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Multifaceted crisis scenario in fragile cities: the case of Haiti

Port-au-Prince, Haiti


In the past, food price increases of roughly 40% in a time period of less than a year resulted in violent protests in Haiti and the fall of the government after the parliament voted to out Prime Minister Jacques-Édouard Alexis. The concentration of extreme poverty in those areas, combined with high levels of income inequality, lack of access to basic services and repeated disasters reveal the failure of authorities to respond to the needs of the population, factors conducive to violence. Port-au-Prince remains a high-risk environment, tarnished by gang activities where political and economic conditions can rapidly turn into violent unrest. 

The latest hurricane once again threatens to strain an already fragile and unstable political and economic situation. The country has been without an elected president since February. The presidential and legislative elections planned on 9 October were postponed after Hurricane Matthew, whilst the first rounds of voting, held in 2015, were cancelled following violence and a high level of fraudulent activity. This serves to illustrate how a disaster might have cascading impacts on political instability and fragility.  

Repeated disasters only revealed the pre-existing institutional, governance and management failure of Haitian authorities. Urban governance is, therefore, a key battle to fight in order to build resilience in such contexts.

Climate change is expected to bring more significant challenges to fragile and conflict-affected countries. Emerging research indicates that we will see increased rural-urban movement within countries, more labour migration, and more frequent or longer lasting circular migration patterns. With more people moving to cities, and with many cities already facing increased vulnerability to climate and disaster risks as well experiencing existing social, economic and political fragility, these dynamics will be a major determinant of urban resilience.

There is therefore a need to better understand the relationship between climate change, migration, cities and conflict. This issue is a major lacuna within the global research community and, as such, overlooked in policy and programming. To promote sustainable urban development, it is necessary to build resilience to climate chance and to conflict.