Climate Change Refugees and Haiti

Environmental changes have always been a driving force for migration. From natural disasters to drought and flooding, changes in the environment impact lives and livelihoods, forcing people to abandon their homes. Over the last 40 years there has been a dramatic increase in the number of people forced to migrate as a result of environmental factors. Catastrophic storms are more common, areas suffering from prolonged drought have tripled in the last 40 years, and rising sea levels put coastal communities at risk. By 2050, the International Office of Migration estimates that as many as 250 million people could be displaced as the result of environmental impacts. Unlike those displaced by war or systemic violence, people forcibly displaced as the result of environmental change are rarely recognized as refugees when they cross borders.

Forced migration due to effects of climate change will impact all countries. The United States could see 13 million people internally displaced as a result of rising sea levels by 2045, especially along the east and gulf coasts. The majority of the communities facing permanent inundation are socioeconomically vulnerable communities. Around the globe, drought has already led to displacement and related social tensions as rural communities are forced to move to urban areas. The origins of social conflict and violence are certainly complex, but as climate change forces the movement of people, tensions increase. In Syria, for example, “record drought and massive crop failure beginning in 2006 led to the mass migration of predominately Sunni farmers to Alawi-dominated cities, increasing sectarian tensions and generating conflicts over diminished resources.” Rising food prices in 2007 and 2008, from drought and increased transportation costs, led to protests across the globe, including Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Egypt, Guinea, Haiti, Indonesia, Mauritania, Mexico, Morocco, Nepal, Peru, Senegal, Uzbekistan and Yemen. The UN estimates 144 million people were driven into poverty by the increase in food prices by 2011. In Niger alone, 5.1 million people became food “insecure.”

In Haiti the intersection of environmental degradation, climate change and forced migration is apparent. At the root of this crisis is the transformation of the rural economy that began under the U.S. occupation from 1915 to 1934. Haiti’s economy was re-engineered as an export platform to feed U.S. interests, from agriculture to banking. By the mid-20th century deforestation, soil erosion, insecure land tenure and population growth was driving an exodus from rural areas to cities. However, in the last 30 years these trends have accelerated. Under pressure to lower tariffs for imports from the United States, Haiti saw the local market for staple crops such as rice collapse. De-forestation accelerated, leading to a situation today where only 3% of Haiti’s tree canopy remains. As a result, hundreds of thousands of people have been internally displaced, forced into urban areas not equipped to handle the influx of people. Today, less than half of Port-au-Prince’s population was born there. Areas like Cite Soleil, with over 400,000 people, are overcrowded and under-resourced. The rapid growth of insecure building and overcrowding is the reason that the 2010 earthquake was so deadly, killing up to 300,000 people.

People migrating to major cities like Port-au-Prince, Gonaives, and Cap-Haitien are in effect moving to coastal areas. Here rising seas, more intense storms, and areas of extreme drought combine to create a recipe for recurrent disasters. Mudslides in 2004 killed tens of thousands of people near Gonaives, as treeless hillsides collapsed on the city. Every new storm brings with it the risk of crop failure, flooding and further soil erosion. Overcrowding has also increased the risks of disease. When UN troops introduced cholera in to Haiti in 2010, the disease spread rapidly, killing 9,400 individuals and infecting hundreds of thousands of people.

Interconnected with the process of internal displacement is outward migration. Nearly one million Haitians live in the Dominican Republic, primarily seeking work on sugar plantations and other agricultural positions. Tensions have resurfaced in recent years leading to mass expulsions of Haitians from the Dominican Republic, whose government denied citizenship to people of Haitian descent. Over the last thirty years, the United States has been the primary destination for Haitians with 650,000 people moving to the U.S. since 1986. However, tensions have mounted within the U.S. over immigration – leading to the suspension of Temporary Protected Status (TPS), which covered over 50,000 Haitian migrants. Meanwhile, other countries with less restrictive policies are becoming a destination. It is estimated that close to 105,000 Haitians, equivalent to 1% of the population, moved to Chile alone last year.

The confluence of environmental degradation, climate change, and forced migration in Haiti is part of a global process driving people into insecure situations; exacerbating political conflicts and violence. There is no easy solution. Clearly, binding agreements to reduce emissions and move the planet away from a fossil fuel based economy is necessary. Even if this is acheived, the process must be inclusive. Alternative fuels are no panacea if accompanied by the expansion of extractive industries and agricultural practices that further drive forced migration. In the interim, people are already being forced to migrate.

International law is behind the times

The Refugee Convention of 1951 defines a refugee as a person who has a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality, and is unable to or, owing to such fear, unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country. The Convention does not cover people who are forced to migrate due to environmental reasons when they cross borders. The result is a variety of short-term measures, such as TPS in the United States, that affords very little protection to people whose status can change overnight. Within the United States, at least, there needs to be more effort to craft lasting solutions, that offer people who previously migrated an opportunity to seek permanent residency.

Currently there are efforts to recraft refugee and migrant laws. For example, the United Nations’ International Office of Migration is overseeing the creation of A Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration. The draft compact should be completed this year. However, enforcement mechanisms will be limited. In the United States and Europe in particular, migration is re-crafted as a crisis for the receiving country and thus there is resistance to any kind of binding obligations to accept more people. Given the current political environment it is not surprising that Trump administration withdrew the United States from the Compact negotiating process in December last year.

Until there are binding protections afforded to migrants as well as binding agreements to ameliorate the worst impacts of climate change, the world will face increasing migration, accompanied by ongoing political conflict. The current zero-sum, nationalistic orientation of so many, who view migrants as a threat rather than as fellow human beings in need of solidarity, continues to infect any effort for change. We must be better than this.

 

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Food Aid Reform: Cargo Preference

The United States is one of the world’s largest food aid providers, yet its practices are inefficient, in part because of the transportation restrictions. Currently, 50% of all aid given must be sent on U.S.-flagged ships, a rule known as Cargo Preference. The argument for this rule is to maintain a reserve of vessels for times of war, and to support the maritime industry. At the start of 2014 Congress passed some modest food aid reforms in what is known as the Food for Peace Act. These reforms included ways we could more quickly reach the hungry at a lower cost to U.S. taxpayers, such as purchasing local food in the target countries. The House passed the Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation Act of 2014 on April 1. Within the bill, Cargo Preference would increase from 50 to 75 percent, meaning the U.S. would have to send 3/4ths of its food aid on U.S.-flagged ships. This would cost an estimated $60 million to the Food for Peace Act, an amount that should be going to feed the hungry, not to transportation. In fact, it is calculated that because of this new rule, 1 million people will miss access to crucial food aid. Catholic Relief Services explains how food programs will be negatively impacted, here. It is understandable the U.S. Navy and maritime industries are priorities for members of Congress. However, food aid accounts for only 5 percent of government-purchased goods shipped each year – a very small volume. Additionally, 70 percent of the ships approved for Cargo Preference do not even meet military-use criteria. It is difficult to see any added benefit the new Cargo Preference would be providing. The House has already passed the bill, but there is still time to urge the Senate to vote against it. Please join the campaign to remind your representatives that increased Cargo Preferences would only hurt the hungry and hinder our food aid programs. The modest reforms we gained in January would be negated with the extra costs Cargo Preference demands, keeping our practices inefficient and limited.  
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Food Aid Reform: What Happens to America’s Farmers?

The strongest opposition to Food Aid Reform, a system which currently buys and ships U.S.-grown grain to countries in need, seems to becoming from our own farmers. Yet even many farmers recognize the need for more flexibility in U.S. food aid policies, as outlined in this article by Roger Johnson, the president of the National Farmers Union. Fifty years ago, our food aid policies made sense given our surplus of grain. As Johnson points out though, “Our food system has changed drastically in the past 50 years; naturally, our system of international aid must evolve as well.” He also recognizes that, “At a time of such urgent human need and budget constraint, reforms that enable us to reach more hungry people while saving taxpayer dollars, and continue to engage the talent and generosity of American agriculture, are the right choice.” In mid January both the House and Senate passed the Omnibus Spending Bill for fiscal year 2014, which included $35 million that increases U.S. flexibility to buy grain locally from the regions receiving aid. This is a small step in the right direction; let’s keep pushing for more, and bigger, reforms along with the National Farmers Union. Learn more about the National Farmers Union.
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Food Aid Reform: What Happens to America's Farmers?

The strongest opposition to Food Aid Reform, a system which currently buys and ships U.S.-grown grain to countries in need, seems to becoming from our own farmers. Yet even many farmers recognize the need for more flexibility in U.S. food aid policies, as outlined in this article by Roger Johnson, the president of the National Farmers Union. Fifty years ago, our food aid policies made sense given our surplus of grain. As Johnson points out though, “Our food system has changed drastically in the past 50 years; naturally, our system of international aid must evolve as well.” He also recognizes that, “At a time of such urgent human need and budget constraint, reforms that enable us to reach more hungry people while saving taxpayer dollars, and continue to engage the talent and generosity of American agriculture, are the right choice.” In mid January both the House and Senate passed the Omnibus Spending Bill for fiscal year 2014, which included $35 million that increases U.S. flexibility to buy grain locally from the regions receiving aid. This is a small step in the right direction; let’s keep pushing for more, and bigger, reforms along with the National Farmers Union. Learn more about the National Farmers Union.
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Food Aid Reform: It’s On the Bus!

Last month both the House and Senate passed “The Omnibus” spending bill – a $1.1 trillion bill that funds every agency of the government. Among the 1,582 pages is what most consider to be a small victory for Food Aid Reform. The new bill allocated $35 million for purchasing food aid from local markets. The current practice of buying U.S. food from U.S. farms and shipping it to the beneficiaries is not only inefficient. It also hurts the countries and regions receiving the aid by undercutting market prices for locally grown food. The result is damaging to already fragile local food systems. Our subsidized food aid can destroy the ability of these recipient nations to feed themselves – the opposite of our intentions. Moreover, the natural disaster in the Philippines highlighted just how unnecessary and wasteful U.S. food aid policies are when it took over 100 days for the food to arrive to a place that already grows enough grain to feed its people. It is important to note that USAID’s entire food assistance budget is $1.8 billion; $35 million is only a small step in the right direction. Learn more about USAID’s budget for its food assistance program and the new FY2014 changes. For a summary on Food Aid Reform, here is a great fact sheet, as well as this short clip!
Continue Reading

Food Aid Reform: It's On the Bus!

Last month both the House and Senate passed “The Omnibus” spending bill – a $1.1 trillion bill that funds every agency of the government. Among the 1,582 pages is what most consider to be a small victory for Food Aid Reform. The new bill allocated $35 million for purchasing food aid from local markets. The current practice of buying U.S. food from U.S. farms and shipping it to the beneficiaries is not only inefficient. It also hurts the countries and regions receiving the aid by undercutting market prices for locally grown food. The result is damaging to already fragile local food systems. Our subsidized food aid can destroy the ability of these recipient nations to feed themselves – the opposite of our intentions. Moreover, the natural disaster in the Philippines highlighted just how unnecessary and wasteful U.S. food aid policies are when it took over 100 days for the food to arrive to a place that already grows enough grain to feed its people. It is important to note that USAID’s entire food assistance budget is $1.8 billion; $35 million is only a small step in the right direction. Learn more about USAID’s budget for its food assistance program and the new FY2014 changes. For a summary on Food Aid Reform, here is a great fact sheet, as well as this short clip!
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Food Aid Reform: Where Does Haiti Fit?

Haiti just passed the 4-year anniversary of its devastating earthquake in January 2010. To mark the event, Global Post published this article, “In Haiti, All Eyes on US to Reform ‘Unjustifiable’ Food Aid Program.” The article highlights that:
  • In Haiti, 6.7 million people – 2/3rds of the population – struggle daily to meet their food needs.
  • The U.S. has spent $200 million giving food aid to Haiti since the 2010 earthquake. Since 1954, the U.S. has spent $1.5 billion on aid to Haiti.
  • The U.S. is one of the world’s only “Food Dumpers,” continually sending food instead of buying locally produced food in the regions it is helping.
  • The current U.S. food aid policy is hurting Haitian farmers and the potential for Haiti to return to its former capabilities of producing enough food for its own population.
  • Venezuela’s “Down with Hunger” program gave $30 million to 60,000 mothers to both buy food for their families and distribute seeds to farmers.
To this last point, it is interesting to compare that on one country, Venezuela spent $30 million in cash for buying locally produced food. In the new 2014 budget, Congress passed $35 million for the U.S. to use on the same purposes – but that $35 million must stretch worldwide. We are spending only $5 million more for every country than what Venezuela is spending on Haiti alone. For this reason, the article calls the U.S.’s new allocation a “watered-down version” of the full reforms that need to happen. Haiti is the perfect example of how our aid policies are not reaching as many people as they could while simultaneously reducing a country’s capacity to grow so that in the future it won’t need U.S. aid. As one Haitian farmer’s organization put it, “Cash permits people to continue to buy food themselves, on their own and from their own people. We have many people who are hungry. We have people who can only eat once a day. It’s unjustifiable in a country with the capacity to feed itself.” It is unjustifiable. Let’s make sure our practices and tax dollars strengthen our partnership with Haiti instead of hurt their ability to help themselves. Send a letter to your representative to push for greater Food Aid reforms here.
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Let’s Not Make the Same Mistakes

The horrific disaster in the Philippines has rocked political boats around the world. This kind of devastation is predicted to become more frequent as the Earth’s climate continues changing. Even if the Conference on Climate Change takes drastic action (which no reasonable observers expect), the train has left the station on emissions levels, and many scientists now argue that we are barreling past tipping points in climate change. These are depressing propositions to be sure, and they are a sobering reminder that the time to improve our emergency response mechanisms and protocols is right now. As the world struggles to respond to this most recent disaster, it would behoove our leaders to consider policy changes based on the lessons learned from the 2010 earthquake that struck Haiti. Particularly, the United States must change the way it distributes food aid, especially in the midst of a disaster. After the earthquake struck in January, the United States spent $140 million on a USAID program that sent food grown in the United States to Haiti. This amount represents nearly three quarters of United States aid to Haiti in following the quake. Sending food to people in need is an intuitive response, but one that is increasingly regarded as both ineffective and counterproductive in the long term for recipients. The reason is that a massive influx of food through an aid program disrupts and re-orders local markets, which are often precarious at the outset. The food aid displaces local producers, and in doing so clears the way for commercial imports of staple crops. This process completely overturns any levels of food sovereignty as countries become reliant on imports to meet their needs. Haiti is a stark example, importing 80% of its rice. This makes sense for farmers in the United States, but not for Haitians, whose country is capable of producing a large enough rice crop each year to be a net exporter.

“Since 1981, the United States has followed a policy, until the last year or so when we started rethinking it, that we rich countries that produce a lot of food should sell it to the poor countries and relieve them of the burden of producing their own food, so, thank goodness, they can leap directly into the industrial era. It has not worked. It may have been good for some of my farmers in Arkansas, but it has not worked.” –Bill Clinton

Haiti is now struggling under immense financial pressures that are driving farmers to focus their energy on export crops. Thus, Haiti is in a situation where its farmers produce mangoes and purchase US-grown rice with their earnings. Hardly a sensible system for a country capable of producing its own food and avoiding the layers of middlemen and transaction costs associated with export agriculture. Time for Reform Right now, the Quixote Center is part of a coalition of NGOs and grassroots networks advocating for food aid reform. We are calling for increased flexibility in the system that will allow for more local purchases of food aid when possible. What we hope for is a system that allows rapid and efficient response to all types of food emergencies. In cases where local production is disrupted, sending food to people in need makes sense. However, this public aid should not be used as a tool to prop up United States farmers to the detriment of farmers in recipient countries. Our coalition advocates for changes such that, when possible, food aid comes by making local purchases for people in need. These purchases are more efficient in that the food does not have to travel from Arkansas, and it is more productive in the long term because it increases the viability of local markets and maintains existing levels of food sovereignty. The United States can do better, but whether or not we improve is dependent on Members of Congress now considering Food Aid Reform as part of the Farm Bill. We have set up a system through which you can contact your Member of Congress and express your support for key issues like food reform, aid accountability, and the ongoing displaced persons crisis in Port-au-Prince. If you would like to get more directly involved in the effort to reform our system of food aid, please contact Andrew Hochhalter for more information.
Continue Reading

Let's Not Make the Same Mistakes

The horrific disaster in the Philippines has rocked political boats around the world. This kind of devastation is predicted to become more frequent as the Earth’s climate continues changing. Even if the Conference on Climate Change takes drastic action (which no reasonable observers expect), the train has left the station on emissions levels, and many scientists now argue that we are barreling past tipping points in climate change. These are depressing propositions to be sure, and they are a sobering reminder that the time to improve our emergency response mechanisms and protocols is right now. As the world struggles to respond to this most recent disaster, it would behoove our leaders to consider policy changes based on the lessons learned from the 2010 earthquake that struck Haiti. Particularly, the United States must change the way it distributes food aid, especially in the midst of a disaster. After the earthquake struck in January, the United States spent $140 million on a USAID program that sent food grown in the United States to Haiti. This amount represents nearly three quarters of United States aid to Haiti in following the quake. Sending food to people in need is an intuitive response, but one that is increasingly regarded as both ineffective and counterproductive in the long term for recipients. The reason is that a massive influx of food through an aid program disrupts and re-orders local markets, which are often precarious at the outset. The food aid displaces local producers, and in doing so clears the way for commercial imports of staple crops. This process completely overturns any levels of food sovereignty as countries become reliant on imports to meet their needs. Haiti is a stark example, importing 80% of its rice. This makes sense for farmers in the United States, but not for Haitians, whose country is capable of producing a large enough rice crop each year to be a net exporter.

“Since 1981, the United States has followed a policy, until the last year or so when we started rethinking it, that we rich countries that produce a lot of food should sell it to the poor countries and relieve them of the burden of producing their own food, so, thank goodness, they can leap directly into the industrial era. It has not worked. It may have been good for some of my farmers in Arkansas, but it has not worked.” –Bill Clinton

Haiti is now struggling under immense financial pressures that are driving farmers to focus their energy on export crops. Thus, Haiti is in a situation where its farmers produce mangoes and purchase US-grown rice with their earnings. Hardly a sensible system for a country capable of producing its own food and avoiding the layers of middlemen and transaction costs associated with export agriculture. Time for Reform Right now, the Quixote Center is part of a coalition of NGOs and grassroots networks advocating for food aid reform. We are calling for increased flexibility in the system that will allow for more local purchases of food aid when possible. What we hope for is a system that allows rapid and efficient response to all types of food emergencies. In cases where local production is disrupted, sending food to people in need makes sense. However, this public aid should not be used as a tool to prop up United States farmers to the detriment of farmers in recipient countries. Our coalition advocates for changes such that, when possible, food aid comes by making local purchases for people in need. These purchases are more efficient in that the food does not have to travel from Arkansas, and it is more productive in the long term because it increases the viability of local markets and maintains existing levels of food sovereignty. The United States can do better, but whether or not we improve is dependent on Members of Congress now considering Food Aid Reform as part of the Farm Bill. We have set up a system through which you can contact your Member of Congress and express your support for key issues like food reform, aid accountability, and the ongoing displaced persons crisis in Port-au-Prince. If you would like to get more directly involved in the effort to reform our system of food aid, please contact Andrew Hochhalter for more information.
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Contact Us

  • Quixote Center
    7307 Baltimore Ave.
    Ste 214
    College Park, MD 20740
  • Office: 301-699-0042
    Email: info@quixote.org

Direction to office:

For driving: From Baltimore Ave (Route 1) towards University of Maryland, turn right onto Hartwick Rd. Turn immediate right in the office complex.

Look for building 7307. We are located on the 2nd floor.

For public transportation: We are located near the College Park metro station (green line)