Poverty profile paper: Haiti

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Cultural Background

Haitian culture is a hybrid of European and African elements. Historically, Haiti was constituted by thousands of slaves from Africa. French colonization played a key role in defining the region’s culture and language. Just like other countries in Latin America, the majority of Haitians are Roman Catholics. They took after the colonizers who were mainly Roman Catholics. Until 1987, Catholicism was recognized in the country’s constitution as the official national religion. However, considering that only about 80% -85% of the population constitutes the Roman Catholics, it had to be removed to ensure that the remaining population was also recognized and their right to religion respected. Majority of the people in Haiti speak Kreyol. The language’s pronunciation is highly derived from French. However, the country’s official language has been French for most of the country’s history. Kreyol was recognized as the official national language with the promulgation of a new constitution in 1987. In the recent past, English has also featured as an important language mainly due to the advancements in technology. Lundahl (2015) reveals that Haiti remained outside the focus of world interest until it was affected by a major earthquake in 2010. After acquiring its independence in 1804, the society was reshaped to create an upper class which was constituted by the individuals in power and the ones who dominated the businesses. However, despite being a sovereign country for over 200 years, the government has done little to address the country’s poverty issue.

Historical/Political Context

Instability has characterized Haitian political sphere since independence. Haiti achieved its independence in 1804. French colonized it. The event was important in shaping the country’s history and current position. Lundhal (2015) further expounds that after independence, a new political class emerged working hard to amass wealth to their families and friends at the expense of the huge population. Today, Haiti is recognized by its constitution as a republic with a bicameral legislature. Dictatorship characterized Haitian leadership in the major part of its history. Several coups have taken place in the country with the most popular being the ousting of President Aristide in 1991. Social problems in the society included a vigilante system of justice where mobs killed many people if it was suspected they had engaged in felonious activities. During the period of the slave trade, Haiti was a productively rich land. The colonial administration ensured that the slaves worked hard in the most brutal system in the Caribbean.

The revolution in 1804 led to international boycott. At the moment, most European countries were not ready to associate with a country of slaves which was working to stand out as an independent country. However, with the Haitian government working to be recognized by the international community (mainly European) the country received 150-million-franc debt from France in 1838. This debt retarded the Haitian economy until 1922. It was never paid. During this period, the country lost a chance to create firm economic and political foundation as other countries which achieved their independence during that time, e.g., the United States. In 1915, another major blow hit Haiti. United States Marines took over the country’s system. They took over the process of revenue collection and repealed the constitution to change the section which barred foreigners from owning land in the country. The elites in the society were not affected. After World War II, United States dominion over the region worked to cripple its political structure retard its economic progress. In the 20th century, there were several power struggles in the country. The tension worked negatively on the country’s progress limiting its economic prosperity. In 2010, the country was hit by an earthquake driving the final nail in the country’s economic progress.

Sources and Distribution of Wealth

In the period from 2000 to 2012, extreme poverty in Haiti dropped by 7% from 31% to 24%. However, in the rural areas, poverty levels have remained the same over the years. About 8% of children born in Haiti do not live to be one year. More than 50% of children under the age of five are malnourished. Since the 2010 earthquake, more than 150,000 Haitians still live in temporary camps waiting for national and international help to go back to their homes. According to Alsan, Westerhaus, Herce, Nakashima & Farmer (2011), access to quality healthcare is still determined by poverty levels in the society. A huge number of the population cannot afford healthy meals and access quality healthcare. Rattighetter (2003) highlights that nearly 70% of the Haitian population is dependent on agriculture. However, over the years a serious challenge has been encountered since the government does not have policies to add value to the products. When Haiti achieved its independence in 1804, the slave labor trend did not end. The elite in the society inherited the system and continued benefiting at the expense of the rest of the population which was languishing in poverty.

The French had a system where exceptional work was rewarded with freedom. It worked well to ensure that the slaves remained productive hoping that one day their efforts would be recognized. The children of white masters also got freed. They received some education. The mulattos were mainly children of the slave women and their white masters. The mulattos imitated the French. They could own land and operate a business. Therefore, since they did not want to associate with the slaves, they adopted a similar system to the French rule. The freed Haitians would later be instrumental in power and continue slavery after independence. Over the years, it has been hard to break the classes in Haiti with wealth revolving among the elite class which can afford education and runs businesses.

Economic measures of well-being

McGillivray and Clarke (2006) presents a set of economic measures of well-being in countries. These measures focus on the economic indicators that show the living conditions experienced by people. Some of the economic measures of wellbeing include income per capita, income inequality, and income poverty lines. Furthermore, non-economic measures of wellbeing are highlighted.

Income per capita

In Haiti, the GDP per capita is 729.30 US dollars according to the statistics recorded in 2016. This is equivalent to 6 percent of the average world GDP per capita. Between the period 1996-2016, the GDP per capita averaged 722.41 US dollars. The GDP per capita reached its highest for the first time in Haiti in 1999 where the figures recorded were 773.42 US dollars. The lowest GDP per capita was registered in 2010 when the figure was 662.28 US dollars.  There is a mandated minimum wage in Haiti where all the workers cannot be paid below the mandatory minimum rate. The employers who fail to pay are subjected to punishment based on the violation. Minimum wage is fixed at 400 gourdes daily comprising of 8 hours of work in selected industries (TRADING ECONOMICS, 2017). The industries include financial institutions such as insurance companies, transfer houses, and banks. Workers who fall under the minimum wage category work for telecommunications, furniture, art galleries, jewelers, supermarkets and import-export businesses.

Unemployment rates remained unchanged in Haiti between 2013 and 2014. The rate of unemployment during this time was 6.80 percent. The average rate of unemployment in Haiti between 1982 to 2014 was 9.58. The all-time high rate of unemployment recorded in 1988 at 23.90 percent and the low levels of unemployment recorded in 2011 at 6.80 percent. Rates of unemployment in Haiti measures individuals looking for work as a percentage of the labor force in the country.

Income poverty lines

Out of the 10.4 million Haitians, about 6 million of the population lives under the national poverty line. The national poverty line in the country is US$ 2.42 daily. Among this population, about 2.5 million falls under the national extreme poverty line. The group comprised of 24 percent of the population living in the US $1.23 daily.

Income inequality

Haiti is one of the unequal countries in the world. For instance, the Gini coefficient in Haiti is 0.61 as per 2012.  The figures were up by 2.20 from 2001. Gini measures the extent to which income distribution deviates from the equal allocation of the income. Inequality is signified when the index in the Lorenz curve reaches 100.

Happiness and satisfaction

Haiti is among the less happy states in the world. The average satisfaction score in the Caribbean country is 3.9 and Haitians record that 24.6 years is one of their happy years in the country. Notably, Haiti lacks inequality of happiness.

Non-economic measures of well-being

Education

In Haiti, 50 percent of the children population do not attend school. 30 percent of the population who go to school have no chance to make it to the third grade if they are still in primary education. As a result, 60 percent of children abandon school in Haiti by the time they reach the 6th grade.  29 percent of the population between age 25 years and above has acquired primary education. 80 percent of the teaching workforce in Haiti lack pre-service training and half of the public-sector teachers lack the necessary qualifications to teach in a classroom (Haiti Partners, 2015, November 18). Among the females, the literacy rate is 57 percent and the males between 61-64 percent compared with the average literacy rate for Latin America and countries in the Caribbean which is at 92 percent.

Health and nutrition

Life expectancy in Haiti is 63 years, and 30 percent of the population is considered food insecure. Infant mortality is 55 per 1000 births which implies that on average 59 children pass on before reaching their first birthday.  Prevalence of stunting in Haiti is described as moderate to severe at 22 percent (Haiti Partners, 2015, November 18). Out of the 285 births that take place in Haiti, one is likely to lead to the death of the conceiving mother, a ratio that is 16 times higher than the US’s.

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Empowerment and participation

Women empowerment in tries to address issues of family planning and education conducted by NGOs.  Elections were sometimes postponed, and the outgoing leadership did not want to get out of power. As a result, there were voting irregularities and the elections postponed. The elections were postponed due to the Hurricane that hit the various regions in Haiti and left the population devastated.

Environment

Environment degradation poses a serious threat. For instance, widespread deforestation, poor waste management and degrading the coastal marines. Due to the lack of tree cover, the storms have exacerbated leading to flooding that has impacted frequent droughts in the country.

Living conditions and differences

Conditions of life in Haiti remain poor. The government is unable to meet the basic needs of people, and so many of them are suffering in a bid to make ends come together and take care of their families. Prevalence of stunting shows that there is a food crisis in the country.  Differences exist in Haiti concerning gender specifically gender-based violence is a widespread problem. The country lacks legislation to protect women against cases of domestic violence. The rural areas in Haiti depend on agriculture. Women have taken various positions in the job market. However, men are the most perceived to have power in marriages.

Poverty Relief Efforts

More than 49% percent of Haitians live in absolute poverty. The poverty line is drawn considering the individual’s daily income. If it falls below 1 USD per day, the person is considered to be living below the poverty line. According to Dorte (2008), access to assets such as education in Haiti is characterized by significant inequality with poverty playing a key role in determining the ones who access them and those who do not. Access to quality healthcare which is also a key factor in poverty profiles is low. The region of the Northeastern and Northwestern Haiti is poor as compared to the rest of the country. Considering the role of gender in alleviating poverty, Dorte (2008), in his survey of 7,186 households noted that female-led families faced more financial challenges as compared to male-headed families. Unemployment levels are high in Haiti. The numbers are partly due to low literacy levels and low levels of industrialization in the country. The international community together with bodies such as IMF and World Bank have tried to address the poverty problem in Haiti using different approaches such as elevating literacy levels and improving the country’s infrastructure to facilitate entrepreneurship. IMF, World Bank, and other international organizations have worked for hand in hand with the Haitian government to address the problem. Significant results have been realized especially the 7% percent drop in poverty levels from 2000 to 2012.

Comparison: Poverty Alleviation Efforts in Haiti vs. the United States

In 2002, the Organization of American States approved Resolution 822. The resolution aimed at normalizing their relations with Haiti. From that time, they have been trying to address the poverty issue in the country. Haiti entered an agreement with International Monetary Fund in 2003 where the bank cleared the country’s loan with IDB. The loan had accumulated to 32 million dollars. The Haitian government was therefore granted a new chance to receive money from the international community and address the challenges affecting it. Among the efforts to address poverty in the country include strengthening the private sector, reforming the informal sector, working on the country’s infrastructure and working with donors to finance projects in health and education to elevate literacy levels. In the United States, the government is working hard to address child poverty which later progresses to societal poverty. According to Smeending and Thevenot (2016), the early years of a child’s life are important in cognitive and emotional development. The government is, therefore, working to realize good health, good education, and right development. Issues such as unemployment are being addressed by empowering the formal and informal sector. The United States is way ahead of Haiti in addressing poverty in its population.

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  1. Alsan, M. M., Westerhaus, M., Herce, M., Nakashima, K., & Farmer, P. E. (2011). Poverty, Global Health and Infectious Disease: Lessons from Haiti and Rwanda. Infectious Disease Clinics of North America, 25(3), 611–622. http://doi.org/10.1016/j.idc.2011.05.004
  2. Haiti Partners. (2015, November 18). Haiti Statistics – Haiti Partners. Retrieved from https://haitipartners.org/haiti-statistics/
  3. Lundahl, M. (2015). Peasants and Poverty (Routledge Revivals): A Study of Haiti. London: Routledge Press.
  4. McGillivray, M., & Clarke, M. (2006). Understanding human well-being. United Nations University Press.
  5. Ratighetter, M. (2003). Women and Poverty in Haiti. Report on a Mission to Haiti. 1-25.
  6. Smeending, T. & Thevenot, C. (2016). Addressing Child Poverty: How Does the United States Compare with other Nations. Academic Pediatrics, 16(3), 67-75.
  7. TRADING ECONOMICS. (2017). Haiti GDP per capita | 1996-2017 | Data | Chart | Calendar | Forecast. Retrieved from https://tradingeconomics.com/haiti/gdp-per-capita
  8. Verner, D. (2008). Making Poor Haitians Count: Poverty in Rural and Urban Haiti Based on the First Household Survey for Haiti. Policy Research Working Paper; No. 4571. Washington, DC: World Bank. © World Bank. https://openknowledge.worldbank.org/handle/10986/6555
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