Foreign entities must work with Haitians
by Jed Meline (Micronesia 1990-92)
The situation in Haiti is deteriorating rapidly. While no stranger to catastrophe, Haiti may be facing its worst situation in at least a decade. The country’s rapidly spiraling decline is due to multiple crises occurring simultaneously: political strife, civil unrest, rampant poverty, gang violence, a recent earthquake and now, a deadly cholera outbreak. Despite the vast humanitarian needs, a blockade is preventing the delivery of essential humanitarian and civilian supplies into the capital city of Port-au-Prince, further endangering the lives of millions of Haitians.
The U.S., collaborating with the Haitian community, needs to set a new policy for Haiti. And it should start now.
In order to stave off the worst, the global community must establish an enforced humanitarian corridor to enable the effective and safe transport of medicine, water, food, sanitation supplies, and fuel to the people of Haiti.
The U.S. and Canada seem to have recognized the urgency of the situation and last week sent armored vehicles to “assist [Haiti’s National Police] in their fight against criminal actors who are fomenting violence and disrupting the flow of critically-needed humanitarian assistance,” according to the Department of State. While it’s a step, it will be far from sufficient without a humanitarian corridor allowing for the distribution of goods.
Further, USAID activated their Disaster Assistance Response Team (DART) and funded several flights of critical commodities. Should actors on the ground be able to distribute them, they will prove immensely helpful. Similarly, the activation of the UN Central Emergency Response Fund should help accelerate UN mobilization. But much more is needed.
The U.S. has been there before, but we need to go again. However, we should not repeat mistakes of the past. Solutions will only come with intentional involvement and collaboration with Haitian civil society groups, local Haitian organizations, the diaspora, and others well beyond the current sitting government.
The local NGOs have — and should continue to — lead the humanitarian response with support from larger International NGOs and funders. Project HOPE, for example, has helped to build the capacity of key NGOs in the area with funding from USAID, but they will need much more support over the coming weeks, months, and years to make their efforts sustainable. In fact, the situation has become so dire that these local organizations are often the only ones able to work in many areas of the country.
But little improvement will occur without a humanitarian corridor to establish some areas of calm. The U.S. has proposed a multi-country, non-UN “rapid action force” as described by the U.S. Ambassador to the UN, Linda Thomas Greenfield, at the UN Security Council in response to the request of Interim Prime Minister Ariel Henry. The concept has support from the Organization of American States. However, a humanitarian corridor must also be accompanied by significant increases in humanitarian funding.
The cholera outbreak is growing exponentially, with 2,619 suspected cases, 267 confirmed cases, and 70 related deaths according to the Pan American Health Organization of Oct. 31. These numbers are assuredly an underestimation.
Cholera may now be the most urgent on a long list of urgencies, but cholera arises from lack of access to water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH). Project HOPE recently deployed a team with medical, logistics, security, and WASH expertise to Sud Department and Port-au-Prince and in neighboring Santo Domingo and are beginning to address critical health gaps, but this crisis calls for a greatly increased international response. There are currently only 13 Cholera Treatment Centers (CTCs) that can accommodate a small fraction of those currently affected and these are only helpful if the infected individuals are able to navigate the security risks and transportation hurdles to access them. And any illness on top of widespread food insecurity, kills faster. The UN World Food Program is reporting, for the first time ever in the Americas, level 5 “Catastrophe” conditions for 19,200 of the most vulnerable people in Haiti. This is the final stage before famine.
A humanitarian corridor is not a solution or even a Band-Aid — it’s merely a tourniquet to stave off the worst while we seek more sustainable solutions. Next steps might build on collaborative processes such as the Montana Accords or other inclusive approaches for a course to longer-term stability. They might include expanding the UN agreed sanctions utilizing the U.S. Magnitsky Act, as proposed by many. Other proposals worthy of thoughtful consideration include a 10-year program cycle with guaranteed budget as proposed by Council on Foreign Relations author Susan Page.
Haiti is 700 miles from our shores. Its viability is essential to greater stability in our neighborhood and could stem greater problems, not the least of which include migration. It is in the United States’ national interest to try again to support a solution, building from the lessons of the past.
Jed Meline (Micronesia 1990-92) is Director of Policy and Advocacy at Project HOPE. He previously served as Director of Health and Humanitarian Assistance at the National Security Council, and as a foreign service officer with USAID.