Latin America Advisor

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Will Haiti Be Able to Recover From Hurricane Matthew?

U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon visited with victims of Hurricane Matthew in Haiti on Oct. 15.

Hurricane Matthew, the most powerful Caribbean hurricane in nearly a decade, ripped through Haiti early this month. The storm is believed to have killed more than 1,000 people and displaced thousands more. In light of the storm and its anticipated aftermath, authorities postponed until November presidential elections that had been scheduled for scheduled for Oct. 9, following repeated delays after a presidential election last year had been declared null. What parts of the country and sectors of Haiti’s economy are most in need of aid following the hurricane? How and from where will assistance to Haiti materialize? What does the further postponement of Haiti’s presidential elections mean for the country’s political stability, and when is it likely that a vote will finally be held?

Kenneth Merten, Haiti special coordinator and deputy assistant secretary in the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs: “There are currently 1.4 million Haitians in need of humanitarian assistance following Hurricane Matthew. The top priority is to provide food, safe drinking water and other relief commodities to communities cut off by the hurricane. Other priorities include mitigating the spread of cholera, developing a comprehensive shelter strategy and determining additional humanitarian needs. USAID is providing nearly $14 million for initial relief assistance in the Caribbean and is working with partners and the government of Haiti to provide critical food assistance and relief supplies to hard-hit areas in Haiti’s southwestern peninsula. Together, USAID and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are ramping up cholera response activities to help prevent the spread of the disease in the aftermath of the storm. With the government of Haiti, the two U.S. government agencies are also working to re-establish cholera surveillance and reporting systems in affected areas in order to facilitate strategic and coordinated responses to potential cholera outbreaks. The United States reiterates its belief that democratic elections are the only path for Haiti to return to constitutional rule in order to address the many urgent issues facing the country. Haiti is recovering from the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew. We call on all actors to remain peaceful and to refrain from any action that hinders either disaster recovery activities or the organization of credible and timely elections. The United States supports the efforts of the government of Haiti to pursue these objectives. We support the CEP’s decision by the Provisional Electoral Council to assess Hurricane Matthew’s impact on Haiti’s ability to conduct credible elections. The United States looks forward to transparent, credible, and fair elections in Haiti on Nov. 20.”

Raymond Joseph, former ambassador of Haiti to the United States: “By far, Haiti’s Greater South region suffered the bulk of the damage. Parts of the Western department, which includes Port-au-Prince, as well as the Artibonite and the Northwest were also affected. About 80 percent of the houses in cities on the southwestern peninsula are roofless. The countryside of one of the most verdant parts of Haiti now looks bare. The people must brace for famine resulting from uprooted gardens and the loss of cattle. Also, a spike of cholera will complicate matters. Roads and bridges must be rebuilt. Electricity and clean water must be provided. With help from the United States, Latin America, Canada, the European Union and fewer NGOs than after the 2010 earthquake, some areas in the interior have been reached by helicopters making drops of provisions and water. But the situation turned ugly when gangs attacked truckloads of supplies. The Dominican military had to return home with its fleet of vehicles reportedly loaded with $12 million worth of produce and equipment. Nationalists blamed President Privert for the Dominican military on Haitian soil. Postponing the elections was logical and accepted by all. But there’s trouble with the recent announcement of the vote to be held Nov. 20, with a second round scheduled Jan. 29. Final results for the presidential vote won’t be known until Feb. 20. Nothing is said about the date for swearing in the new president. It was generally expected that the Feb. 7 constitutional date for power transfer would be kept. Accusing President Privert of hoarding power, six justices of Haiti’s Supreme Court published a letter calling for delaying the elections and for a judge of the court to assume the presidency in accordance with the 1987 Constitution. Amended in 2011, that charter no longer provides for such a solution. Meanwhile, U.S. Ambassador Peter Mulrean says his government backs the November elections to allow for a democratically elected president and a new legislature to deal with pressing problems after the passage of Matthew.”

Bob Maguire, professor of practice of international affairs at The Elliott School of International Affairs of The George Washington University: “In Hurricane Matthew’s aftermath, the interim government of Haiti issued an advisory urging those wishing to assist the country’s recovery to coordinate with local organizations and institutions, including municipal governments, in order to understand the actual needs of affected communities and to avoid mistakes of the past. This absolutely correct call for coordination that puts Haitians and their organizations in the lead should be heeded. Local organizations and institutions hardened by experience abound throughout Haiti, including in hurricane-stricken areas. Past mistakes were vivid during the post-earthquake period when Haitians were largely pushed aside and recovery aid—allocated principally to high-cost, externally based organizations—yielded showcase projects but did little to sustainably address either Haiti’s vulnerability to natural disaster or root causes of its people’s chronic poverty, inequality and lack of opportunity. Small-scale farming, fishing and animal husbandry sectors, and its rural economy more generally, are keys to Haiti’s well-being and have been neglected for decades. That neglect must change, and not just in the stricken zone. The interim government was also correct in postponing elections, as happened in 2005 along the U.S. Gulf Coast after Katrina. Over the past year, Haitians from all walks of life have worked hard to regain good governance and a modicum of sovereignty over their nation’s political process—and to improve that process. The fact that Haitians will ‘own’ these elections heightens confidence that they will take place on Nov. 20, God willing, in such a manner that Haiti’s people will have confidence in their outcome.”

Francois Pierre-Louis, associate professor of political science at Queens College, City University of New York: “After the devastating earthquake that killed more than 250,000 people, a cholera epidemic that was introduced by U.N. personnel that killed more than 10,000 people and a botched presidential election, the country is now facing the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew. The hurricane wreaked havoc in the southern peninsula of Haiti. It not only killed hundreds of people, but it destroyed the few economic resources that the people in the south and western parts of Haiti had in terms of grains, animals, housing and businesses. It will take the country dozens of years to recuperate from this storm. This is due to the fact that Haiti already had weak infrastructure, an absence of government authority and a lack of preparedness to deal with catastrophic event. These non-ending catastrophes have created fatigue among donors. This has made it very difficult for Haitians to obtain the aid they needed now to prevent the spread of cholera and wholescale famine in the south. The hurricane has also disrupted the scheduled presidential election. The government has announced that the election will be held on Nov. 20, but with the massive disruption in the south, the loss of sensitive election materials and polling sites, it could take longer to restore the electoral system. This can jeopardize the country’s recovery from the hurricane, affect foreign aid and the entire democratic experiment.”

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