BOSTON, Massachusetts — Haiti has long suffered from the detrimental effects of high poverty rates. Many organizations provide support to the nation; however, transportation of goods and donations has become difficult due to growing costs and existing gang violence. Airlink, a disaster logistics organization, is providing chartered flights to allow the transport of necessary goods to the people of Haiti, with support from the USAID Bureau for Humanitarian Assistance (BHA). This work is key in the fight to bypass the transportation barriers to aid in Haiti. The Borgen Project interviewed the CEO of Airlink, Steve Smith, and Francisco Munoz, Food For The Poor’s disaster response program coordinator, to gain more insight into the work of Airlink and its direct effect on humanitarian organizations.
Poverty Conditions in Haiti
Statistically speaking, Haiti is the poorest country in the Latin America and Caribbean region. About 30.32% of the population lives below the extreme poverty line, surviving on less than $2.15 a day. Poverty persists due to political instability, unique susceptibility to natural disasters, gang activity and widespread disease outbreaks within the country. Most recently, a cholera epidemic has caused an extensive need for aid. As of January 5, 2023, Haiti noted more than 18,000 suspected cases of cholera and children accounted for 30% of these cases. Because of this, it is highly necessary for humanitarian aid to reach the people of Haiti.
Each of the factors discussed above contributes to a large wealth gap between the most affluent and most destitute citizen populations, making it more and more difficult for citizens to break cycles of poverty. When unforeseen issues arise, impoverished people lack the resources and services to recover, which is why external aid is necessary.
Barriers to Humanitarian Assistance
While it is widely recognized that humanitarian assistance is necessary, there exist transportation barriers to aid in Haiti, preventing the movement of such goods. Steve Smith explains that this is due primarily to gang activity across the country, with about 95 gangs operating in the capital city of Port-au-Prince alone.
With increased security concerns, few aircraft and freight companies want to risk scheduling flights to Haiti. Smith says, “Air charter prices have increased 160[%]in the last six years. The costs of cargo offloading at Haiti’s main airport have increased by almost 600[%] as staff seek pay that reflects the increased workload and the real risks to their lives of coming to work because of gang violence.” In addition to this major issue, fuel prices make it difficult for NGOs to afford chartered flights to Haiti. These two issues coupled together prevent many organizations from transporting necessary goods, presenting transportation barriers to aid in Haiti.
On January 24, 2023, USAID announced that it would be providing $56.5 million in emergency aid for Haiti. This is in addition to the $228 million that USAID has provided since 2021. This aid is integral in helping the people of Haiti through the challenging times the nation faces. However, without a way to transport goods, USAID’s efforts would prove meaningless. This is when the relief efforts of Airlink prove crucial.
The Mission of Airlink
To address the transportation barriers to aid in Haiti, a nonprofit organization named Airlink, formed in 2009 by the ISTAT Foundation, the philanthropic arm of the International Society for Transport Aircraft Trading, has created a unique system of chartered flights specifically to aid the efforts of international NGOs. With the help of USAID funding and additional donors, it has been able to provide a network of 150 organizations with free air transportation. Airlink works with many different aviation and logistics partners, including SEKO logistics, to transport relief workers, humanitarian assistance and emergency supplies.
According to Smith, the main focus right now is cholera treatment in Haiti, including, “IV fluids, medicines, PPE, disinfectants, fortified meals, water filtration systems and water treatment tablets.” Statistically speaking, he explains that 73% of the average cost of an aid program goes toward supply chain management. Because of Airlink’s work in removing transport costs for NGOs, these organizations can direct more funding toward aid resources that benefit the people on the ground.
Direct Impact on Food For The Poor
Some of the first few organizations that benefited from Airlink’s Haiti air bridge include CARE Haiti, the Dalton Foundation, Food For The Poor, Partners in Health and the World Health Organization.
Francisco Munoz, disaster response program coordinator at Food For the Poor discusses the aid received from Airlink. Food For The Poor is a U.S.-based organization that provides food, housing, water, health care, relief and other humanitarian aid to the struggling population of Haiti. This has been its mission since 1986 despite transportation struggles and changes within the political atmosphere of the country.
Munoz explained that, in 2022, the aid it was able to provide decreased by around 25% due to shipping difficulties. Furthermore, rising violence and transportation costs rendered water and air transport unusable. In this way, Airlink’s assistance proved extremely helpful in the continued functioning of this organization. Munoz highlights that Food For The Poor’s “partnership with USAID and Airlink saves [the organization]shipping costs and allows the goods to be cleared in a safe manner on the other end. The significant savings have allowed [Food For The Poor] to do more to help families in need.”
As far as the future goes, Food For The Poor hopes to continue working with Airlink to provide humanitarian assistance to the people of Haiti. Munoz says, “Food For The Poor has more than 70 pallets of goods ready to send to Haiti through Airlink if the program is extended.” These goods include emergency response supplies for the current cholera outbreak.
Airlink’s assistance proves essential in overcoming the transportation barriers to aid in Haiti. The solutions provided by Airlink and the support of USAID have been extremely successful in aiding humanitarian organizations on an international level. The continuation of these existing partnerships will provide essential short-term aid to impoverished Haitians, however, the international community must develop long-term, sustainable solutions in order for Haiti to move in a more positive direction regarding its current conditions of poverty and instability.
– Hailey Dooley