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Haiti’s Dual Disasters

Haiti’s health system could barely deal with the COVID-19 pandemic. An earthquake and tropical storm have made matters much worse.

By , the newsletter writer at Foreign Policy.
The Church of St. Anne is completely destroyed.
The Church of St. Anne is seen completely destroyed by the earthquake in Chardonnières, Haiti, on Aug. 18. REGINALD LOUISSAINT JR/AFP

Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: Haiti continues recovery efforts following earthquake and storm damage, the United States plans to offer COVID-19 vaccine booster shots, and Germany’s Greens party slips in polls.

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Haiti Endures a Week of Torment

Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: Haiti continues recovery efforts following earthquake and storm damage, the United States plans to offer COVID-19 vaccine booster shots, and Germany’s Greens party slips in polls.

If you would like to receive Morning Brief in your inbox every weekday, please sign up here.

Haiti Endures a Week of Torment

Two natural disasters in one week would test most countries. In Haiti, the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, it is pushing a strained health system past the limit.

The 7.2 magnitude earthquake that hit Haiti’s southwest on Saturday has already claimed around 2,000 lives, according to official estimates. Rescue efforts were further hampered when then-Tropical Storm Grace made landfall a few days later.

Hospitals struggle to cope. The number of injured individuals—at least 9,915 people—puts a strain on already bare health care facilities. Haiti ranks in the bottom 25 nations when it comes to hospital beds, with its 0.7 beds per 1,000 people putting it on par with Yemen and Sudan.

To make matters worse, scores of hospitals across Haiti were damaged or destroyed by the earthquake, Pan American Health Organization Director Carissa Etienne reported on Wednesday. The earthquake also took the life of Ousmane Touré, an epidemiologist assisting with the organization’s COVID-19 response.

Politics on hold. As aid officials attempt to assist affected regions, Haiti’s political class may be breathing easier. As Jonathan M. Katz writes in Foreign Policy, the timing of the disaster “offered a disruption—and perhaps a not-unwelcome distraction—from a political crisis that was threatening to spiral out of their control.”

Just last week, officials announced a delay in presidential elections scheduled for September. They will now take place on Nov. 7. Meanwhile the quest for justice in the assassination of former Haitian President Jovenel Moïse has continued—but slowly: Dozens have been arrested, but none have appeared in court, and judges involved in the investigation have reportedly gone into hiding.

All of these calamities came amid a global one: the COVID-19 pandemic. With experts complaining of poor reporting, Haiti’s relatively low death rate and caseload are likely undercounts. Haiti received its first shipment of coronavirus vaccines in July, but vaccination rates are still low: Less than 0.2 percent of the population has received a shot.

What We’re Following Today

Afghanistan aftermath. U.S. President Joe Biden said he is willing to keep U.S. troops in Afghanistan past an Aug. 31 deadline if all U.S. citizens are not evacuated by that date. In an interview with ABC News, Biden said there were 10,000 to 15,000 Americans and as many as 65,000 Afghans still to be evacuated.

Speaking on Wednesday, U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman criticized the Taliban for blocking Afghans from accessing Kabul’s airport while Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said U.S. officials have spoken with the Taliban to “emphasize that people who are trying to get to the airport and have the right credentials need to be allowed through right now.”

The Afghan city of Jalalabad became the first site of protests against impending Taliban rule, with witnesses reporting at least three people killed by Taliban militants after they opened fire on protesters.

U.S. booster shots. The United States will soon begin offering COVID-19 vaccine booster shots beginning Sept. 20, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services said in a Wednesday statement, citing the diminishing protection the two-shot regimen gives over time. If the move is approved by regulators, those who received their second dose eight months ago will be first in line. The decision has the potential to disrupt the global vaccine rollout as the United States had already begun donating spare supplies overseas.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has, for months, warned against administering booster shots until more of the global population receive vaccines. To date, only 32 percent of the world has received one dose. WHO emergencies chief Michael Ryan put the disparity in stark terms at a Wednesday news conference: “Were planning to hand out extra life jackets to people who already have life jackets while were leaving other people to drown without a single life jacket.”

Violence in Burkina Faso. At least 47 people, including 17 soldiers, were killed by rebels in northern Burkina Faso on Wednesday, the third attack in two weeks targeting Burkinabé soldiers. The attack occurred while a convoy was traveling near Arbinda, a town close to the “three-border zone” shared with Mali and Niger, which has seen repeated acts of violence, including one in Niger on Monday that killed 37 people. No group has yet claimed responsibility for Wednesday’s attack.

Keep an Eye On

Germany’s election. Germany’s Greens party has slipped into third place in a recent Forsa poll ahead of Germany’s federal election, now less than six weeks away. The Greens had briefly led polls back in March, but a recent surge in support for the Social Democratic Party (SPD) led by Finance Minister Olaf Scholz has shifted the balance. The poll gave the conservative Christian Democratic Union bloc, led by Armin Laschet, a thin lead with 23 percent support—down from around 30 percent in June—with the SPD at 21 percent and the Greens at 19 percent. The same poll showed Scholz was the number one choice for chancellor, with 29 percent support—17 points ahead of Laschet.

Belarus’s migrant gambit. Poland has deployed more than 900 troops to its border with Belarus to assist border agents dealing with a dramatic increase in migrants from third countries—primarily Iraq and Afghanistan—attempting to make the crossing into European Union territory. The move comes as other countries bordering Belarus have also seen a surge in crossings.

On Wednesday, Lithuania accused Belarus of illegally entering its territory with police to force migrants over the border while Latvia declared a state of emergency on its border earlier this month. EU officials have accused Belarus of flying in migrants and encouraging them to enter European Union states as retaliation for recent sanctions. On Wednesday, a joint statement of EU interior ministers condemned “Belarus’s attempts to instrumentalize human beings for political purposes.”

Odds and Ends

Brexit is gradually leading British officials to better understand the value of poultry workers, as a shortage of them has led to a supply crisis, causing many popular chicken restaurants like Kentucky Fried Chicken and Nando’s to close outlets. Roughly 60 percent of British poultry sector workers come from the European Union, the Financial Times reported, but new British immigration rules classify the workers as “low skilled,” meaning visas are in short supply. The British Poultry Council has called on the government to reclassify the jobs as skilled before the Christmas rush as the group warned that the supply of turkeys could be reduced by a fifth.

Colm Quinn is the newsletter writer at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @colmfquinn

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