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5456: DEVELOPMENT-HAITI: Poverty on the Rise (fwd)
From: Merrie Archer <MArcher@nchr.org>
DEVELOPMENT-HAITI: Poverty on the Rise
By Ives Marie Chanel
LAKOMA, Haiti, Oct 25 (IPS) - Lakoma, population 1,000, located about 300
kilometres northwest of the capital Port-au-Prince, looks like a ghost town.
The village's streets are almost devoid of human activity. Windows and doors
Fear has reigned supreme here since more than 100 peasants were massacred in
1987 by the army in the pay of the big landlords. The small farmers were
demanding nothing more than a patch of land to grow enough food to survive.
A serious drought that has engulfed the northwest region has only added to
the woes of Lakoma's residents. Nothing grows here anymore except cactus and
bayahondes, a local plant the farmers use to make charcoal. And children
must walk up to 15 km to obtain potable water for their families.
Attempts to eke out an existence here has destroyed the land. Some
development projects which have operated here over the past few years have
yielded discouraging results.
Under the Duvalier dictatorship of 1957-1986, the authorities dubbed this
region 'The Far West'. Regularly hit by famine, people here survive thanks
to food shipments donated by humanitarian organisations.
''Even the animals are beginning to die of thirst and hunger. The pregnant
women and the children don't know where to turn for relief from this
dreadful situation,'' says Henrio Richardson, president of the regional
committee of the Civic Youth Organisation of the Far West (OCJF) based in
Jean- Rabel, a nearby town.
The road system throughout the northwest is in terrible shape. As a result,
the region's towns live in isolation and farmers frequently have to watch
their harvest rot in the fields because they cannot get it to market.
This situation is not peculiar to Lakoma, however.
In the Mole Saint-Nicolas, Bombardopolis, and Baie-de-Henne areas, it is the
same story. Residents are forced to wait for government and non-
governmental organisations to send in aid shipments.
The population explosion, too, has aggravated the situation. Since there is
not enough arable land to provide food for everyone, whole villages are
emptied when people illegally cross the border to become sugarcane cutters
in the Dominican Republic.
But as bad as the situation is in the rural areas, poverty is worse in the
cities, where most of the poor live in shanty towns with no plumbing,
sanitation, or garbage collection.
In Cite Soleil, one of the country's largest slums, one family of eight
lives in an area measuring less than three square meters.
''We sleep in shifts,'' says Bob, the father.
The situation is not peculiar to Cite Soleil. In many other working-class
Port-au-Prince neighbourhoods, the housing situation is every bit as bad.
According to some estimates, more than 800,000 people live in sub- standard
conditions. Here, children defecate in public in washbasins crawling with
insects, while right next to them, people try to ease their hunger pangs by
chewing on sugar cane.
There is no running water. Those who can afford to, buy their water in 18
litre containers for the equivalent of 10 US cents. The average daily salary
is only 1.40 dollars.
The most recent report on human development by the United Nations
Development Programme (UNDP), ranks Haiti 150th in the world. The northern
Caribbean nation remains the only country in the western hemisphere which is
still classified as poorly developed.
According to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), 80 percent of
Haiti's 8.2 million people are poor. More than 73 percent are classified as
And the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) says 62
percent of Haitians at any one time have no food at all, and 24 percent eat
a daily ration which provides less than their nutritional needs.
Furthermore, eight percent of Haiti's children under the age of 15 suffer
from malnutrition. In comparison, the children of Haiti's closest neighbours
are well off. Only one percent of children in the Dominican Republic, two
percent of those in Jamaica and three percent of Cuba's children are
classified as malnourished.
A December 1999 joint report by the local bureau of the United Nations
Children's Fund (UNICEF) and the Canadian relief organisation Aid the
Children-Canada found that nearly 10,000 Haitian children are homeless. More
than 10 percent of these street children are between the ages of five and
Additionally more than 250,000 children in Haiti must work to help support
themselves and their families.
The consequences of poverty has meant that young Haitians are dying at a far
faster rate than those in countries nearby. The death rate for Haitians
under 40 is 27 percent. In Cuba that rate is four percent, it is five
percent in Jamaica and nine percent in the Dominican Republic.
Living conditions in Haiti have worsened over the last six months because of
an aggravated political crisis, which has frozen some 900 million dollars in
annual foreign aid. (END/IPS/DV/imc/da/00)
Associate Director for
Programs and Development
National Coalition for Haitian Rights
275 Seventh Ave, 17th Floor
New York, NY 10001
(212) 337-0005, ext. 18
(212) 741-8749 fax