Poverty in Haiti

Though Haiti was first colonized by the Spanish and then by the French, this Caribbean nation has been independent since the late 18th century when half a million slaves overthrew the French. In spite of its status as a free nation for over 200 years, Haiti is one of the poorest nations in the world. 59% of the population is considered poor, living on less than $2 a day. A quarter of the population is “extremely poor”, living on less than $1.25 per day. Two thirds (some estimates say half) the population is unemployed. Income inequality is extreme with the top 20% owning 64% of national wealth. To top it all, Haiti is prone to significant natural disasters, the most recent being an earthquake in 2010 that cost more than 300,000 lives and left over 1.5 million people homeless. Even before the earthquake over 25% of the population had no access to power. According to Transparency International, Haiti ranks 161 out of 180 countries in terms of corruption. They believe that there is a direct link between corruption and poverty. The World Bank suggested a four pronged approach to addressing Haiti’s poverty:

(1) Promote inclusive growth by providing access to energy and financing

(2) Investing in human capital by providing access to primary education, healthcare, and clean water

(3) Ability to deal with climate and natural disasters by investing in infrastructure

(4) Improving governance and reducing corruption and increasing transparency and accountability of public officials

One approach to understanding how to address poverty in Haiti is to look at global trends in poverty. The World Bank estimates that between 1990 and 2015 over a billion people moved out of poverty. This is now the lowest percentage of poor people in history. Much of this success in addressing poverty can be largely attributed to China and India. However, in some other parts of the world like Sub-Saharan Africa and places like Haiti, poverty seems to be getting more entrenched. A broader definition of poverty can also be helpful. Though most studies focus on the monetary notion of poverty and link it to a threshold such as earning less than $1.25 per day, a better measure might be multi-dimensional such as access to clean water, primary education, energy, sanitation, and infrastructure services. This broader view truly reflects the overall quality of life and enables governments to tackle each issue more directly and effectively.