Haitians living in the United States are deeply impacted by the devastating earthquake that hit their island homeland earlier this month, according to a poll sponsored by New America Media.
A shocking three out of five respondents said they had lost some of their “loved ones.” Two-thirds felt the situation in their country was so dire they were willing to move back to Haiti for a period of time to help with the reconstruction.
A large majority of those interviewed said that they have been sending remittances back home on a regular basis but are now willing to increase the amount. Seventy-eight percent of Haitian adults in the United States reported having sent a financial contribution to help victims of the earthquake.
Additionally, 62 percent indicated that they were willing to adopt or foster a Haitian orphan from the earthquake. Three-fifths felt that the United States should welcome at least 50,000 new Haitian refugees to alleviate the calamity in the island nation.
Pollster Sergio Bendixen, president of Bendixen and Associates which conducted the poll on behalf of NAM, said that Haitian Americans were also aware of the long-term challenges Haiti faces. “The Haitian community in the United States indicates that for them, the most important long-term need is improving the nation’s health and education systems,” Bendixen said.
“Thirty-seven percent of those polled said the health and education systems needed to be addressed; 24 percent said strengthening the security and safety of the people should be the top priority, while a majority also agreed that Haiti would benefit from the opening of American markets to Haitian agricultural produce and manufactured goods.”
Haitians in the United State are not concerned about the large U.S. military presence in their homeland.
The Haitian Diaspora in the United States also gave high marks to President Obama and his government (96 percent) and to the United Nations (88 percent) for their response to the earthquake. But three-fifth of the respondents also said the Haitian government has become unresponsive, and 63 percent disapproved of the way president Rene Preval and the Haitian government conducted themselves in the aftermath of the earthquake. Moreover, more than three-quarter of Haitian Americans believe that the $100 million pledged by the Untied States to help the country recover was not enough. They would like to see more than $1billion given.
The diaspora in the United States is split on whether the Haitian government is still a viable entity. Forty-six percent agree that Haiti will never be able to govern itself, while 41 percent disagree that Haiti is a failed state.
The NAM poll also found that more than 90 percent of Haitians in the United States follow the events in Haiti “closely,” mostly through English language television. The large majority - 87 percent - characterized coverage of the earthquake by CNN, Fox News, ABC, CBS and NBC as fair and comprehensive, and less than 10 percent felt it has been “unbalanced and sensationalistic.”
According to Risk Management Solutions, a catastrophe modeling firm, the Haitian earthquake caused an estimated 250,000 fatalities. Disease, starvation and lack of medical care could push the death toll higher. “We’re too close to events, but the impact [the earthquake] has among Haitians, as well as among the rest of the world, may be among the worst catastrophes in the last century,” Bendixen said.
“This poll should help the American public, as well as our policymakers, understand the strain and emotional connection between Haitian Americans and their native country,” said Sandy Close, executive director of NAM. “Some of the responses regarding the respondents’ concerns for the recovery effort may also be useful in helping shape U.S. and international policies aimed at rebuilding the nation.”
The NAM poll interviewed 400 respondents between January 22-24, 2010, in English or in Creole, depending on their language of preference. According to the U.S. Census, there are approximately 800,000 Haitians living in the United States.
Andrew Lam is the author of Perfume Dreams: Reflections on the Vietnamese Diaspora