Climate Refugees

Spotlight: Haiti

Haiti is the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere with a GDP per capita of $870 in 2018.181 It is also the most vulnerable country in Latin America and the Caribbean region to natural disasters and ranks fourth globally of countries most impacted by extreme weather events from 1998 to 2017.182 Caribbean climate projections estimate that temperatures could increase from between 0.78°C and 2.16°C by 2050.183 As a small island developing state, Haiti is subsequently exposed to the threat of increasing average temperature, sea-level rise, recurrent severe tropical hurricanes, and flooding.184 By 2030, sea levels are expected to increase by 0.13 to 0.4 meters, which would put Haiti at risk of extreme flooding and coastal erosions.185 Haiti, situated at the center of the hurricane belt, is particularly susceptible to hurricanes, which are projected to intensify by 5 to 10 percent by 2050.186 With heavy rainfall events combined with concentrated deforestation, flooding is a major issue for Haiti, which will only get worse as the climate crisis intensifies.187

Haiti is also exposed to the threat of decreased average rainfall and desertification. The island nation faces a decrease in average annual precipitation of up to 43 millimeters by 2050188 and an increased likelihood of droughts, resulting in the destruction of crops, decreased agricultural production, and heightened food insecurity.189 Due to colonial policy190 and Haiti’s history of deforestation, the island’s primary forests have declined from 4.4 percent of total land area in 1988 to 0.32 percent in 2016. Such deforestation has exacerbated soil degradation,191 erosion, flooding, desertification, and scarcity of water resources.192 With an economy based primarily on agriculture, employing 66 percent of the workforce and contributing to 27 percent of the GDP, Haiti is highly susceptible to the impacts of the climate crisis.193 Relying heavily on rainfall for farming, Haiti experienced droughts that caused crop losses of more than 50 percent and a significant reduction in food availability resulting in food insecurity for 3.6 million people in 2016.194

Natural disasters exacerbated by the climate crisis have precipitated mass casualties and internal and external displacement. Between 1961 and 2012, Haiti experienced more than 180 disasters that led to a massive death toll. These include the deaths of an estimated 220,000 people following an earthquake in 2010—not wreaked by the climate crisis, but worsened by similar factors that interact with more climate-related natural disasters. These also include an estimated 230,000 deaths195 and the displacement of 175,000 people196 as a result of Hurricane Matthew in 2016.197 While evidence documenting displacement is scarce after major disasters, research indicates that people displaced by the 2010 and 2016 disasters still face displacement-related challenges today.198 Most recently in 2018, approximately 8,800 new displacements were recorded in Haiti primarily related to housing destruction caused by an earthquake in October 2018 in Port-de-Paix.199

These climate crisis factors have exacerbated Haiti’s already-troubled human and social development, affecting water and food accessibility, and public health. Haiti’s water and sanitation infrastructure is one of the most underresourced in the Western Hemisphere.200 It is estimated that only 64 percent of the population has access to basic or advanced water supplies, and a mere 30 percent has access to basic sanitation.201 After the devastating 2010 earthquake in Haiti, a UN camp contaminated the Artibonite River with cholera,202 which led to over 800,000 cases of the disease and 9,000 deaths.203 Flooding also increases the risk of outbreaks of vector and waterborne diseases, such as dengue fever, malaria, Zika, and cholera.204

Combating the climate crisis in Haiti necessitates a multipronged approach. As a full participant in the Paris Agreement,205 the Haitian government created a 2015–2030 climate plan that aims to shift 47 percent of its electricity generation to renewable sources and grow 137,500 hectares of new forest.206 Despite these attempts by the government, these measures cannot succeed in preventing the effects of the climate crisis without the meaningful support of the international community as well as local grassroots interventions. New strategies must learn from former pernicious international community involvement, such as the Dominican Republic’s mass deportation of Dominicans of Haitian descent and Haitian migrants207 and the United Nations’ disastrous role in the cholera outbreak.208 Further, the international community must advance strategies for better allocation of funds, 209 such as the International Fund for Agricultural Development’s approach that partners with community-based organizations to battle the climate crisis.210

  • 181. “The World Bank in Haiti Overview,” World Bank, accessed June 5, 2019, http://www.worldbank.org/en/ country/haiti/overview.
  • 182. David Eckstein, Marie-Lena Hutfils, Maik Winges, and Germanwatch, Global Climate Risk Index 2019: Who Suffers Most from Extreme Weather Events? Weather-Related Loss Events in 2017 and 1998 to 2017, (2018), https://www.germanwatch.org/sites/germanwatch.org/ files/Global%20Climate%20Risk%20Index%202019_2. pdf.
  • 183. “Haiti Country Profile Fact Sheet 2017,” US Agency on International Development, (March 24, 2017), https:// www.climatelinks.org/resources/climate-risk-profile-haiti
  • 184. According to US climate change simulations, for each 1°C increase in sea surface temperatures, rainfall caused by hurricanes may rise by 6 to 17 percent, and surface wind speeds of the strongest hurricanes could increase by 1 to 8 percent. World Bank, Haiti Strengthening Disaster Risk-Management and Climate Resilience Project, (April 25, 2019), http://documents.worldbank. org/curated/en/595131556810024755/pdf/Haiti-Strengthening-Disaster-Risk-Management-and-Climate-Resilience-Project.pdf.
  • 185. “Haiti Country Profile Fact Sheet 2017,” US Agency on International Development.
  • 186. US Agency on International Development, “Haiti Country Profile.”
  • 187. Bhawan Singh and Marc Cohen, Climate Change Resilience: The Case of Haiti, University of Montréal / Oxfam America, (March 2014).
  • 188. US Agency on International Development, “Haiti Country Profile.”.
  • 189. “Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery, Climate Risk and Adaptation Country Profile: Haiti, Vulnerability, Risk Reduction, and Adaptation to Climate Change, (April 2011), https://www.gfdrr.org/sites/default/files/publication/climate-change-cou....
  • 190. Arielle Augustin, “From Colonialism to Neoliberalism: The Coproduction of Poverty and Environmental Degradation in Haiti,” Florida Online Journals 6 (Spring 2017): 5.
  • 191. Vereda Williams, “A Case Study of the Desertification of Haiti,” Journal of Sustainable Development 4, No. 3 (June 2011), http://www.ccsenet.org/journal/ index.php/jsd/article/view/9646. In fact, 90 percent of the island’s soils have been severely depleted by deforestation but also by unsustainable energy generation practices due to the country’s dependence on charcoal and firewood as the primary sources of energy. See Bhawan Singh and Marc Cohen, “Climate Change Resilience: The Case of Haiti,” Oxfam Research Report, (March 2014), https://www-cdn.oxfam.org/s3fs-public/ file_attachments/rr-climate-change-resilience-haiti260314-en_2.pdf
  • 192. Blair Hedges, Warren B. Cohen, Joel Timyan, and Zhiqiang Yang, “Haiti’s Biodiversity Threatened by Nearly Complete Loss of Primary Forest,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 115, No. 46 (November 13, 2018): 11850–55, https://doi.org/10.1073/ pnas.1809753115.
  • 193. Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery, Climate Risk and Adaptation, 7.
  • 194. “Haiti—Emergency Food Security Assessment,” World Food Programme, (February 2016), https://documents.wfp.org/stellent/ groups/public/documents/ena/wfp282021. pdf?_ga=2.199753902.1286203103.1560290385- 1835743577.1559859834.
  • 195. “Haiti Quake Toll Rises to 230,000,” BBC News, (February 11, 2010), http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/americas/8507531.stm.
  • 196. World Bank, Haiti Strengthening Disaster Risk-Management, 7.
  • 197. “International Red Cross Red Crescent Teams Reach Haiti,” International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, accessed June 17, 2019, https:// www.ifrc.org/ar/news-and-media/news-stories/americas/haiti/international....
  • 198. International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, “International Red Cross.”
  • 199. “Haiti, IDMC,” Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre, (2018), http://www.internal-displacement.org/ countries/haiti.
  • 200. Richard Gelting, Katherine Bliss, Molly Patrick, Gabriella Lockhart, and Thomas Handzel, “Water, Sanitation and Hygiene in Haiti: Past, Present, and Future,” The American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene 89, No. 4 (October 9, 2013): 665–70, https://doi. org/10.4269/ajtmh.13-0217.
  • 201. “Progress on Drinking Water, Sanitation and Hygiene: 2017 Update and SDG Baselines,” (Geneva: World Health Organization and the UN Children’s Fund, 2017), https://www.un.org/africarenewal/sites/www.un.org.africarenewal/files/JM....
  • 202. Alejando Cravioto, Claudio F. Lanata, Daniele S. Lantagne, and G. Balakrish Nair, Final Report of the Independent Panel of Experts on the Cholera Outbreak in Haiti, United Nations, (2011), https://www.un.org/News/ dh/infocus/haiti/UN-cholera-report-final.pdf.
  • 203. “Secretary-General Apologizes for United Nations Role in Haiti Cholera Epidemic, Urges International Funding of New Response to Disease,” United Nations, (December 1, 2016), https://www.un.org/press/ en/2016/sgsm18323.doc.htm.
  • 204. US Agency on International Development, “Haiti Country Profile.”
  • 205. In alignment with the Paris Agreement, the Haitian government has committed to reduce its greenhouse gas emission by 5 percent by 2030. “Contribution Prévue Déterminée Au Niveau National,” Republic of Haiti, Minister of the Environment, (September 2014), https://www4.unfccc.int/sites/submissions/INDC/Published%20Documents/Hai... d’Haiti.pdf.
  • 206. Republic of Haiti, Minister of the Environment, “Contribution Prévue Determinée.”
  • 207. “World Report 2018: Rights Trends in Haiti” (New York: Human Rights Watch, January 5, 2018), https:// www.hrw.org/world-report/2018/country-chapters/haiti.
  • 208. Alejando Cravioto et al., Final Report of the Independent Panel, 4.
  • 209. According to an unpublished 2018 study, the two biggest donors to Haiti’s $1.1 billion climate fund are the World Bank and Inter-American Development Bank. Switzerland has donated $64.4 million since 2009, and Japan has financed $14.8 million to support climate efforts. Keston K. Perry, “In Haiti, Climate Aid Comes with Strings Attached,” The Conversation, (January 25, 2019), http://theconversation.com/in-haiti-climate-aidcomes-with-strings-attach....
  • 210. International Fund for Agricultural Development, Proposed Grant to the Republic of Haiti for the Agricultural and Agroforestry Technological Innovation Programme, (April 15, 2018), https://webapps.ifad.org/members/ lapse-of-time/docs/english/EB-2018-LOT-P-5-Rev-1. pdf?attach=1.