Last month, the International Donors’ Conference Towards a New Future for Haiti
sought to lay the groundwork for Haiti’s long-term recovery by pledging an impressive $9.9 billion over the next decade. A large portion of the money will fund health, education, and employment efforts
that are crucial to meeting the needs of Haiti’s people—particularly its youth. In a new case study of Haiti’s demography and development
, Population Action International (PAI) argues that the country’s age structure should play a central role in any reconstruction strategy.
In Haiti, almost 70 percent of the population is under the age of 30
, and this very youthful population affects every aspect of the country’s development prospects, from economic opportunities to security issues, political stability, gender equality, and climate change adaptation.
Haiti is at a demographic crossroads. If sound policies are in place, youthful age structures can translate into an economic asset for the country. The combination of decreasing fertility levels and a growing working-age population may open a window of opportunity for economic growth. To seize it, large-scale education and employment policies and programs should seek to raise employment rates for both male and female youth.
For Haiti to reap the benefits of this “demographic dividend,” access to reproductive health services is equally important. According to the most recent Demographic and Health Survey (2005-2006), if all unintended births were avoided, the average fertility level in the country would be 2.4 children instead of four.
But if instead, Haiti ignores the needs of its youth, the country will remain vulnerable to a variety of political and economic challenges. Youth unemployment is twice that of the rest of the population, which could have a negative impact on the country’s political stability and security situation.
The PAI report The Shape of Things to Come shows that countries with very young age structures are less likely than others to sustain democratic regimes and that age structure impacts political stability. To be an effective partner in its reconstruction, the Haitian government needs stable governance. By prioritizing education, health, and employment for young people, Haiti may reduce the risk of urban violence, help attract private investors, and speed its recovery.
Addressing demographic factors will also help Haiti achieve broader development goals. Decades of high population growth and the use of charcoal as the main source of energy have deforested 97 percent of the country, increasing Haiti’s inherent vulnerability to environmental disasters and climate change. Denuded landscapes contribute to devastating floods, especially in urban coastal zones. The lack of tree cover reduces the country’s ability to absorb carbon and causes wide variations in temperature. Due to soil erosion, Haiti’s agricultural industry is one of the least productive in the world, leading to widespread poverty and food insecurity.
The integration of demographic factors into development strategies constitutes one of the most compelling ways for Haiti to facilitate not only its reconstruction, but also address the challenges of climate change and make its population more resilient and prosperous.
Three new case studies from Population Action International on Haiti, Yemen and Uganda examine the challenges specific to countries with very young age structures and recommend policy solutions.
Béatrice Daumerie is a research fellow at Population Action International (PAI).
Photo: Haitian youth. Courtesy Flickr user NewsHour