Statistics show that despite the enormous wealth existing in many parts of the world today, most of humanity lives on just a few dollars each day. As well as lacking adequate food, shelter, education and health services, the poor live without the kind of freedom and choices many take for granted. They are also more exposed to disease and more affected by natural disasters. Poverty therefore continues to be the most pressing issue and nations around the world are working on strategies to tackle it.
Growth, social development and good governance are seen as essential elements to reducing poverty. The importance of all three to improving lives is perhaps nowhere better understood than in Haiti, the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere and included in the United Nations (UN) list of ‘Least Developed Countries’. Decades of instability, corruption and poor access to education mean 80 per cent of Haitians live below the poverty line, with more than half in abject poverty. With extremely limited resources, the people of Haiti therefore faced an almost impossible struggle to cope with life after the earthquake of 2010 caused devastation across the country.
Now, more than a year and half following the disaster, and with the help of UN troops and international agencies, the country has achieved a level of stability; the UN is therefore moving to reduce its peacekeeping forces because of the improved security situation. The new president of Haiti, Michel Martelly, hopes to take advantage of the improved security to begin addressing Haiti’s other problems, including the resettlement of 600,000 homeless earthquake survivors.
However, President Martelly, recognises that the rebuilding of Haiti has to involve a lot more than the construction of new homes. Health and education services need developing and the country is desperate for more employment. Though Haiti offers low labour costs, two-thirds of its work force is without a formal job. Now that a prime minister has been appointed and the business of government can start in earnest. President Martelly aims to focus on encouraging economic growth and attracting new investment. His government plans to modernize infrastructure and establish urban and rural development zones and manufacturing parks which could create 1.5 million jobs in five years. At the weekend, after parliament approved his government’s plans for boosting the economy, President Martelly declared Haiti “open for business”.
The new President also said he is determined to change Haiti from being the ‘basket-case’ of the region to a Caribbean success story, where inclusive growth will reduce Haiti’s widespread chronic poverty. Other poor nations will be looking on with interest and hope to see if Haiti can indeed find a path to sustainable development and one which includes everyone.