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Situation in Haïti

The national context before 12 January 2010

About ten millions inhabitants.
At least 80% of the population was living below the poverty line
Unemployment was around 70%. 
The average wage was 1$ a day.

Two-thirds of Haitians depended on agriculture, mostly small-scale subsistence farming. This made them all the more vulnerable to frequent natural disasters (storms, hurricanes, earthquakes) since the Haitian side of the island underwent a systematic de-forestation over the last three centuries. 

The country was overburdened with a debt of US$ 835 million.  The ruined and corrupted state was dependent for a long time on international aid (for around half of its income) and the financial support of expatriates.

Infrastructure was virtually non-existent.  Half the population lacked access to drinking water and three-quarters to sanitation.

Although almost half the population is under 18 years of age the state allocated only 8% of its budget to education.  The number of free, state schools was insufficient (only 35% of the schools in the country) which meant that only one child in three attended school.  About 70% of the population is illiterate.
In the capital, Port-au-Prince, the slum, Cité Soleil, was considered to be one of the most dangerous places on earth.

After the earthquake of 12 January 2010

Final toll:  230,000 dead, 300,000 injured, a million people displaced, 1.5 million homeless (a sixth of the population), 188,000 houses damaged, 105,000 houses completely destroyed.  At present two million Haitians live in tents.  In summer 2010, a cyclone destroyed several hundred tents.

The extent of this earthquake was absolutely enormous for a small country with such poor resources save those offered by the international community.  Haiti had neither the money nor the equipment to clean up thousands of tons of debris.

According to United Nations statistics only 250,000 cubic meters of rubble had been cleared away in Portau-Prince six months after the earthquake, representing hardly 1% of the debris!  
It was estimated that, at the rate of 300 truckloads per day for three months it would have cost US$ 115 million to get rid of just 10% of the debris. This clearly represented a major obstacle to the setting up of temporary shelters, to the restoration of the various districts and to the whole reconstruction process.
In fact, not only were there not enough trucks, but the area being so densely populated made the clearing up process extremely difficult. There were also problems relating to land ownership as many legal documents could no longer be found and ownership rights were uncertain.

The international community had promised funds for the reconstruction of the country.
But during 11 months, contacts with the Haitian government were few, until the presidential and legislative elections in November 2010.
Of the 10 billion pledged, only two had been paid after two years, and 94% of this amount  went to NGOs, that were far too numerous and not very transparent.
Finally there was a lack of money for those in such dire need.

Part of the money has been earmarked for the provision of food.  But this food has not been fairly distributed and one even found it being offered for sale in the market. Another consequence of this aid being distributed in kind: farmers started to demonstrate in the streets because they could not sell their produce anymore. 

Two years after the earthquake, one Haitian out of two is not eating his fill, and 200 000 are in state of famine.

At the end of 2010, Port-au-Prince still looked like a disaster area full of rubble.
In terms of reconstruction, focus was made on public buildings, hospitals and schools to the detriment of private dwellings. The victims were still housed in tents where they tried to survive in terrible conditions.
A hurricane claimed dozens of victims.

End of 2011, more than 600,000 people were still living in makeshift shelters.

On the top of that, a cholera epidemic claimed 6500 lives with another 20,000 in hospital, and one year after its beginning, 450 000 people were affected.

The vast majority of the population belongs to what the Haitians themselves call «moun en dehors».  This applies not only to rural populations but also to all other people who are excluded from society, not having access to exchange and information networks, and thus being unable to participate in democratic life.  People have become aware of this and one hears frequently: «We have to ban exclusion; let Haiti enter into its century and finally build the nation».

In August 20081., Christophe Wargny was already writing: «We have a shortage of skill and abilities, especially in isolated provinces. This shows when we are trying to find qualified teachers for regular schools; the same applies for recruiting qualified technicians or managers. When we finally find them they have been going through the device which encourages lack of responsibility, criticism or excess reverence… And there is no solution for the millions of people without qualifications, who cannot find a job, other than material (or spiritual) assistance or rebellion!  This is precisely the knot we should loosen.  Haiti pays dearly for its 50 years of brain drain.  Three quarters of them went to American countries.  The millennium started in a catastrophic way, especially when internet allowed Quebec to choose French speaking immigrants, according to its needs.» At present the Haitian writer Frankétienne repeats that one must: «Stop the assistance dependence, which is degrading and humiliating… There, is only one remedy to change this mental habit and that is education,». 

What about education in his catastrophe?

38000 students and 1300 teachers died.
70% of the infrastructure of the education system in the capital had been destroyed or rendered unusable.
More than 1,5 million children were directly or indirectly affected by the catastrophe of which 720 000 are from 6 to 12 years of age.
Rebuilding schools and, beyond that, restoring the education system was an absolute priority for the nation. 
The university will have to wait.

The day following the earthquake the televised media showed pictures of assistance being brought to a university building which had collapsed in which one thousand students were sitting an exam.
In Port-au-Prince the faculties of the University of the State of Haiti, the only national, public institution of higher education (the largest in the country with 25,000 students or half the total student population) were spread out over eleven different locations. The damage was enormous. The languages faculty was completely destroyed and more than 300 people were killed. The main building of the national school for nurses collapsed burying more than a hundred students, and the list goes on…
The buildings housing the high school (ENS), the faculty of medicine and pharmacy (FMP), the faculty of Science (FDS), the faculty of human science (FASCH), the faculty of agronomy and veterinary science (FAMV), and the national management institute of graduate international studies (INAGHEI) were seriously damaged.
The loss of buildings for this state university had been assessed at US$ 44 millions.

In the private sector the following buildings were destroyed:  The Centre for Diplomatic and International Studies (IHECE), the “Lumière” University, the Royal Haiti University, the Port-au-Prince University (UP), the G.O.C University, the Episcopal University of Haiti (UNEPH), the Paramedical Institute Louis Pasteur. Many other private schools of higher education had also been damaged2.

How was it possible to continue studying in such circumstances?
Some wooden constructions or prefabricated buildings were imported and used as classrooms.   “I have resumed my studies but many other students were not able to do so”, reported Jackson Joseph in July 2010, a student in human science at the UEH.  “The courses of the common-core syllabus were resumed, but not all other courses”. Sitting on his old mattress under a tent of corrugated iron and canvas, having a surface of hardly more than three square meters that he had to share with his young brother Jean Marie, Jackson was preciously keeping his old portable computer in his bag.  “We try to get organised to study in little groups and we go to students’ houses that have not collapsed.  Sometimes, I can even catch a wifi internet signal without having a connection, but more often, I manage to connect myself on higher ground, on the hill invaded by tents.”

The tendency was to go and continue one’s studies in the Dominican Republic, which has more room to receive students and a greater choice of subjects.
In a country undermined by the brain drain, the university rectors reckoned that help should be used primarily to keep the students in the country.                                                            

As Jean-Marie Theodat, head of the Caribbean delegation of the Francophone University Agency (AUF), we are convinced that "higher education is vital for the future of Haiti, so that young people become actors in the recovery of the country. We need the country to be able to train elites, and to keep them."3.

1. «Le Monde Diplomatique».

2. The Quisqueya university (UNIQ) ; the National Diplomatic and Consular Academy (ANDC) ; the University Notre Dame of Haiti (UNDH) ; the American University of Modern Science of Haiti (UNASMOH) ; the Caribbean University.

3. L’Express, 2/04/10


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