Statement from Canada Haiti Action Network on the recent disaster in Haiti
Ottawa – Haiti has been devastated in recent weeks by a succession of storms, namely Hurricanes Fay, Gustav and and Ike, and Tropical Storm Hanna. Fay was the first to hit, on August 15, and Ike was the last, on September 7.
The full scale of the disaster is only just emerging. Partners in Health (Zanmi Lasante), a pioneering health services provider in Haiti, estimates as many as one thousand people may have perished, and more than one million people have been left homeless. Severe damage to food production has occurred throughout the country, especially in the Artibonite region.
An eyewitness report from journalist Reed Lindsay on CBC Radio One’s The Current on September 15 said Gonaives, Haiti’s third-largest city, remains under water and residents are still stranded on rooftops, one week after Hanna struck. Dr. Paul Farmer, just returned from Gonaives, reported similar conditions to the same broadcast.
The Haitian government and international agencies are responding to the crisis, but movement of supplies is slow and the scale of the disaster requires a much larger response.
Once again, Haiti has been devastated by natural phenomena whose human consequences are greatly magnified by the deterioration of the country’s forest cover and the weakening and undermining of the national government by foreign powers, including Canada. In September 2004, Gonaives was slammed by Hurricane Jeanne. More than three thousand people lost their lives and the city had still not recovered when these latest storms hit, four and a half years later,
Haiti’s government does not have the material resources nor the freedom of action to undertake the kind of massive hurricane preparation that saved all but a few lives in the neighbouring country of Cuba, hit by the same storms. That’s because it has been the victim of constant interference and intervention from foreign powers that do not wish for the country to prosper. The latest chapter in this long, sad history of intervention was the overthrow of the elected government of Jean-Bertrand Aristide in February, 2004. The U.S., France and Canada sent soldiers to Haiti to participate in that assault.
Today, a 10,000-member foreign military, police and political contingent under the sponsorship of the UN Security Council and known by its acronym, MINUSTAH, plays a preponderant role in Haiti’s internal affairs. Anne Volcy, an elderly Canadian of Haitian origin, sums up the popular view of MINUSTAH as follows, “They need to know that Haitians are angry to see foreign soldiers pointing weapons at them even in this hour of crisis. We need logistical help to build a country, not deadly weapons to kill people.”
The Canada Haiti Action Network (CHAN) considers the response of the Government of Canada to the disaster in Haiti as entirely inadequate. The government has committed $5.6 million in relief funds, plus the possible sending of the Canadian military’s Disaster Assistance Relief Team. Much more funding is required. The Network urges the Canadian government to substantially increase its assistance and to direct it to the Direction de la Protection Civile (Office of Civil Protection) of the Ministry of the Interior of the Haitian government.
The Network also appeals to the Government of Canada to press international financial agencies for a speedy cancellation of Haiti’s outstanding foreign debt, in its entirety. As agencies such as the Jubilee Network have pointed out, this is an odious and illegitimate debt and a significant barrier to social and economic development in Haiti.
We call on the parties in the present federal election to discuss the present crisis and to examine Canada’s role in that country, including the events of February, 2004. We urge Canada’s major news organizations to increase their reporting of the humanitarian disaster in Haiti and to critically examine the events of 2004 and their aftermath.
We encourage all those wishing to donate to disaster relief in Haiti to visit the websites of Partners in Health – Zanmi Lasante (www.pih.org) or Lakou New York in collaboration with Haitian Women for Haitian Refugees (www.lakounewyork.com/2008floofrelief.html).
–Canada Haiti Action Network
and its affiliated chapters in 12 cities across Canada