiences challenges of scarcity of jobs and under-employment making the majority of urban dwellers to continue living in abject poverty without employment or low pay (World Bank, 2014. Haiti has 40% of its urban population unemployed, while youth unemployment is 60%. For the lucky Haitians to get a job in the urban setting, 60 percent are earning below the country’s minimum wage while women earn 32 percent less than men. The situation in rural areas is not that better, with more than a half of the country’s population living in rural areas, agriculture is the only source of income with 80 percent of the people in rural practicing farming. The use of traditional farming methods, traditional seeds make it difficult for the fields to produce enough yields to sustain the populations for longer periods. Therefore, any disaster such as an earth quake, drought or climatic changes subjects more than 80 percent of the rural population in hunger.

The World Bank notes that political instability has been a challenge for Haiti since independence with the situation worsening further by change of 18 regimes where a few happens through democratic means. For example, in 2004, the country experienced the political upheavals that led to ousting of President Jean Bertrand Aristide. The economy of the country is also poorly managed leading to poor policy frameworks that do not address the current needs of the country. Poor decisions have contributed to poor investment decisions retarding infrastructure development, industrial development and job creation. Haiti is also experiencing external shocks such as price fluctuations of the exports. For example, between 2000 and 2002, the country experienced a drop in prices of coffee and cocoa, and in 2008 the prices of imports were high. The natural shocks such as earth quakes have also had devastating effects on the economy of Haiti; the country has been prone to hurricanes and droughts leading to hunger and worsened poverty levels. For example, the 2004 floods destroyed 5.5 percent of the country’s GDP, while the 2008 hurricanes contributed to the rise of more than 7 percent of domestic prices. The 2010 earthquake led to loss of human life, property destruction and displacement; almost 120 percent of the country’s GDP was destroyed; in 2012, drought and two hurricanes destroyed 1.3 percent of the agricultural sector.

Intervations and solutions 

Although Haiti is among the poorest nations of the world; the international community has been taking various measures to address the problems that have been affecting the nation for over a century. Some of the measures have been aimed at addressing humanitarian need, conflict prevention, capacity building, state and national building, economic development and good governance. For example, in 2006, the Haiti debt stood at $1.8 billion making it among the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) of the world (Maris & Irimie, 2011). However, in 2009, $1.2 billion of the debt was written off. In 2010, the country had a total external debt of $890 million including $100 million IMF loan.

In 2011, Inter-American Development Bank agreed to cancel the Haiti’s $441 million debt, and other countries such as Venezuela, have offered better modalities to enable Haiti to settle the outstanding debts for longer periods and with no interests. Donations have been also helpful in addressing the urgent needs of Haiti; for example, in 2008, the country received donations from Official Development Assistance (ODA) of $912 million. According to the available statistics, 30% of the amount received was spent on social services such health, peace building and government services. The country had the least allocation on the important sector such as the production infrastructure, services and economic infrastructure (Maris & Irimie, 2011).

Research had demonstrated that the problem of Haiti’s poverty cannot be solved by external interventions alone; there is need for the country’s leadership to assume the important role in lowering the high poverty indices of the country by offering good governance and resource management (Maris & Irimie, 2011). For instance, the 2008 donations of $912 million, were not properly managed to ensure that the country become sustainable. The SWOT Analyses of the country reveals that it has strengths in cheap labor, and natural resources such as beaches that can be properly managed to attract tourists. The country should invest in education and professional reconversion to ensure that existing workforce has appropriate skills that can promote industrial development and service delivery.

The World Bank report of 2014 has identified key areas that Haiti should focus on, to reduce hunger and poverty, apart from good governance. First the country should focus on boosting the income generation in rural areas and urban settings to remove people out of poverty. As realists’ perspective noted, increasing the income of people in rural areas will increase their production levels, and in the urban setting, it will contribute to high purchasing power. Second, improving health and education will likely lead to rise in productivity as majority of the population will be healthy and possess relevant skills to support the growth of different sectors of the economy. Third is to invest in risks management and social protection policies to prevent the loss of human lives; despite being hit many hurricanes, earthquakes, and drought, the country has remained unprepared to address response mechanism to these events and when they occur, a lot of property is lost, human life and even established infrastructure, affecting the efforts that are being made to improve the economic situation of the country.

Conclusion

This essay has explored poverty, hunger, and development in Haiti using realist perspective. It has been recognized that Haiti’s problems started after independence when France left it with a debt that impacted on its development plans. The current state of the country is still worse as more than 60% of the population is living below the country’s minimum wage. This paper has determined that leadership is also a problem to Haiti as many resources are misappropriated and poorly managed; for instance, instead of focusing on areas that could yield economic progress of the nation, when the country receives donations, they are channeled in sectors that are not priority to the economic progress.

Reference

  • Henochsberg, S. (2016). Public debt and slavery: the case of Haiti (1760-1915). Paris School of Economics.
  • Jones, B. (2011). Explaining Global Poverty: A Realist Critique of the Orthodox Approach. Alethia, 4(1): 2-10, doi: 10.1558/aleth.v4i1.2
  • Maris, A. & Irimie, S. (2011). Haiti: Much Attention, No Results. Why Development Assistance Desn’t Work. Annals of the University of Petroşani, Economics, 11(3): 167-176.
  • World Bank. (2014). Investing in people to fight poverty in Haiti. World Bank Report. Retrieved from http://documents.worldbank.org/curated/en/222901468029372321/pdf/944300v10REPLA0sment0EN0web0version.pdf

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