Haiti’s Uphill Battle: Developing Countries Struggle with Natural Disasters

By Guest

It’s been over three years since the earthquake in Haiti devastated the capital Port-au-Prince, killing an estimated 230,000 people and leaving 1.2 million homeless.

After the earthquake, news coverage and media attention spurred the international community to rush in and help, providing emergency relief and pledging money. Much of the international aid effort was channeled toward providing immediate relief in the form of medical assistance and temporary shelter. And while billions of dollars were pledged to help Haiti during its recovery, many of those pledges went unfulfilled, according to the Centre for Global Development in Washington.

So what has happened to Haiti, a developing country that was already struggling before this monumental natural disaster?

According to UNICEF, some societal progress has been made since then, particularly in the arena of education. But there is still a whole lot that hasn’t improved, or has improved only marginally.

With much of the country’s population unemployed and homeless, Haiti has not seen the economic growth it was hoping for over recent years or the recovery it urgently needed after the earthquake’s devastation. In fact, more than 300,000 Haitians are still displaced from the earthquake, living in camps around the country.

In a recent interview, Peter Baxter, former director-general of AusAid, pointed out that natural disasters do not affect developing countries the same way they affect developed countries. Developing countries often lack the infrastructure to quickly and efficiently provide emergency aid to their citizens. And according to Baxter, a natural disaster could set a developing country back many years in terms of development.

When a natural disaster occurs, many people in developing countries have nowhere to turn. They are often forced to flee and become refugees or internally displaced persons. In 2010 alone, about 42 million people were forced to leave their homes due to natural disasters like the earthquake in Haiti and the major floods in China and Pakistan.

These displaced people are then faced with a wide array of obstacles, from struggling to find family members to acquiring the identity documents they may need to relocate. Furthermore, people displaced by environmental factors are not protected under international law. In some circles, environmental displacement is still viewed as a peripheral issue, despite the fact that it displaces more people than war. Complicated questions involving the legal definition of refugees have yet to be resolved. Furthermore, some states are wary about creating yet another class of individuals deserving protection under the law.

For people in developing countries, natural disasters present a larger problem than the rest of the world may realize. Unless refugee policies change and international benefactors become more diligent about following through on their promises of assistance, the struggle to rebuild countries – and lives – will continue.

Drew Smithfield is a freelance safety and security writer.