MONTVALE, New Jersey — Haiti remains the poorest country in Latin America and the Caribbean. Its GNI per capita is $1,420, the lowest in the region. The country also ranks 163 out of 191 on the U.N.’s Human Development Index. Poverty rates are rising and the work to reduce them appears undone. Haiti’s economy contracted for three consecutive years from 2019 to 2021. In addition, 65% of households experienced a decrease in income according to data from December 2021. Although the World Bank lacks full data for 2022, it estimated that poverty increased to 87.6% in 2021. When looking at the extreme poverty line, the World Bank estimated a 30.32% increase. Combating poverty is not the only reason foreign aid to Haiti is important though.
Foreign aid to Haiti also goes towards Haiti’s infrastructure and rebuilding after natural disasters that hit the country hard. Haiti’s location in a region prone to tropical storms combined with laying on a fault line means the country gets especially hit hard by earthquakes and storms.
Deforestation also leads to flooding and landslides, which strike at twice the rate as the Dominican Republic, according to the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR). A few of the natural disasters that have struck Haiti particularly hard include the 2010 earthquake which killed 220,00 people, Hurricane Matthew and the double threat of the magnitude 7.2 earthquake that destroyed 30% of local homes and Tropical Storm Grace that struck a few days later in August 2021.
The Argument about Foreign Aid to Haiti
There is some talk in the news as well as published scholarly work that foreign aid to Haiti has failed or is ineffective based on the current political climate of the country. A 2006 National Academy of Public Administration study outlines some of the political troubles in Haiti and the issues donors face when it comes to the utilization of foreign aid to Haiti.
In terms of numbers and who is in power in Haiti, the data is fairly outdated, but there is some overlap between the political state of the country then and now. In the study, two important points touched upon when it comes to foreign aid to Haiti were country ownership and aid dependency. The term “country ownership” means taking initiative for devising and implementing foreign aid programs as well as the utilization of foreign aid.
The study gave the example of rule of law programs in Haiti. Between 1995 and 2000, the U.S. spent nearly $100 million on these programs and a General Accounting Office review concluded that U.S. assistance was impeded because the Haitian government did not take action to implement solutions to its judicial problems or follow through on diverting aid to programs that would improve rule of law in the country.
A New York Times analysis article from 2021 discussed the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse and the current political climate of Haiti. Like in 2006, there is little ownership or accountability, especially with gangs running the government.
Haiti depends on aid for its development with a lack of accountability leaving donors disillusioned by not seeing results. The article describes foreign aid to Haiti as being a double-edged sword: the humanitarian assistance it provides is vital. However, the government has few incentives to carry out the reforms needed if foreign aid will be necessary every time there is a disaster.
US Ties and Foreign Aid in Action
That is not to say that foreign aid to Haiti and having ties with Haiti is a bad thing though. The U.S. continues to show strong ties to Haiti as a foreign aid donor and a partner. The CFR outlined some of the initiatives recent presidents have taken.
Under President Obama, Haiti became a top priority for the U.S. and USAID has been Haiti’s top donor since the 2010 earthquake, contributing roughly $5 billion. Although President Trump cut USAID’s assistance by 18%, preserving funding for poverty reduction and infrastructure initiatives. He also renewed the deal for Haiti’s duty-free exports to U.S. markets. President Biden continues to increase humanitarian aid to Haiti similar to President Obama.
The U.S. Department of State outlines the partnership between the U.S. and Haiti as well as lays out some highlights of what U.S. foreign aid has achieved for Haitians.
Although the country needs major reforms to continue on its path to development, foreign aid to Haiti remains essential to seeing the achievement of that goal.
– Matthew Wikfors