Wealth here – poverty over there
The World Around Us
July 21, 2023

Wealth here – poverty over there

Two headlines in The Guardian caught my eye this week. One headline read “Top economists call for action on runaway global inequality.” The other headline read “UN unable to feed 100,000 Haitians this month amid ‘catastrophic’ conditions.”

In a letter to the United Nations (UN) Secretary General, António Guterres, and the World Bank President, Ajay Banga, signatories from 67 countries have called on the two institutions to do more to reverse the sharpest increase in global inequality since the Second World War.

According to the letter, for the first time in twenty-five years, global poverty and extreme wealth have been rising concurrently.

Among the signatories to the letter are the former UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, former New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark, and the economists Jayati Ghosh, Joseph Stiglitz and Thomas Piketty. Along with the other signatories, they have contended that billions of people face high and rising food prices and hunger, whilst the number of billionaires has doubled in the last ten years.

Inequality has far-reaching social and political consequences. Socially, it perpetuates social exclusion, marginalization, and discrimination, hindering equal opportunities for all individuals.

This can lead to a breakdown in social trust, increased crime rates, and social unrest. Politically, inequality can erode democratic values and exacerbate power imbalances, creating an environment where the voices of marginalized groups are silenced, and democratic institutions are undermined.

Unfortunately, Haiti is a perfect case study of what is wrong with global inequality. As billionaires increase, the UN has noted that more than half of Haiti’s population regularly go hungry.

Earlier this week, the UN’s World Food Programme (WFP) announced that “Haitians grappling with dire malnutrition will have to endure the absence of vital food and financial support amid the worst hunger crisis the country has ever witnessed.”

Should the WFP fail to secure US$121 million by the end of 2023, it will be unable to provide assistance to 750,000 Haitians, including 225,000 school children. Collectively, the world continues to fail Haiti, especially those with the means to make a difference.

Of course, Haiti has been grappling with a complex web of challenges, including political instability, economic turmoil, social unrest, and natural disasters. The confluence of these factors has created a deepening crisis, leaving the country’s population in a state of despair and uncertainty.

The assassination of Haitian President Jovenel Moïse, in July 2021 further exacerbated the political turmoil, resulting in a power vacuum and intensified social unrest. For now, the global community seems to be hesitant to intervene, demonstrating an unequal response compared to crises happening elsewhere, such as in Ukraine which has not been short of support from some major countries.

“Donkey seh de world nuh level” is a popular Caribbean proverb often used to highlight the unfair situations in life. For Haiti and for many poor countries and poor people, the world is certainly not level.

Reducing global inequality requires the commitment and collaboration of governments, international organisations, civil society, and the private sector. These actors must all combine to provide solutions in areas such as education and skills development, enhancing social safety nets, addressing gender equality, promoting governance reforms and increasing international cooperation.

Specific to Haiti, a comprehensive and coordinated approach from both national and international actors is needed. It is imperative to prioritize efforts to strengthen governance, combat corruption, and establish a stable political system that can effectively address the needs of the Haitian people.

On a positive note, the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) has already appointed an eminent persons group, consisting of former Prime Ministers of The Bahamas, Jamaica and Saint Lucia in the persons of Perry Christie, Bruce Golding and Kenny Anthony respectively.

Subsequent to the establishment of the eminent persons group, a wide cross-section of Haitian stakeholders met in Kingston, Jamaica, at the invitation of CARICOM on June 11-13, 2023.

According to the CARICOM Secretariat, the meeting sought to find a solution to the protracted multi-dimensional crisis in which Haiti has been mired.

Chances are, without more tangible support from the international community to re-establish law and order in Haiti, CARICOM’s efforts may prove to be insufficient. However, Haiti deserves serious attention.

  • Joel K Richards is a Vincentian national living and working in Europe in the field of international trade and development.

Email: joelkmrichards@gmail.com