On New Year's Day 2012 Haiti and Haitians at home and abroad will mark the 208th anniversary of independence. I say "mark" because there is very little for Haitians to celebrate. In January 2010 -- a year ago -- Haiti suffered its worst catastrophe in its history when a powerful 7.0 magnitude earthquake struck the capital city of Port-au-Prince. And one year later amidst the devastation and ruin the list of unfulfilled promises and the degree of hopelessness in Haitian society is pervasive and endemic.
And there is enough blame to go around as to who is to blame for the present situation and why the pace of clean up, progress, reconstruction and aid is so slow. Here are some facts:
- Over 50% percent of Haiti's population is school age yet over half the population is illiterate. Many children cannot afford the costs of education in Haiti because the average family makes less than $1 a day. The government does not provide adequate funding for public schools and most families cannot afford the costs of private education, which can be as little as $20 a year.
- Bloody conflicts between opposing political parties, sparked by demands for fair elections frequently occur.
- Police brutality and extrajudicial executions (executions without a trial) are numerous.
- The ability to speak freely is limited by conditions placed upon the freedom of speech laws.
- Labor rights are not enforced. Unions are generally too weak to engage in collective bargaining and many trade unionists are either arrested or killed during demonstrations.
- Mob violence and armed gangs pose severe security threats in urban areas. Former soldiers and others linked to former military regimes; as well s common criminals are responsible for much of the violence, including political assassinations. A lot of the violence is directly tied to increases in both the drug trade and local narcotics consumption.
- The judicial system is corrupt, dysfunctional and inefficient, especially in rural areas. Like the courts, the Haitian prisons are not large enough to handle backlog. The largest prison, designed to accommodate no more than 1000 prisoners, routinely holds approximately 2,200 prisoners. It is estimated that 80 percent of inmates are in pre-trial detention, roughly one-third of them have been held for more than a year. Due to the overcrowding and poor conditions, getting sent to prison in Haiti is usually considered a death sentence.
- People trafficking (neo-slavery) is a serious issue in Haiti. Currently there is no Haitian law to prohibit the trafficking in persons and the numbers of people who are sold is frightening.
It has been estimated that as much as 75% of the Haitian population is living in absolute poverty.
The unavailability of food is a major problem:
- In rural households, about 60 per cent go without food on a regular basis while 20 per cent are extremely vulnerable and often do not have access to food at all
- In urban households, about 32 per cent worry about food on a daily basis while 26 per cent are often worried about getting enough food
Negative trends are being seen in the health, nutrition and well being of the Haitian population. Currently HIV/AIDS is one of the leading causes of death in Haiti, and more than 4% of the adult population in infected with the HIV virus.
Women and Children