Haiti has suffered greatly in the last two centuries: after gaining independence from France, the fledgling nation was forced to pay its previous oppressors an estimated $40 billion USD to compensate for lost slaves. This debt has wracked the country with instability and high poverty rates since. The new millennia has offered no respite, as in these 17 years, Haiti has experienced two devastating earthquakes and a widespread outbreak of cholera.
The cholera epidemic began in 2010 when it was introduced to Haiti by infected United Nations peacekeepers from Nepal. The cholera crisis in Haiti has since claimed around 10,000 lives and infected nearly 800,000 others. Despite these staggering numbers, it was only in December 2016 that the United Nations, then Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, apologized for Haiti’s cholera outbreak.
He announced an aid strategy of raising $400 million USD to end the crisis, even going so far as to state that it was the UN’s “moral responsibility” to do so. Unfortunately, the plan has failed to garner much support. It has only raised about $2 million USD, with just six out of 193 member states contributing to the trust fund. It is worth noting, however, that some countries have chosen to donate through other means. Among these countries are Canada and Japan with donations of $4.6 million USD and $2.6 million USD, respectively.
Hoping to reach the intended goal, the newly appointed UN Secretary-General, António Guterres, asked for financial commitments from member states by March 6. He also advised that mandatory dues would be raised if there were no significant donations by that time. Still, UN members failed to act and so the deadline passed, with little effect.
But, why has the UN’s call for aid been largely unsuccessful?
There are a couple of possibilities: many diplomats have pointed to something as simple as donor fatigue, while others worry that the money will not be used effectively. There is validity to this concern since the UN previously denied all culpability in this crisis until last December. This resulted in seven years of inaction and shifting the blame onto Haiti. For instance, Bill Clinton, who was then a UN special envoy to Haiti stated that, “…what really caused [the cholera crisis] is that you don’t have a sanitation system, you don’t have a comprehensive water system.”
But, even if UN members choose to send aid through another method, it is often difficult to discern which organizations are trustworthy. For example, a 2015 report by NPR and ProPublica showed that the American Red Cross took in more than $500 million USD in aid for the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, yet only built six of the 700 promised homes.
To make the situation more complicated, the Trump administration plans to cut spending on foreign aid. As the United Nation’s largest source of finance, as well as a historically prominent source of Haiti’s foreign aid, the United States’ new direction comes at a terrible time.
This year, 2,000 new cases of cholera have already been reported in Haiti. It is clear that, in a nation where only 25% of the population have access to sanitation, 58% to clean water, and healthcare accessibility is limited, significant contributions need to be made if there is any hope of overcoming this epidemic.
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