Since the 2010 earthquake and the excruciating aftermath I had great hopes that I would personally never have to manage another major recovery effort in Haiti. Unfortunately, we are back again in the midst of a significant humanitarian crises, and even though the situation in Haiti is beginning to fade from the news feeds, the aftermath of the hurricane is far from over. The reality is heart rending and the potential for even more serious repercussions is significant.
I think it’s important to realize that these natural disasters are not in and of themselves the primary cause of death and suffering. Poverty and the lack of government structures for communication and relief have killed exponentially more people. We must continue to advocate that within our essential gospel proclamation of personal transformation resulting from an intimate relationship with God. We must also confront the effects of sin and strive for God’s shalom in our communities. Corruption, inequitable use of resources, apathy, greed, and injustice are sins that create and maintain the development resistant reality in Haiti.
Personally I am repenting that in more than thirty years of involvement with the Haitian people and culture I have rarely been truly angry at corruption or injustice except when I was in some way inconvenienced. In this way as expats, we often fail to fully feel or sense the burden borne every day by an entire nation of people. Missions and NGO’s have been attempting to operate in a quasi-governmental role, but we have increasingly come to understand that some important functions can only be done by a legitimate government to protect and serve its population. The failure of the Haitian government to act in a responsible way has too often been exposed to a watching world and has contributed to the developmental resistance of the Haiti reality.
There have been some recent hopeful signs. As a result of Hurricane Matthew, the NGO community has responded strategically with a measure of efficiency not seen in previous disasters. Even more encouraging is the response of corporations and businesses and private individuals within the country of Haiti. I hope I am seeing a new trajectory, but in the short-term we must respond to the needs of those who are facing danger from exposure and disease and the looming specter of famine.
Please understand that people in the affected areas for the most part are hardworking subsistence farmers who live from hand to mouth out of their gardens. Plantains, breadfruit, corn, millet, rice, and beans are staples of their diet and will require an entire growing season to recover. Agriculturalists tell us that in the case of the food producing trees, breadfruit, mango, citrus, it will be at least two years before any significant harvest can be expected from the trees that survived. Banana plants will re-sprout but the process will take 8-12 months to produce fruit. Tragically, thousands of large mango trees were completely uprooted along with slow-growing coconut palms, which will not regenerate. A large percentage of food animals, cows, goats, and chickens were also lost, affecting both the food supply and the ability of farmers to raise cash for other expenses.
Frankly I dread at some level what the next several months will hold for me personally: the work, coordination, travel, endless phone and Skype conversations, fundraising. But I am also deeply convicted that this is precisely what we are supposed to be doing: provide immediate relief to those who are suffering (clean water, food, temporary shelter), to assist them in restoring their shattered lives (technical support and plant materials, recovering community buildings and houses), and to push back against the ineffective and unjust structures that cause the people of this country to experience wave after wave of unnecessary suffering and loss.
In the midst of all of this I am deeply thankful that God has allowed us to see significant steps forward in the lives of those with whom we have great influence. I’m also deeply grateful for all of you who have walked this path with us, with friendship, comfort, encouragement, effectual prayer, hands-dirty involvement, and financial support. I serve with an amazing missionary and Haitian national team who responded immediately and who are all in, every day, with steely-eyed endurance. We are willing to continue to be the boots on the ground troops, but we desperately need you to continue to stand shoulder to shoulder with us.
Dan Irvine serves as Global Partners Caribe Atlantic area director.