California’s Not the Only Place With a Drought, and Haitians are Faring Much, Much Worse

A string of disasters has made it hard for Haitians to weather the ongoing drought

A Haitian woman collects peanuts in 2012. Alex Proimos

Eight months after dropping into drought, the Associated Press reports, Haiti is in a state of “extreme emergency,” an official said yesterday. If and when the rain starts up again—maybe in a month—it will still take six months for the country to recover from the loss of two harvests, along with a substantial portion of its livestock.

Since Port-au-Prince was hit by a massive earthquake on January 12, 2010, Haiti has suffered from a string of disasters, both natural and man-made. Just a few short months after the earthquake, the Caribbean nation was lashed by Hurricane Tomas, and the heavy rains became fatal floods. The United Nations aid workers who descended on the country also ended up doing harm: more than 7,000 Haitians died in a cholera epidemic, thought to have originated at one of the U.N. bases. Then, before hitting the U.S., Hurricane Sandy swept over Haiti, killing 54, driving thousands from their homes and wiping out many crops.

Together this series of events has kept Haiti on the brink. Building systems that promote resilience in the face of disaster can help communities ride out bumps like these, but once those protections are knocked down, societies become much more exposed to the whims of the elements.

In contrast, Californians have been under drought conditions for three years and, although there have been effects on the region's agriculture—resource managers (temporarily) turning off farmers' water access, for instance—the consequences have not been nearly so dire. This could be a preview of how wealthy and less wealthy countries will fare as climate change makes droughts more common: those with the resources to build resilience will be able to ride out the lean years, while countries with less to begin with will end up even worse off.  

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