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Haiti - Social : Impact of January 12 on citizen lives and perceptions - Part I
29/05/2011 10:02:35

Haiti - Social : Impact  of January 12 on citizen lives and perceptions - Part I
"Haiti in Distress: The Impact of the 2010 Earthquake on Citizen Lives and Perceptions" presents the results of a comprehensive face-to-face public opinion survey carried out in July and August of 2010, especially designed for evaluating the human impact on those who survived the devastating earthquake that struck Haiti on January 12th, 2010. The survey was conducted by the Latin American Public Opinion Project (LAPOP) at Vanderbilt University as part of the region-wide AmericasBarometer with financial support from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).

In this first part, the citizen's opinions about democracy after the earthquake, support for the political system, political participation and social capital, the crime and corruption, the trust in the justice system and support for the rule of law, the local government, and the economic conditions after the earthquake.

Citizen's Opinions about Democracy after the Earthquake

One of the most encouraging findings of the study is that, despite the extraordinary social and economic consequences of the earthquake, Haitians have not turned their backs on democracy, maintaining their belief that democracy is the best possible form of government. The level of support for democracy after the earthquake has remained unchanged in municipalities that suffered great damage and municipalities that were less affected.

When asked about their level of agreement with the notion that democracy is the best form of government, in 2010, 64.3% of individuals gave a score higher than 5 points on a 1-7 scale. It is worth mentioning, however, that in comparison to other countries, Haiti is located among the countries in the Americas with the lowest average support for democracy. Among the factors that determine the extent to which citizens support democracy in Haiti are the levels of education and satisfaction with the performance of the president.

Support for the Political System

While the disaster did not shake support for democracy, the survey found great discontent with the response of the national government to the emergency, resulting in widespread disenchantment with the political system itself. When asked after the earthquake about the performance of institutions, the lowest job approval rating was given to the national government, with 40.0 average points on a 0-100 scale. In contrast, foreign NGOs and governments were given the highest scores, 68.1 and 59.7 points, respectively.

Citizens' disappointment with the performance of the national government after the earthquake has almost certainly undermined the already low legitimacy of the political system, dropping from 40.6 points in 2008 to 32.0 points in 2010. The AmericasBarometer survey found that after the earthquake, low support for the political system was widespread in Haiti.

Compared to the levels in 2008, there was a statistically significant decrease in system support of about 10 points in the nonaffected municipalities, areas themselves which had been higher in support prior to the earthquake when compared to the affected areas. There was also a sharp decline in the affected areas. This is not surprising since there is hardly a survivor of the earthquake who did not lose a relative or friend, and the protracted period of recovery that the country is facing has made all regions of Haiti, those directly affected and those not affected, disaffected with the legitimacy of their political system, which in any event, had been at a very low level prior to the earthquake.

Political Participation and Social Capital

As Haitians are facing one of the most difficult times in their history, and faith in political institutions has been lost, an important proportion of citizens have turned to the streets to demand action and have also engaged in citizen-based organizations.

The results show that 25% of Haitians living in tents reported to have participated in a street demonstration.

The country, as a whole, shows the highest rate of participation in street demonstrations/protests in the Americas, with an overall average participation of 17.2%. The survey results also indicate that Haiti has the highest participation rate in civic organizations (excluding religiousbased ones) in the Americas, with 76.6% of the population reporting to have participated in at least one civic association in the past twelve months. Moreover, we find that, between 2008 and 2010, participation in community improvement associations significantly increased in municipalities affected by the disaster, from 34.9% to 45.6%.

Interestingly, while citizen engagement in civic organizations has increased in municipalities affected by the earthquake, individuals' trust in their fellow citizens, another central component of social capital, has significantly declined in both affected and non-affected municipalities.

But, we find that individuals living in affected municipalities who suffered the greatest housing damage, many of whom were forced to move into tents, are the most suspicious of their neighbors. Greater reported housing damage is associated with lower levels of interpersonal trust as measured by the level of trust towards neighbors.

After the earthquake, the average level of interpersonal trust in Haiti was 32.0 points (on a 0-100 scale), the lowest level in the Americas. It is likely that the low levels of trust have resulted from the disintegration of social networks brought on by the movement of people out of their home communities into tents. The lowered trust, we believe is also a function of crime, as described below.

Crime and Corruption

A first look at the crime statistics reveals that, in 2010, 19.3% of the respondents reported that they had been victims of a crime in the twelve months preceding the survey. Although the percent of crime victims slightly decreased between 2006 and 2008 (from 16.9 to 14.3 percent), there was a statistically significant increase of five percentage points in crime victimization between 2008 and 2010. One of the most worrisome findings is that about 63% of crime victims reported having experienced a crime that involved violence. When asked about the type of crime suffered, the majority of victims (51.2%) reported having experienced either a robbery accompanied by a physical assault or an armed robbery. Moreover, about 12% of crime victims reported to have suffered a sexual assault, a kidnapping, or an assault unrelated to a robbery.

Moreover, the results of the LAPOP survey suggest that the earthquake has significantly worsened crime and violence in affected municipalities. After the earthquake, our survey found that crime rates in municipalities affected by the earthquake were more than double of those in non-affected municipalities (26.4 versus 12.1 percent). Between 2008 and 2010, crime victimization increased from 15.4 to 26.4% in municipalities affected by the earthquake.

Not all individuals residing in affected municipalities have been exposed equally to crime. We find that women living in tents have suffered the most from the wave of violence and crime experienced by the country after the earthquake.

Whereas 36.2% of females living in tents reported to have been crime victims, 22.9% of males living in tents stated that they had been victims of a crime. In non-affected municipalities, in contrast, the gap between women and men in crime victimization is small. These results confirm with hard data what has been reported by the media; women living in tents have been the most vulnerable to abuse after the earthquake in Haiti, and indicate the need for focused action to help protect women better from the crimes that they are suffering.

Yet, the level of corruption among public officials, another type of unlawful behavior, remained unchanged after the earthquake. This may be, however, because the pre-earthquake levels of corruption in Haiti were already far higher than in any other country, and perhaps have reached the upper limits of reporting. In 2010, 53.6% of the population reported having to pay a bribe to a public official over the past twelve months, compared to 48.2% in 2008.

Trust in the Justice System and Support for the Rule of Law

The weakened capacity of judicial institutions due to the earthquake coupled with higher levels of insecurity, have led citizens to become more distrustful of the national justice system, and to show higher approval of authorities acting at the margin of the law in order to fight crime. Trust in the justice system dropped from an average of 43.1 points (on a 0-100 scale) in 2008 to 36.2 points in 2010. Not surprisingly, the data revealed that trust in the justice system has declined predominantly in the areas where crime is the highest, namely in municipalities affected by the earthquake, from an average of 39.1 to 33.0 points.

Citizen support for the rule of law has also significantly declined. In 2008, 81.4% of the population residing in municipalities that were later affected by the earthquake agreed that, in order to catch criminals, "authorities should always abide by the law," but after the earthquake only 57.2% did.

While Haitians do not think highly of the justice system, they have more positive views about the performance of the national police. In 2010, trust in the police in Haiti was relatively high compared to other countries in the Americas. With an average score of 53.7 points on a 0-100 scale, out of 26 countries, Haiti ranked 10th in terms of this item in the survey. Nevertheless, trust in the police went down in municipalities with the highest crime incidence (i.e. those affected by the earthquake). The average level of trust in the police dropped from 57.0 to 50.1 points on a 0-100 scale in those municipalities.

Interestingly, although we find that an important proportion of Haitians approve that authorities or the police on occasion can skirt the law in order to catch criminals, the results also indicate that, after the earthquake, many citizens became less supportive of people taking the law into their own hands when the government does not punish criminals, perhaps fearing that unlawful actions like those could result in social chaos.

Local Government

On the examination of citizens' perceptions of local governments and their level of involvement in local government activities. Distrust in local governments is a generalized phenomenon in Haiti which has remained largely unchanged over the last two years, notwithstanding the devastating effects of the earthquake for local governments. In 2010, the average level of trust in local government was 33.9 points on a 0-100 scale.

However, we find that individuals who reported serious housing damage due to the earthquake are less inclined to trust their municipalities, suggesting that they are particularly dissatisfied with the way their municipal governments have handled the crisis.

Furthermore, the findings show that despite the many great needs in the country, the vast majority of the citizens, 85.8%, have not asked their local governments for help. The data also show that the decision not to contact the local government is based on rational assessments, since only a small fraction of those who turn to their local governments reported having their problems resolved. Specifically, only 26.9% of those who sought assistance saw satisfactory responses to their demands. Similarly, citizens have not become more active in local government activities such as meetings organized by municipalities.

Economic Conditions after the Earthquake

The 2010 survey also included a series of items that make it possible to assess citizens' perceptions about their economy and their actual economic status. Given Haiti's high level of poverty, not surprisingly the majority of the population considers that their personal economic situation is "bad" or "very bad.". 43.1% perceive that their economy is "bad," and an additional 20.3% considered it as "very bad." Objective measures of economic status calculated based on the LAPOP data further demonstrate the critical economic conditions of the population in Haiti.

The results indicate that 47.9% of the respondents were not working at the time of the survey, 34.5% were working, and 17.6% self-identified as students, retirees, or pensioners. Among those who were not working, 56.5 percent of them stated that they were actively looking for a job. Moreover, among those working, the quality of their jobs is very low; 55.7% of individuals who reported to have a job were identified as "informal" workers or employees without a formal contract and social protection (Informal workers were defined as individuals working in the private sector without a job contract and health insurance through their employer (excludes employers or business owners).)

The data also revealed that low job quality, as measured by informal employment, is particularly predominant among female workers.

When LAPOP data on household assets and access to basic services are analyzed, a substantial decline in household "wealth," and therefore an increase in poverty, is observed after the earthquake, reflecting the worsening of Haitians' living conditions. After the earthquake, a much larger proportion of individuals (45%) falls into the first quintile (i.e., poorest) of wealth, indicating that a sharply larger number of Haitians became poorer after the quake. Specifically, the percent of the population falling in the first quintile of wealth increased from about 20% to 45%.

Part II

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