WASHINGTON, D.C. -- The effects of a 7.0-magnitude earthquake would be difficult for any country to cope with -- but they are likely to be particularly crippling and long-lasting for Haiti, whose residents were already less likely than any other population in the Western Hemisphere to have access to essential goods and services. A Gallup study conducted about one year ago highlights the vulnerability of the Haitian people, even relative to their neighbors in the Dominican Republic.
"At the time of the survey, Haitians were far less likely than any other population in the region to report having widespread access to health services."
In response to the December 2008 survey, conducted just a few months after Haiti had suffered through a devastating hurricane season, 60% of Haitians said there had been times in the past year when they didn't have enough money to purchase food that their families needed, while 51% said there were times when they could not afford adequate shelter. The first figure is comparable to recent results from the Dominican Republic; however, Haitians were far more likely than any other population in Central America or the Caribbean to say they have had trouble providing shelter -- a particularly alarming finding given the untold number of residences that Tuesday's earthquake destroyed.
Access to Healthcare
In making a desperate appeal for medical supplies and assistance, Haitian President Rene Preval said some hospitals have collapsed as a result of the quake, further handicapping a public healthcare system poorly equipped to handle a disaster of this proportion. At the time of the survey, Haitians were far less likely than any other population in the region to report having widespread access to health services. Fewer than one in four (22%) said they were satisfied with the availability of quality healthcare in their communities, and one in nine (11%) said healthcare is accessible to anyone in the country.
Furthermore, health officials warn that dealing with the injuries caused by the quake itself will be only the beginning of Haiti's public health crisis. Poor sanitation and lack of access to clean water are likely to make cholera and other waterborne diseases a major problem. Water quality was already a problem for many Haitians; 37% said in December 2008 that they were satisfied with the quality of water in their communities, vs. 66% of Dominicans in 2009, and a regional median of 67%.
Besides hospitals, other vital infrastructure elements -- including roads and highways, and schools -- were decimated by the quake. These facilities too were already seen as insufficient by most Haitians polled a year ago. About one-third were satisfied with the roads and highways (31%) and the schools (35%) in their communities. Among Dominicans surveyed in 2009, satisfaction levels were considerably higher, similar to the regional medians for both questions.
In the wake of a disaster, friendships and family ties become lifelines, serving as conduits for material as well as emotional support. Social support is generally strong among Latin American societies, which tend to emphasize the importance of extended family relations.
However, even here Haitians are less well-equipped than residents of any other country in Central America and the Caribbean. At the time of the survey, 30% said they have no relatives or friends they can count on for help -- more than twice the regional median of 13%. The prevalence of poverty in Haiti may lead many residents to conclude that their friends and relatives would be unable to offer much in the way of money or other resources to help them.
Upon his appointment as United Nations special envoy to Haiti last year, former U.S. President Bill Clinton emphasized the need for foreign aid both to make the country more resilient to natural disasters, and to improve access to basic social services like healthcare. The current crisis makes it clear that the two goals are really one and the same. But Haitians' survey responses demonstrate just how far behind its neighbors the country is with regard to those priorities, and suggest that any sustainable improvement will require development strategies and assistance on a greater scale than any Haiti has seen in the past.
Results from Haiti are based on face-to-face interviews with 500 adults, aged 15 and older, conducted Dec. 8-13, 2008. For results based on this total sample, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±4.7 percentage points.
Results from the Dominican Republic are based on face-to-face interviews with 1,000 adults, aged 15 and older, conducted July 21-Sept. 2, 2009. For results based on this total sample, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±3.6 percentage points.
Regional medians for countries in Central America and the Caribbean include results from Belize, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Jamaica, Nicaragua, Panama, Puerto Rico and Trinidad and Tobago. All surveys were conducted between June 2006 and September 2009.
For results based on the total samples of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error ranged from a low of ±3.3 percentage points in most countries to a high of ±4.8 percentage points in Trinidad and Tobago. The margin of error reflects the influence of data weighting. In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.