Violence in Haiti
In February 2023, UNICEF reported a ninefold increase in acts of violence against schools in Haiti over the period of 12 months. Schools have been the locus of attacks and violence by armed groups and this has a direct impact on one of the most fundamental human rights of children: education. Education is not only the pillar of a welfare state but is also fundamental for the development of social capital in the country. Violence in Haiti stands as a barrier to the progression of children’s education.

Violence in Numbers

According to reports by UNICEF partners, armed gangs targeted 72 educational institutions in Haiti in the first four months of the scholastic year (October to February) compared to eight during the same time the year prior. In particular, armed groups attacked a minimum of 13 school facilities, set a school on fire, murdered one pupil and kidnapped a minimum of two school staff workers.

The U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) estimates that armed factions rule 60% of Port-au-Prince, Haiti’s capital. Gangs targeting schools also steal critical educational supplies, such as desks, blackboards and computers. Along with cafeteria equipment, gangs steal vital supplies of “rice, dough and maize” used to provide school lunches, which are sometimes the only meals Haitian children eat in a day.

Impacts of Escalating Violence in Haiti

Due to the rising violence in metropolitan areas, 30 schools closed their doors in just the first six days of February 2023 and more than 25% of schools have stayed closed since October 2022, a decision that principals took to protect staff and students. Students missed an average of one and a half school days per week in January 2023 due to the risk of violence. By the end of June 2023, according to UNICEF, pupils could miss out on 36 days of education if no one took action to safeguard schools from violence. Despite the risk, the Haitian Ministry of Education has pushed for schools to reopen. As a result, three out of four schools reopened by December 2022, up from fewer than one in 10 reopenings in October.

Taking Action

A UNICEF report for the period July to November 2022 highlights the organization’s efforts to safeguard children’s rights to education. In Haiti, during the summer vacation, UNICEF funded a summer children’s camp in Lycee National de la Saline, providing 803 Haitian children with “a safe space for children to express themselves through plays and other activities.” UNICEF also gave cash transfers to 1,200 impoverished families with school-age children in Port-au-Prince and areas that the most recent earthquake affected. UNICEF is also providing support for the renovation of three educational facilities in Cité Soleil along with the supply of school furniture and learning materials.

UNICEF urges the Haitian government to make sure that schools are secure and to prosecute organizations and people who endanger or hurt children while attending school. The U.N. praises education for not only imparting knowledge and skills but also for transforming lives and propelling growth for individuals, groups and nations, saying that schools “must be places of learning, safety and harmony.”

Overall, the U.N. urges all nations to sign the Safe Schools Declaration, “an inter-governmental political commitment to protect students, teachers, schools and universities, from the worst effects of armed conflict.” This declaration has received support from 111 nations so far and lays out specific actions that governments can take to safeguard educational institutions. In line with this, U.N. head António Guterres said at a virtual event in September 2021, “We urge Member States to go beyond their obligations under international law and implement national policies and laws that safeguard schools and learners.” The loss stemming from education disruptions is significant. By upholding children’s rights to education, the international community safeguards the future.

– Carmen Corrales Alonso
Photo: Flickr

Access To Clean Water In Haiti
People know Haiti for its unfair labor practices, poor road conditions and deforestation. It is the third-largest country in the Caribbean, just east of Cuba and west of the Dominican Republic. The country has a rich history but has seemingly been unable to regain its footing. Access to clean water in Haiti has been an ongoing and seemingly never-ending issue.

Poverty in Haiti

Haiti’s economic growth has met some serious deterrents due to poverty, corruption and vulnerability to natural disasters including hurricanes, floods and earthquakes. The country currently remains the poorest in the Western Hemisphere and one of the poorest in the world. Poverty in Haiti is at a high. More than six million Haitians are living under the national poverty line of $2.41 per day with more than 2.5 million living under the national extreme poverty line of $1.23 per day. Most of Haiti’s population either do not have employment or are underemployed and the economic activity continues to slow down due to the negative impact of both Hurricane Harvey and Irma.

According to the World Bank, Haiti was in such high debt that it required debt forgiveness. Despite receiving more than $8.4 billion in aid since 1980, Haiti remains poorer today than it was 30 years ago. Aid has helped keep Haiti poor and it has sustained poor government policies that have led to debt, not development.

Access to Clean Water in Haiti

Though more Haitians have gained access to improved drinking water over the last decade, water still presents difficulties for the population in Haiti. Currently, only the houses of the wealthy in Port-au-Prince, the country’s capital and the major regional towns have running water. The mass majority of Haiti’s population does not have access to potable water and the death and disease related to water is critical. In fact, 80 percent of all diseases in Haiti are waterborne.

Roughly three-fourths of Haitian households lack running water and unsafe water, along with inadequate housing and unsanitary living conditions. Pollution from human waste and other waste is prevalent in most of the Haitian rivers. Haitian people residing in the countryside receive water through piped water systems with standpipes or water points with hand pumps. However, many of the water systems there are not operational due to the lack of funds for operation and maintenance. Today, 42.3 percent of Haiti’s total population struggles with access to clean drinking water, while at least 72.4 percent of its population struggles with access to improved sanitation facilities such as toilets, indoor plumbing and sewage systems.

The World Bank

The World Bank is putting forth efforts to aid in the country’s access to clean water and poverty. The main goal is to support the country’s efforts to provide economic opportunities for all of its people and to combat poverty. With the World Bank’s support, Haiti has been able to obtain significantly unmeasurable results. The World Bank has assisted in Haiti’s increased access to drinking water for more than 314,000 people through the construction, rehabilitation and extension of drinking water supply systems. It has made it possible for emergency response in six municipalities to prevent the resurgence of waterborne diseases.

The World Bank has also launched a new program that will allow more than 300,000 Haitians to gain access to improved water sources through household connections and water kiosks. Additionally, it will give 50,000 improved sanitation and 100,000 small repairs and expansions of existing water systems.

MDGs Help Haiti Move Forward

The political instability, natural disasters and social unrest have prevented Haiti from reaching its potential and it also keeps the country in standing as one of the poorest and least equal countries in the world. However, Haiti has made significant progress in stabilizing and eventually lowering the poverty rates. According to the Millennium Development Goals Report, the national poverty rate is 58.6 percent and the extreme poverty rate is 24.7 percent. The implementation of MDGs should cut the poverty rate in Haiti in half.

According to Sophie de Caen, the UNDP Haiti Senior Country Director, “Poverty reduction is the number one priority to the Haitian Government and its people, and the MDGs call for a concrete and coordinated action by the United Nations system and bilateral and multilateral donors to build the State’s capacity to achieve these development goals.” With the help of the World Bank Group, the Haitian government and community involvement, Haiti should be well on its way to regaining its rich history and improving its access to clean water in Haiti while reducing poverty.

– Na’Keevia Brown
Photo: Flickr