AT this time of year, as most people celebrate Christmas, the poor and less fortune suffer the psychological pangs of material deprivation. It is at Christmas that the poor feel most acutely the deep distress of not being able to provide for their families as they would like, particularly the children who are too young to have accepted poverty as a way of life.
It is at this time that even the most embalmed of consciences awakens to help the poor as Jesus Christ did. Among the poorest and most deserving of our attention at this time are the Haitian people.
Three-quarters of the population live on less than US$2 a day. Even before the January 2010 earthquake, 3.8 million Haitians were undernourished and 40 per cent of all children suffered from chronic malnutrition.
That earthquake killed 250,000 people and injured another 300,000, according to Oxfam International. Today, 360,000 Haitians are still displaced and surviving in 496 tent camps across the country, data from the International Organisation of Migration show. Most eat only one meal a day, and that is not necessarily a balanced meal.
In November 2012, Hurricane Sandy set back the recovery efforts. The Haitians’ plight has been compounded by the recent heartless and despicable actions of the Government of the Dominican Republic where the constitutional court has ruled that children of undocumented Haitian migrants, even those born on Dominican soil, are no longer entitled to citizenship.
But let us not forget or exonerate the rest of the world which, following the devastating earthquake, announced pledges amounting to US$9.5 billion in relief and recovery aid. Since 2010, about US$6 billion had been disbursed by the end of September 2013, though disbursed does not necessarily mean spent.
The callous attitude of international institutions is evidenced by the refusal of the United Nations to accept blame for Haiti’s cholera epidemic, despite overwhelming evidence that the disease originated with its peacekeepers. Not even an apology has been forthcoming, although 7,750 Haitians have died and a further 75,000 were treated.
It is estimated that at one time or another there have been 12,000 non-government organisations involved in dispensing aid and relief.
A study by the Centre for Global Development revealed that most of the aid disbursed was spent on the staff of the agencies and organisations providing aid. One-third of the humanitarian funding for Haiti was actually returned to governments of donor countries to reimburse them for their civil and military work, and the majority of the rest was spent on the salaries and living expenses of the staff of international NGOs and private contractors. Less than 10 per cent went to the Government of Haiti, and less than one per cent went to Haitian organisations and businesses.
The deeply religious among us would most likely forgive the Haitian people if they parodied Psalm 23 thus: The rich man is my shepherd, and I am in want. He maketh me to lie down in tents, he leadeth me beside polluted waters of great need. Yeah, though I walk through the valley of starvation, I will fear no evil, for donors are with me. International aid agencies and NGOs ignore me. They prepare a reduction in my subsistence, in the presence of my government. My needs run over my means. Surely, disease and poverty will follow me, all the days of my life, and I will dwell in a refugee tent forever.