The Spark

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx

Haiti:
Victims of a hurricane, but above all, of poverty

Sep 27, 2004

As of the last week-end in September, at least 1100 people have died in Haiti as a result of the tropical storm Jeanne. Extensive damage was caused by the high winds and flooding that hit the north and northeastern parts of the country, including Gonaives, Haiti's third largest city, and the island of Tortue.

The number of victims can only rise in the coming days in Haiti, a country that is without decent roads or communication, where emergency services are almost nonexistent. Many areas remained inaccessible one week after the storm passed through.

Hurricanes are frequent in this part of the world. But the effects they have vary tremendously between different countries that are hit. When Ivan hit the coast of the United States with winds many times more powerful than those of Jeanne, some 30 people died. In Haiti, the number of victims is already 33 times more, and could go as high as a hundred times more.

This is not surprising, given the extreme poverty in which the Haitian people live. Many people, too poor to pay rent, live in home-made shacks in the hills, or even sleep on beds placed in dry riverbeds – which flood with every rainfall. Running water and sanitation are nonexistent. With each rain, the poorly constructed roads turn into rivers of mud. The government is unable to prepare for a crisis; it gives no warning to the population and it takes no emergency actions. All these things mean that any problem in the weather can produce a disaster. Last June, torrential rains set off a mudslide that devastated a whole region, leading to thousands of deaths.

Beyond the deaths caused directly by the winds and floods of Jeanne, there will be many more victims in the storm's aftermath. In a country that is among the poorest on the planet, the lack of drinkable water, of food and of sanitation can only produce more and more victims as the days and weeks unwind.

In fact, the Haitian population is the victim more of Haiti's underdevelopment than of the storm. And the responsibility for this is not nature, but rather American and French imperialism, which over centuries held the Haitian people in slavery and drained the country of its resources, starting in the colonial period, up through the international corporations that continue today to take the riches out of Haiti, bleeding the country and its people, leaving them in dire poverty.