Amid the financial crisis in the developed world, less and less attention is being paid to those already down and out. On Tuesday, April 7, the United Nations Studies Program at Columbia University will hold a conference to draw attention to the plight of the poorest country in the Western hemisphere: Haiti.
The global financial crisis has left Haiti vulnerable as its primary international lifelines are cut. Aid to Haiti is dwindling as many donor nations turn inward to weather the economic storm. Meanwhile, remittances from Haitians working abroad are falling as unemployment creeps upward globally.
What remains is a powder keg still fresh from riots in 2008 driven by high commodity prices, devastation from tropical storms and hurricanes, and electoral disputes. Between this powder keg and the flame of the financial crisis stand the 9,000 members of the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH). Initiated in 2004, Brazilian-led MINUSTAH is the seventh UN mission to Haiti since 1993.
Under its UN Security Council mandate, MINUSTAH has a directive to integrate its peacekeeping mission in Haiti under the political, security, humanitarian, and development agencies of the UN. Specifically, this includes assisting the Haitian government in the political process, police reform, and rule of law.
What is missing is a similar emphasis on socioeconomic development to preserve progress in these areas. Without economic development that can provide jobs and basic necessities, Haiti will be hard-pressed to achieve the stability needed to maintain the political and legal reforms that support a peaceful society.
Columbia University's April 7 conference will make this case in a subsequent report, asserting that UN security and state-building must be coupled with development to actually accomplish peacekeeping. Challenging the traditional Security Council definition of peace as the absence of war or conflict, the report broadens the concept of UN peacekeeping and security to include the provision of socioeconomic security, not solely military security.
"The report highlights the importance of defining peace and security in a more holistic way," said Elisabeth Lindenmayer, former Assistant Secretary-General to the UN and the head of the UN Studies Program at Columbia. "The Security Council has given MINUSTAH a clear security and peacekeeping mandate, with some rule of law and institution-building responsibilities. But it has no development responsibilities in a country where 80 percent of the population lives on less than $2 a day."
Considering that the UN represents only 20 percent of all international aid to Haiti, even an augmented UN emphasis on development will fall short of what is needed. If aid continues to dry up with the global financial crisis, MINUSTAH may be forced to divert its current development resources to security initiatives as aid programs underpinning stability in Haiti become underfunded.
In a reflection of the dire straits faced by Haiti, key players in international aid are busy trying to raise visibility and shore up support. On March 9, Bill Clinton and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon visited Haiti, followed a day later by a rare appearance from the UN Security Council. The timing of these visits underscores a legitimate urgency in reviving attention for Haiti's plight: A donor conference on Haiti will be held April 13–14 in Washington, D.C.
Much rests on the outcome of this conference. According to Alejandro Gomez-Palma, one of the six co-authors of the Columbia report, international humanitarian leadership has grown frustrated by the example Haiti sets: "The feeling is that if the international community, including the UN, the US, and Latin American countries, cannot be successful in assisting the Haitian state to develop into a prosperous democracy, what hope is there for some African countries? For Afghanistan? For Iraq?"
If international funds can be attracted by the promise of integrating development with security and state-building, Haiti may serve as a role model for other fragile states as opposed to a case study of a failed model. The question remains whether international leaders will take a risk on Haiti later this month.
Click here for more information on the Columbia University conference: "Haiti: A Future Beyond Peacekeeping?"