The Haiti Disaster: The Need for a Cultural Transformation

This is the first in a three-part series by Darrow Miller that focuses on how churches can respond positively in the aftermath of Haiti’s devastating earthquake. The entire article can be viewed on the Disciple Nations Alliance website.


On Tuesday, January 12, 2010, at 4:53pm a magnitude 7.0 earthquake struck 16 miles off the coast off the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince. The International Red Cross estimates that a third of Haiti’s ten million people have been impacted and the European Union and Pan American Health Organization estimates that 200,000 people have lost their lives.[i] Thousands of homes have been destroyed and a weak infrastructure has been decimated. Hospitals, schools, major landmarks, even the Presidential Palace, have been seriously damaged or destroyed.

The world has been swept up by this disaster in a way similar to the 2004 earthquake that struck Indonesia, sending a tsunami racing through the Indian Ocean.  The money that is being donated to reputable Private Voluntary Organizations (PVOs) is being used to bring needed emergency medical aid, food and water and temporary shelter: it will take hundreds of millions of dollars to provide life saving help in the relief effort. But, while material aid is an absolute necessity in response to this natural evil, we should not think that money alone is the sole solution to Haiti’s chronic problems.

AID IS NOT ENOUGH

It is reported that in recent years there have been 10,000 PVOs working in Haiti;[ii] virtually all the world’s leading non-profits, plus thousands of “mom and pop” missions and aid organizations, amounting to one organization for every 1000 Haitians. A lot of heart is being poured into helping this desperately poor nation. In addition, massive amounts of aid also come from national embassies around the world and quasi government organizations like the United Nations, the World Bank, etc. In recent years the world has continued to increase its giving to Haiti: $580M in 2006, $702M in 2007, and $912M ($259M from the USA alone) in 2009.[iii] In addition to foreign aid about $1B has been sent home by Haitian’s living and working in other countries.

All this to say that despite the work of 10,000 PVO’s and billions of dollars of private and governmental aid, Haiti is still desperately and chronically poor. Haiti is the poorest country in the Americas with a per capita GDP of $1300 (U.S.). Her level of poverty ranks number 203 out of 228 countries in the world, [iv] meaning the average Haitian lives on about $100 a month. Three out of four Haitians say that they or someone in their family has gone to bed hungry this last year. By comparison, the nation that shares the island of Hispaniola with Haiti, the Dominican Republic, has a per capita GDP $8,200.[v] How do Dominicans, working with the same basic natural resources and climate, have six times the GDP? In this blog series I will outline my belief that it is the Haitian’s worldview that has kept them in poverty.

Haiti is ranked number 168 out of 180 countries on the 2009 Corruption Perception Index.[vi] In the 2003 edition of the Global Competitive Report of The World Economic Forum, Haiti was ranked last. [vii] Her only engagement in the global economy is in the receiving of foreign aid.

In February of 2006, the National Academy of Public Administration published a paper entitled Why Foreign Aid to Haiti Failed, in which the Director of Operations Evaluation Department of the World Bank  stated : “… the outcome of World Bank assistance programs [in Haiti 1986-2002] is rated unsatisfactory (if not highly so), the institutional development impact, negligible, and the sustainability of the few benefits  that have accrued, unlikely.” [viii]

It is clear that the billions of dollars that have been pumped into Haiti, the thousands of agencies, and tens of thousands of volunteers who flood to Haiti every year has done very little to help this nation; and in fact, it could be argued that Haiti is moving backward socially, economically, and politically. How can this be? I believe it is because most of the aid that flows into Haiti targets the symptoms of the problem, namely hunger, poverty, housing, and inadequacy of infrastructure instead of the root of the problem.

Good intentions have lead to paralyzing dependency.  And yet, one of the world’s leading experts on poverty, Jeffrey Sachs, the author of The End of Poverty simply reverts to throwing more money at old solutions, saying, in regard to Haiti: “One can imagine annual disbursements of $ 2 billion to $ 3 billion annually over the next five years.”[ix]

The atheistic-materialistic assumptions that the reason for Haiti’s calamity is her lack of financial resources are patently false: if money was the root of the issue Haiti’s problems would be solved. The reason Haiti remains poor, despite all the money spent is that natural resources or lack of money is not the root of the problem. So what is the root of the problem?

EVANGELISM IS NOT ENOUGH

Some would argue that if Haiti were evangelized and were professing Christians, then her problems would be solved.

In 1704 Jesuits came to the island of Hispaniola and began the evangelization process. Following the successful fight for independence, in 1804, Protestant missionaries came and begin their evangelistic effort. Today the nation is nominally Christian in profession with roughly 80 % being Catholic and 20 % Protestant.

While Haiti is considered a Catholic country, it may be well to add that she is largely Voodoo in her worldview.  As University of California at Irvine Professor Amy Wilentz notes in a recent Time Magazine article: “There is a saying about Haiti: 80% Catholic, 20 % Protestant and 100 % voodoo.”[x] The Catholic Church has largely synchronized with Voodoo, and while the Protestant church has publically condemned Voodoo, she has largely operated from a dualistic or Evangelical Gnostic paradigm that separates the spiritual from the physical. So the Protestants have focused on saving souls for heaven, instead of seeking to bring a wholistic gospel to the Haitian people that would provide both hope for eternity and cultural transformation today.

So while Haiti has been evangelized, a spiritual encounter alone is not enough. If the people of Haiti profess Christ but continue to think and function from an animistic or Voodoo paradigm, that is bound to have an impact on the poverty of Haiti.

– Darrow L. Miller


[i] Numbers Tell Story of Horror, Heroism in Haiti, CNN World, January 26, 2010, http://www.cnn.com/2010/WORLD/americas/01/26/haiti.by.the.numbers/index.html

[ii] Tracy Kidder, “Country Without A Net,” The New York Times, January 13, 2010, http://www.nytimes.com/2010/01/14/opinion/14kidder.html

[iii] Statistical Annex of the 2010 Development Co-operation Report of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, Table 25, http://www.oecd.org/document/9/0,3343,en_2649_34447_1893129_1_1_1_1,00.html

[iv] Central Intelligence Agency, World Fact Book: Haiti, https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/ha.html

[v] Central Intelligence Agency, World Fact Book: Dominican Republic, https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/dr.html

[vi] Transparency International, Corruption Perceptions Index 2009, http://www.transparency.org/policy_research/surveys_indices/cpi/2009/cpi_2009_table

[vii] World Economic Forum, The Global Competitiveness Report, 2002-2003, http://www.weforum.org/pdf/Gcr/GCR_02_03_Executive_Summary.pdf

[viii] National Academy of Public Administration, Why Foreign Aid to Haiti Failed, 9, http://www.napawash.org/haiti_final.pdf

[ix]Jeffery D. Sachs, “After the earthquake, how to rebuild Haiti from scratch,” The Washington Post, January 17, 2010,  http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/01/15/AR2010011502457.html

[x] Amy Wilentz, “The Distant Memories of Haiti Before the Quake,” Time Magazine, January 23, 2010, http://www.time.com/time/specials/packages/article/0,28804,1953379_1953494_1956237,00.html

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About disciplenations

Equipping the Church to transform the world
This entry was posted in Culture, Current events, Development, Poverty and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to The Haiti Disaster: The Need for a Cultural Transformation

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