Five years later, the devastation of the Haiti earthquake can still be felt throughout the country. Cities are densely packed and the construction of new buildings is progressing slowly after approximately $8 billion in damages were done to the city, leaving about 1.5 million people homeless. Although $9 billion was pledged in relief money, about 3 times Haiti’s annual budget, unemployment and corruption are still extremely common throughout the country. In order to continue the process of recovery, Haiti will need more than just philanthropic efforts. Improvements in the education system, business environment, and infrastructure through increased foreign direct investment and aid will play a key role in Haiti’s eventual economic revival.
In most developing countries, traditional jobs are limited, and this even more so the case in Haiti due to destruction caused by the earthquake. It is estimated today that 72% of the population lives on less than $2 per day, and 80% of Haiti’s citizens live beneath the poverty line. As these people are less likely to be able to provide an education for their children, it is quite often the case that Haitian children are unable to make any gains in employment, which then perpetuates poverty throughout the country. Since the Haitian government allocates a very small portion of its budget towards education, 90% of students in Haiti attend non-public community, non-governmental organization, or religious schools.
The non-government-funded education offered to Haitian students is typically provided by interested individuals from the United States, Canada, and France. However, education is just one step on the “path to self-sufficiency” that Haitian citizens will need to follow in order to fully recover. Shortly following the earthquake in 2010, a business woman named Elizabeth Schaeffer Brown traveled to Haiti in hopes of spurring business growth in the area. Countless citizens of Haiti were taught how to make bracelets out of easily found materials including plastic water bottles and recycled newspapers, and this jewelry was eventually sold in retail stores such as Gap and Forever 21. However, as media interest shifted away from the crisis, so did retailers’ interest. Consequently, additional orders of bracelets were rejected.
In order to thrive, Haiti will need to create a more permanent stream of income that does not rely solely on the generosity of its foreign consumers. When the democratic government was elected in 2011, Haiti released a new campaign called “Open for Business” to attract businesses and investors to the country. The government offered large tax breaks and attempted to woo investors with supportive infrastructure that had been established from foreign aid.
Businesses focused in industries such as telecommunications, manufacturing, and beverages have been successful in Haiti, and serve as a model for those hesitant to invest. For example, telecommunications company Digicel is the main provider of cell service in Haiti, with the country being its largest customer base to date. If businesspeople are able to seek out potentially successful business ventures in Haiti, its people will be eager and ready to provide the labor. By providing its citizens with the ability to be self-sufficient, the impact will be much greater on the country than simply handing out money.