Don't abandon Haiti

Little has changed in this country in 20 years, but that is precisely why it is the time to step up our efforts to work for a better future for all the women of Haiti, especially rural women.

Date: Wednesday, September 22, 2021

I recently returned from the areas most affected by the earthquake of August 14 in the southwest of Haiti. Naturally, I found a desolate situation. But I also found a group of rural women who, even having lost everything, have the desire, the need and the interest to transform their reality and their environment. It is for their sake that I make this appeal.

Since my first visit, 20 years ago, little has changed in this country where less than 1% of the GDP is dedicated to health or education, where families -even the poorest- have to pay to go to school, and where supermarket prices are unaffordable for the vast majority.

The earthquakes of 2010 and 2021, the hurricanes and storms, the permanent political crises (of which we are living a new chapter) and a deteriorating security situation, have only accentuated the deep inequalities that the women of Haiti had to face.

The international community, which had made a huge relief effort in the aftermath of the 2010 earthquake, finds itself in Haiti with what a foreign diplomat described to me as a complex and rapidly changing context characterized by three deep-rooted problems: an inefficient economic model, impunity and corruption.

The women I met told me about their pistachio and cassava crops, two products highly sought after in the developed world and with zero tariffs in Europe and other regions. However, an inefficient and unsupportive model imposes them to deliver their crops in concession to large distributors, without knowing how much or when they will be paid.

"We are facing a situation that only contributes to a vicious cycle that reproduces poverty and exclusion."

If we add to this the infrastructure failures, the difficulties of access to international aid and the problems of public safety, we are facing a situation that only contributes to a vicious cycle that reproduces poverty and exclusion.

That is why Haiti still needs us. UN Women has reinforced our team in Haiti, and together with CARE International, the government and UN humanitarian agencies, we prepared a rapid assessment of the most urgent needs in order to organize our work and target the response towards differentiated attention to women, men, girls and boys.

Our assessment revealed that the earthquake-affected population is in urgent need of shelter, clean water, food, basic social services and protection. Eighteen percent of women and 12 percent of men are homeless; 53 percent of women and 56 percent of men sleep next to a damaged house. This lack of housing and shelter is perceived by 83% of the people surveyed as a factor of insecurity and increased risk of violence.

Before the earthquake, 46% of the population had unmet food needs, especially among children, adolescents and pregnant women. Additionally, the results suggest that approximately more than 12.5% of women are heads of household, and not being able to share these tasks aggravates their situation even more.

"Before the earthquake, 46% of the population had unmet food needs, especially among children, adolescents and pregnant women."

According to the report, 54% of women and 46% of men have already experienced difficulties in accessing health services due to the health crisis in the earthquake-impacted area; 79% perceive that women are involved in the response process, but 22% note that their presence in decision-making is limited.

The analysis is far broader and covers other areas, but with just the ones I list here we already have a huge task ahead of us. The solutions seem logical, but implementing them under the conditions I described before entails many challenges.

That is why I appeal to the solidarity and support of those who can contribute to our fundraising campaign. I also urge the governments of the main destination countries of the Haitian diaspora in Latin America, but also the United States and Canada, to take concrete actions to support the Haitian population.

I also appeal to the solidarity and sensitivity of the private sector in Haiti, so that women, especially in rural areas, can have access to markets under better conditions, as well as to financial instruments that guarantee the sustainability of their income in the long term.

I also urge the government and other authorities in Haiti to adopt measures and policies that incorporate women and ensure that they are at the center of decision-making, recovery and reconstruction efforts.

I said at the beginning that little has changed in this country in 20 years, but that is precisely why I believe that now is the time to step up our efforts, to show all our solidarity, to work for a better future for all the women of Haiti, especially rural women. That is why I urge you, I ask you, I beg you: do not abandon Haiti.

Maria Noel Vaeza is UN Women Regional Director for the Americas and the Caribbean.

 

Originally published on EL PAÍS Planeta Futuro.