The death toll from Hurricane Matthew in Haiti—now officially at 336, though likely far higher—is a big part of why the world is paying attention to Haiti right now. It’s in the headlines, it’s in the ledes. It’s the reason news agencies continuously hunt for the highest figures: The higher your death toll, the more fresh, the more ominous your reporting appears, and the more likely it is that TV news stations, newspapers and news websites will choose your story over your competitor’s.
We should care that hundreds of people have died. But we shouldn’t only care when a storm hits. More than 9,000 Haitians have died from cholera in the six years since the United Nations introduced the disease there. Diarrhoeal diseases kill at least 4,600 Haitians each year. Those diseases are usually brought on by lack of clean water and sanitation — things with relatively simple and low-cost fixes that neither Haiti’s government nor the international aid community has invested in sufficiently to fix.
A friend of mine who works for a major aid organization in Haiti messaged me last week that “it’s awful trying to get to the south with the bridge down, blocked roads, etc. So sad.” She’s talking about a bridge on the same road I traveled back in 2010 to cover hurricane Thomas as it struck Haiti’s south. Indeed, bridges in Haiti fall frequently when storms hit. Without them, aid workers can’t get to the affected areas easily, or at all.
How many of us have opened our wallets in the past five years to donate to the construction of bridges in Haiti — or roads?
More to the point, how many news outlets that are gaining clicks and ad revenue by reporting on the current death toll in Haiti bothered to report on any solutions to Haiti’s chronic infrastructure or health problems in the past? Absent any solutions-oriented coverage, the recent barrage of news about the tragic toll of Hurricane Matthew feels an awful lot like disaster porn.
HISPANIOLA – On the Caribbean island of Hispaniola, home to the sovereign nations of the Dominican Republic and Haiti, two large lakes are rising dramatically.
Lake Azuéi in Haiti submerged an entire community; across the border in the Dominican Republic, Lake Enriquillo has risen nearly 33 feet in just 10 years. As their land flooded, many farmers began cut-ting down trees to make charcoal to earn a living, leading to deforestation.
Scientists from across the globe have tried to solve the mystery behind the rising lakes. Some think climate change is to blame, arguing that warming sea created more evaporation and clouds, which led to more rainfall. But if true, that would be strange, because in most of the world climate change is causing lakes to shrink.
The phenomenon is spur- ring calls for more research to help explain – and mitigate – the situation. Until scientists are able to identify the cause and work toward a solution, thousands of farmers on this Caribbean island will have to adapt.
Several years ago, when I was working as a reporter based in Haiti, I came upon a group of older Christian missionaries in the mountains above Port-au-Prince, struggling with heavy shovels to stir a pile of cement and sand. They were there to build a school alongside a Methodist church. Muscular Haitian masons stood by watching, perplexed and a bit amused at the sight of men and women who had come all the way from the United States to do a mundane construction job.
Such people were a familiar sight: They were voluntourists. They would come for a week or two for a “project” — a temporary medical clinic, an orphanage visit or a school construction. A 2008 study surveyed 300 organizations that market to would-be voluntourists and estimated that 1.6 million people volunteer on vacation, spending around $2 billion annually.
Read the full essay at the New York Times Magazine.
The Dominican Republic built its economy on the backs of Haitian immigrants and their descendants. Now it wants them gone.
FOND BAYARD, Haiti—On April 28, 2009, Julia Antoine gave birth to a girl in a hospital in the town of Los Mina, in the Dominican Republic. Her husband, Fritz Charles, couldn’t be there—he was busy working his job at a chicken farm.
In the coming days, the couple named the girl Kimberly. When the family went home, Antoine was given a document from the hospital noting the birth, the date, and the word hembra, or female. They didn’t bother trying to get Kimberly an official birth certificate. Although Antoine and Charles had spent many years living and working in the Dominican Republic, they were Haitian citizens, and it was well known that Dominican officials routinely denied birth certificates to children born to Haitian parents if, like Antoine and Charles, the parents couldn’t furnish passports or other legal documents.
Still, Kimberly was, by law, entitled to Dominican citizenship. Yet in 2015, she was deported along with her mother.
Kimberly and her mother now live in a lean-to hut made of sticks in a refugee camp on borrowed land in Haiti. Their predicament offers a glimpse into what happens when a nation that bestowed citizenship on people born within its territory decides to take that citizenship away.
Read the full longform feature at TakePart. Reporting for this article was funded by a grant from the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting and through a Daniel Pearl Investigative Journalism Initiative Fellowship from Moment Magazine.
In Haiti and the Dominican Republic, the lakes are flooding farmland, swallowing communities and leading to deforestation, baffling climate scientists.
LETANT, Haiti—On a recent calm day, the surface of Lake Azuéi has no waves, not even any ripples. Pillars of pastel-colored concrete break the still surface, the tops of what once were houses. They are all that’s visible of the community that once thrived here.
Alberto Pierre, a skinny, wide-eyed 25-year-old, said the submerged village where he grew up wasn’t even near the lake. “The water used to be many kilometers from here.”
Lake Azuéi, the largest lake in Haiti, lies about 18 miles east of Port-au-Prince, the capital, nestled along the border with the Dominican Republic. Also known as Étang Saumâtre, the lake rose so much between 2004 and 2009 that it engulfed dozens of square miles.
“At first we put rocks so it wouldn’t come into our houses,” Pierre says. “But then the water just overran the rocks.” Families in the village of Letant began abandoning their houses, building huts on higher ground using wood, tarps, whatever they could find. By 2012, all 83 houses had been vacated.
“We don’t know why the water is rising,” he says.
In fact, nobody does. There seems to be no logic to the lake’s rise. Experts from the United Nations, a French engineering firm, a Dominican Republic university, a New York City college and many others have looked for clues to explain the rise of Lake Azuéi and neighboring Lake Enriquillo, just across the border in the Dominican Republic. But few of the theories seem to hold water. Some now hypothesize the phenomenon is related to climate change, but the evidence is counterintuitive: Unlike ocean levels, which rise with climate change, lakes tend to shrink.
Haitians today face all manner of stigma—for perennially being “the poorest nation in the western hemisphere,” for devolving into political chaos every few years. Much of that prejudice takes root just next door, in the country with which it shares the island of Hispaniola.
In January of last year I met Felix Callo Marcel, a 22-year-old born in the Dominican Republic but who was refused a Dominican identity card and even had his school enrollment certificate confiscated by the Dominican government. His parents were immigrants from Haiti. Marcel is one of an estimated 200,000 people who have had their nationality officially stripped away from them. Now, tens of thousands of people of Haitian heritage are being deported or fleeing for their own safety to Haiti, where many live in refugee camps akin to those that popped up after Haiti’s devastating 2010 earthquake.
Dominicans take pride in their recent emergence as a middle-income nation. And yet, there’s no denying that Dominicans built their modern economy on the backs of their other half. Now it is the kids and grandkids of those Haitian immigrants whom the government says no longer belong.
Read the full article at Columbia Global Reports.
JARABACOA, Dominican Republic—The Dominican Republic is the Western hemisphere’s most dangerous place to drive, and 15th worst in the world, according to the World Health Organization. Each year, 29 out of every 100,000 people in this Caribbean nation die in road accidents, according to the2015 Global Status Report on Road Safety.
In 2013, the Dominican Republic saw more roads deaths per capita than any other country in the world, but it has since been eclipsed by nations including Libya, Thailand and several African nations. But that doesn’t mean things are improving: in fact, the death rate is still on the rise, up from 21.6 per 100,000 people in 2010.
The vast majority of the fatalities—63 percent—involved 2 and 3-wheeled vehicles, ie. motorcycles.
Francis Ortiz, a paramedic at the public hospital in the small mountain city of Jarabacoa, says hardly a night goes by that he doesn’t see at least one patient in the hospital for a motorcycle accident, and on the weekends he says the numbers become hard to fathom.
“Just last night a moto driver crashed into an older man,” said Ortiz one day in December. “The driver’s entire face was cut open. He had to have intensive surgery.”
A Daniel Pearl Investigative Journalism Initiative Story
Story and photos by Jacob Kushner
In many ways, the campaign to expel the children of Haitian immigrants in the Dominican Republic is impractical. Their labor—and that of their parents—helped propel the Dominican economy last year to grow faster than all but one other country’s in Latin America, firmly establishing it as a middle-class nation. They are a significant part of the workforce in the booming construction and tourism industries that have helped transform the Dominican Republic into the most popular travel destination in the Caribbean.
But in a chaotic democracy that has adopted 38 different constitutions over a century and a half, anti-Haitianismo is the one enduring notion that mainstream parties across the political spectrum can invoke with impunity. It is driven by the fervor of Dominican nationalists, and, in particular, by one powerful, ultra-conservative family and its allies. Together, they are waging a political, legal and media war to defend the Dominican Republic against what they believe is the nation’s gravest threat: Haitian immigrants and their children.
Read the cover story in the September/October 2015 issue of Moment Magazine, or view it online here.
The Red Cross has adopted a better approach to help Haitians recover from the 2010 earthquake—but past mistakes might plague its future.
When an earthquake decimated Haiti’s capital and nearby cities in 2010, people around the world pledged $13 billion in aid, $488 million of which was donated to the American Red Cross — the largest branch of the world’s largest relief charity.
In June, an NPR/ProPublica report alleged that the Red Cross had misused and wasted funds it devoted to housing, building only six out of 700 planned homes and failing to shelter anywhere near as many displaced Haitians as it had claimed.
But if the agency misappropriated its resources, it did so largely at the direction of Haiti’s leaders.
Five years after the earthquake, some 64,000 Haitians remain officially displaced, and tens of thousands more reside in temporary shelters or on land from which they face eviction. Roughly 150,000 of them live in a desolate stretch of land at the foot of the mountains north of Port-au-Prince that Haitians call Canaan — the biblical Promised Land.
The Red Cross’s forthcoming work in Canaan illustrates its evolving understanding of the infrastructural challenges that disaster recovery entails. But critics of its effort in Haiti insist that this does not absolve it of what they say were harmful mistakes.
Read the full story at VICE.
In 2013, the Haitian government began seizing land on a picturesque island to construct a $260 million tourism hot spot. Two years later, the country’s opaque land laws have all but sunk the project.
ILE-À-VACHE, Haiti — Last October, an elderly couple watched a tractor plow over a grove of fruit trees and vegetables on the small Haitian island of Île-à-Vache. For decades, Mescary Mesura, 81, and his wife, Fanfan Clery Romany, 80, had harvested the grove, a 10-minute walk from their home, and sold the produce as their primary source of income. But that day, the island’s mayor, local police, and the tractor operator approached the octogenarians, informing them that the state required the land. “The police told us to stand there with our hands up,” Mesura said. “We … watched them finish off our garden.”
The grove is among the casualties of a $260 million development project planned by Haiti’s central government. It is designed to turn Île-à-Vache into the Caribbean’s next tourism hot spot. With an annual per capita GDP of less than $900, Haiti is one of the poorest countries in the world. Five years after a devastating earthquake that killed more than 200,000 people and caused some $8 billion in damage, Haiti’s leaders are banking on tourism to help buoy recovery and drag the nation out of poverty. The Île-à-Vache project is ground zero for these hopes. Wooing investors with tax breaks and the promise of internationally funded infrastructure upgrades, the government has developed a plan that includes a new airport, a series of hotels, and an 18-hole golf course.
But just two years after it began, the project has stalled. As of March, not one of the 2,500 hotel rooms anticipated by Haiti’s government has appeared. The stoppage is not for lack of commitment from Port-au-Prince: Haiti’s annual investment in travel and tourism is estimated to have jumped from 4.3 percent of the national budget in 2013 to 6 percent last year, according to the World Travel and Tourism Council. Rather, the Île-à-Vache project has been stymied by conflict between the government and local residents over ownership of the island’s land.
Read the full story at Foreign Policy. Reporting for this piece was made possible by a grant from the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting.