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Extreme poverty in Haiti: Why we must do more to end it

Throughout the world, particularly in the Global South, millions of people begin each day struggling with how to satisfy their most basic needs. Where to get food or water. Making do with non-existent or communal sanitary facilities. Limited or no access to dental or medical care. High exposure to contagious diseases. The constant threat of conflict or disasters — which is never far removed from situations of extreme poverty.

Such extreme poverty is endemic in Haiti, a Caribbean nation of just under 11 million people, located less than 800 miles from Miami, Florida. Fifty-nine percent of Haitians live in poverty and almost 25 percent in extreme poverty. According to the World Bank, many of Haiti’s rural people defecate in the open, and only 28 percent of the population have access to adequate toilet facilities. Outside of sub-Saharan Africa, Haiti currently has the highest prevalence of HIV/AIDS, and it continues to battle a cholera outbreak introduced by UN peacekeepers following the massive earthquake that devastated the country in January 2010.

With the exception of the United States, Haiti was the first country in the Americas to liberate itself from colonial rule, declaring independence from France in 1804.  Since then, political instability, weak or corrupt governments, and a constant battering by natural disasters have resulted in sustained economic stagnation and chronic poverty. Social sectors, including housing, education, and healthcare systems, are seriously underdeveloped — unable to meet the needs of the population.

A report released by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) on December 13, 2016 listed Haiti among the 48 least developed countries (LDCs), which are being left behind in global development. With the exception of a few countries such as Bhutan, Laos, Bangladesh, Nepal, Myanmar, Pakistan, and Afghanistan, most countries are in sub-Saharan Africa. Haiti is the only country in the Western Hemisphere among the LDCs.

"These are the countries where the global battle for poverty eradication will be won or lost," said UNCTAD Secretary-General Mukhisa Kituyi, stressing that, a year ago, the global community pledged to "leave no one behind" — the rallying cry at the heart of the 2030 Agenda and its Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). But, he noted, "that is exactly what is happening to least developed countries, like Haiti."

The report released at the end of 2016, should give us in the global development policy community our marching orders for the new year. It does attempt to provide a road map, highlighting that, for LDCs, finance, trade, and technology support is essential. It also advocates for improved monitoring of technology transfer by donors as well as of their commitments to provide 0.15 – 0.20 percent of their national income for assistance to the LDCs, "to make aid more stable and predictable, and to align it more closely with national development strategies."

Haiti’s problems, though dire, are not insoluble. However, global commitment and meaningful interventions, as outlined by the UNCTAD report, are required to set the country on a path of sustainable growth. This must be on the radar of everyone fighting global poverty.