Three months before the disastrous earthquake stuck Nepal, Haiti had just marked the fifth anniversary of a similar tragedy that had wreaked havoc in the Caribbean nation. In the following few weeks, I came across articles making comparisons between the two of the least developed and poorest countries in the world. Commentators commented on how Nepal could avoid walking the path Haiti walked. Some opined that it had already trodden the same path. The aftermath of the earthquake was far more catastrophic for Haiti than what it would have been due to political instability. Nepal risks following the same steps if the continuing political turmoil does not end anytime soon.
Wide apart geographically and socio – culturally, what brings the Caribbean and the Himalayan nation together is the long standing political turmoil. One of the poorest countries in the world, Haiti has suffered an unfortunate fate throughout its modern history. Standing even below Nepal at the 168th position out of 187 countries in Human Development Index (HDI), the island nation has witnessed a political history that is fraught with authoritarianism, coup d'états and bitter infighting. The ‘constitution’ has long been one of the focal issues of the political instability of Haiti, much like Nepal. But while Nepal has been struggling to promulgate a new constitution for the last six years, the small Caribbean nation has promulgated 23 of them since the beginning of its modern political history in 1801. The different constitutions promoted either military rule, hereditary monarchy or a form of benign dictatorship, the latest ones being the draconian rule of father – son duo François Duvalier and Jean-Claude Duvalier.
Interestingly, along with its super power neighbour, the US, Haiti was one of the first countries in the world to adopt a written constitution. But while the US went on to become a symbol of liberal democracy, Haiti trod a rather different path. Alas, years of political instability left the country wriggling with a defunct system. It became clearly visible in the post earthquake scenario. Residents were left without essential medical supplies, water and fuel for days and anger against the then President René Préval Preval’s government resulted in furious street protests. The relief and rescue operations were led by international community even as the national government was nowhere to be seen. The government was unable to control the country’s biggest cholera outbreak, which claimed the lives of more than 8,000 people. The anger against the government even led to the rise of a new government after the elections held in the same year. But because of bitter infighting, the new President Michel Martelly has been able to make very little impact. Every year there have been protests calling him to step down.
Thanks to what has now become a chronic instability, tremors can still be felt in the socio- economic life of the people even after five years of the deadly earthquake. Almost 80,000 people still continue to live in tarpaulin tents in the capital. The economy is still in shambles. The country, which relied heavily on foreign donors, has become even more dependent. The high level of corruption has resulted in very little impact of the $ 13.5 billion received in the name of humanitarian aid. More than half of the country's population is still unable to meet basic food needs. Millions others are even worse off because they are living below the extreme poverty line.
Nepal could be buried in the same rubble of fate as Haiti, if it does not end the ever-prolonging political impasse soon.