Long before the January 12, 2010 earthquake in Haiti, the country had been plagued with problems. Haiti, with some eight million people, is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, and has been so for quite some time. It is also of the Caribbean Community’s (CARICOM) most densely populated countries, with 306 people per square kilometer in 2003. The earthquake measuring 7.3 on the Richter Scale hit Haiti’s capital Port-au-Prince and surrounding areas. It is estimated that 3 million people have been affected by the disaster making an already vulnerable situation even worse.
Haiti has experienced a tortuous development process notable for political instability and structural and economic weakness. This, paired with the country’s historical, socio-economic, and agricultural development have caused adverse long term effects in several areas such as food security, nutrition, education, employment and poverty.
A policy research conducted by Dorte Verner of the World Bank titled: “Making Poor Haitian Count – Poverty in Rural Haiti based on the First Household Survey for Haiti” suggests that: “The lack of good governance in Haiti is one of the main reasons for deficient public policies to reduce poverty. Haiti needs a poverty alleviation strategy that sets clear and appropriate priorities and goals for poverty reduction efforts within a framework of a continuation of economic policies that would promote growth.”
However, the research notes that the challenge and test of the government’s resolve will be to what extent current and future policies and programs are governed by that strategy. For over the medium to long run what is needed to alleviate high levels of poverty is broad-based growth, although, this may not be enough to alleviate poverty, particularly in the short run. Measures are needed to protect vulnerable groups and to ensure that the poor will be able to take advantage of opportunities in the economy.
The policy research paper examined the profile of the poor and the correlations of poverty in Haiti. It analyzed poverty in the country based on the first Living Conditions Survey of 7,186 households covering the whole country. Using a US$1 a day extreme poverty line, the analysis reveals that 49% of Haitian households live in extreme poverty representing 20%, 56% and 58% of the households in metropolitan, urban and rural areas, respectively.
Most of the approximately 4.3 million indigents live in rural areas (3.06 million) and others live in the metropolitan and other urban areas (1.27 million). Poverty is especially extensive in the northeastern and northwestern regions of Haiti. Moreover, extreme poverty is not only large, but also very deep.
Social indicators such as literacy, life expectancy, infant mortality, and child malnutrition also show that poverty is broad in Haiti. Around 40% cannot read or write, approximately 20% of children suffer malnutrition, nearly half the population has no health care and more than 80% have no clean drinking water. However, according to the report, most of the social indicators do show that poverty has increased since mid-late 1990s. Moreover, the gap between rich and poor people and between regions is still large, such as between the Northeast and West regions.
The report suggests that the current demographic trends are unfavourable for Haiti’s development. With the current population growth rate of 2.2% the population will reach around 20 million by 2040. Although the fertility rate is falling, the large increase in population and its growth rate over the last decade is pulling down the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) per capita.
Economic growth has performed very poorly and GDP per capita was reduced by roughly 50% in the last two decades. Agriculture has been hit the hardest of all sectors. Also, in the last two decades, the rural population has flocked to urban Haiti, especially in the metropolitan areas. In 2003, 40% of Haitians lived in urban areas up from 25% in 1982. Moreover, the report further suggests that Haiti is still far from reaching “baby bust stage” as children and youth account for roughly 50% of the population. The indigent households have around twice as many children as the non-poor. The lack of pensions, social security and savings for most Haitians, often make children the only security for old age.
The findings also indicate that rural households are better off than urban households in the low end of the income distribution. Overall, the per capita household income of rural households is higher than that of urban households. Self sufficiency is the main explanation for the poorest being better off in rural than in urban areas. The rural poor receive the largest share of their total income from agricultural activities such as farming and agricultural labour. Rural dwellers also work as labourers in the off-farm sector. The poor and non-poor in rural areas receive 26-34% of their total income off-farm. Remittances from friends and family in urban areas and abroad account for around 14% of the poor people’s total income, slightly less than that of the non-poor.
Access to services such as education and infrastructural services is highly unequal and strongly correlated with poverty. Educational attainment has increased over the last century and more so in urban than rural areas. Large differences exist in school attendance across regions, children and youth in the poorest regions fall behind their peers in richer regions. Moreover, children in indigent households attain less education than children from non-poor households.
The report also notes that access to safe water is a huge problem in Haiti; only 7.9% of the population has access in rural areas compared to 28% in the metropolitan area. Rural dwellers in Haitians have less access to safe water than do some of their peers in rural Africa. Access to electricity is the most unequal among locations. While the majority (91%) of the urban population has access to electricity only 10% of the rural population has access. Moreover, only around 8% of Haitians have access to paved roads and 3% have a telephone. Finally, the extremely poor have much less access to services overall than their non-poor counterparts.
The structure of poverty in Haiti (controlling for individual and household characteristics, location, and region): living in rural areas does not in itself affect the probability of being poor and female headed households are more likely to experience poverty than male headed households in rural areas. Those engaged in agriculture are not more likely to experience poverty than those engaged in services and industry. Hence, by no means is poverty strictly an agricultural problem. Furthermore, poverty is slightly broader in urban than in rural areas and among the poorly educated. Domestic migration and education are two other factors that reduce the likelihood of falling into poverty.
A Four Pronged Poverty Reduction Approach for Haiti
The report suggests that the poverty profile and determinants of poverty provide guidance on a social agenda and a poverty alleviation strategy for Haiti. The strategic principles for reducing poverty involve seeking to strengthen the key assets of the poor, taking into account geographic differences in the poverty situation and priorities. The government of Haiti could apply this four pronged poverty-reduction approach:
- Programs should focus on the extremely poor and prioritise among these groups. Given the distribution of poverty, first priority should be given to: households with young children and people with or at risk for low educational attainment. Second priority should be given to programs that target poor workers and producers. Improvements in social policies and access to public services are needed to reduce extreme poverty for these groups
- Reallocate public expenditures and promote community participation in service delivery. The top priority for effective action to reduce poverty should involve reallocating public expenditures. The government needs to reallocate existing spending towards areas that benefit the poor, boost cost recovery for services used by the non-poor, and improve efficiency in service delivery. A thorough view of public spending should be conducted to provide guidance on such reallocations. Promotion of community participation in service delivery is important to expand social programs and respond to community preferences for service delivery
- Implement key policy reforms to reduce disparities in assets. Special efforts should be made including expanding house and property titling and ensuring access to high-quality primary and secondary education for youth from poor households
- Allocate resources to monitor poverty and evaluate the implementation of poverty reduction interventions. The government needs to develop a poverty monitoring system to track living conditions and provide data for the impact evaluation of interventions. The government should also seek to develop a key set of indicators for monitoring actions to reduce poverty.
In order to ensure that the poor reap the benefits of such poverty reduction approaches, poverty measurement and monitoring are called for, including tracking changes and making appropriate adjustments in existing programs to reflect these changes.
Allison S. Ali
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