It was an early morning.
“We keep going, Don't stop running. They keep selling, We don't want it.
So close to it, Almost found a way. Two steps closer, They keep coming. We keep yelling, We don't want it.”
I awake for the last time in Haiti, at least for now.
Nick-Olson, the same driver who I first met when I landed in Haiti, was waiting for me downstairs on the couch. He greets me with a smile and a handshake-hug.
Its really dark out, but many people are up. It is Sunday after all. We pass a couple of churches on the way that are about to start their service.
He asks if I enjoyed my time, and what I will tell my friends about Haiti. I tell him, “Ayiti se bel (Haiti is beautiful).”
The airport is hectic and inefficient. We go through THREE different security checks: upon entry, to get into the gate, and right before getting on the plane.
I’ll miss it, though. There is a simple beauty here. Mwen we ou pita, Ayiti.
I’ve been trying to think through the sociological significance of my trip…
One thing that has stuck with me is how to think about environmental inequality in Haiti. When we use the concept of environmental inequality in the United States is means something very specific, but this changes from between contexts (between environments). Given that environmental inequalities are spatial, different spaces yields different forms of environmental inequality. We also have to think about scale. To say that the global south is more vulnerable to climate change is true, but it also false. As I’ve argued, to speak of the global south we must already be speaking of the global north, think of the Taiji symbol, or Ying and Yang. In more sociological terms, we need to think relationally. The Global North does not exist without the Global South and vice versa. Additionally, the global north is almost always embedded within the global south and vice versa. This is the nature of the modern world with the flow of people, things, and ideas. So when it comes to the environmental inequality, I think we get a more nuanced picture when we look subnationally, where we are able to see the North in the South, and the South in the North. Sadly, I haven’t come across this type of thinking in the work on development in the social sciences.
Pellow and Brehm (2013) define environmental inequality as the “uneven exposure to environmental risks and hazards, often coupled with the systematic exclusion of people from environmental decision-making processes, is called environmental racism or environmental inequality” (Pellow and Brehm 2013).
What does environmental inequality look like in the Haitian context? Surely there are uneven exposures to environmental risks and hazards. Those living in the slums at the bottom of large mountains are at higher risk of death from flood than those sitting at higher elevations. This is an inequality based on class. The wealthier Haitians often live at these higher elevations, on mountain tops and sides. There is certainly more pollution down in urban centers where there is a constant flow of car traffic.
I suppose what I’m really trying to get at here is that the influx of all of these international people, ideas, and things creates environmental inequalities too. Like who has access to clean drinking water and proper waste disposal, who has comfort in security and safety from threat like robbery or assault, who has access to a place to cool down in the Haitian heat, who has access to clean and safe food? These are the kinds of environmental inequalities that you can find in Haiti in Urban areas in addition to the more traditional ways of thinking about environmental inequality. Are they necessarily unique to Urban Port au Prince? No, I do not think so. These are also things that you can find in the U.S. Think of gated communities, etc. What makes Haiti unique, I think, is that it is driven by the foreign presence of the international community of development and aid workers, which are seemingly ubiquitous in Haiti. Tourism, too could be a culprit in the future, if it eventually takes off.
What if the same people sent to Haiti to alleviate poverty were actually, unintentionally, perpetuating it?
These are of course precursory remarks based on my short stay, in one part of the country. Further study is needed to validate any of these claims, or to “test” these hypotheses.