Haiti vs Dominican Republic: Who Will Win the Water Dispute?

Dominican Republic’s President Luis Abinader declared to the United Nations that he was compelled to shut its borders with Haiti due to the contentious diversion of a river that flows from Haiti to the Dominican Republic. The move is a sign of dissatisfaction with decisions taken by the Haitian citizens. Disputes concerning water as a key resource are not new between neighboring nations, with debates arising around the entitlement to and resolution of such resources. Recently, the Haitian government has reaffirmed its decision to continue with the
canal’s construction despite the ongoing tensions.

President Abinader has maintained that this construction breaches an existing treaty and is likely to disturb the flow of the Massacre River, affecting the local Dominican agricultural sector as well as the environment. The river, flowing from Haiti to the Dominican Republic, has been a longstanding source of water for Haitian farmers in Maribaroux plain. The conflict ignited in the past few years when the Haitian government under Moise Jovenel decided to build a canal that would direct the river away from the Dominican Republic. However, this canal construction came to a sudden halt following Jovenel’s tragic assassination.

Despite two years of Haitian governmental inaction, a group of Haitian farmers decided to finish the canal project. President Abinader contended that such diversions breach a standing treaty between Haiti and the Dominican Republic, a sentiment not echoed by the Haitian authorities. The Haitian government stated on a network once known as Twitter that they were actively coordinating with local residents engaged in the canal construction to enable it to adhere to technical standards and prevent any adverse impact on the Maribaroux plain.

Contrary to this, Abinader stated that the specifics of the project were never conveyed to the Dominican government, nor any details about its environmental repercussions or benefactors. He urged for foreign armed assistance in Haiti, citing gang-violence induced surge in crimes. This move is anticipated to further escalate the dispute between the shared territories of Hispaniola. The Dominican government in response is restoring an old canal near the Massacre River to secure a local water source.

Despite these friction points, Abinader clarified during the United Nations’ General Assembly that his government had urged the Haitian authorities since April 2021 to halt work on the canal. The Haitian Prime Minister Ariel Henry had earlier in October sought aid, but the U.N. Security Council hasn’t acted upon it yet. Kenya offered leadership of a multinational force upon establishing diplomatic ties with Haiti recently. Similarly, the US has proposed to introduce a U.N. resolution authorizing such a force, although no specific timeline has been proposed. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has urged engagement with the Haitian population around any international intervention to ensure their involvement in defining the path forward.

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