Haiti vs. Dominican Republic: Who’ll Win The Water Dispute?

The President of the Dominican Republic, Luis Abinader, has communicated to the United Nations that he had to make the difficult decision to shut down its borders with Haiti. This move is a response to what he sees as the inappropriate actions of the Haitian community to divert water from a shared river into their territory. This is not an isolated instance of water-related disputes between neighboring nations, as water is a vital necessity for life. The conundrum lies in determining who has the initial rights to these water resources and how conflicts like these can be peacefully resolved. The Haitian government currently insists on continuing the canal’s construction, drawing strong disapproval from President Luis Abinader who asserts it breaks a prior agreement and risks impacting the Massacre River, local Dominican farmers, and the broader environment. 

The Massacre River has historically served as a water resource for Haitian farmers for their crops in the Maribaroux plains. However, issues arose a few years back when the government under Moise Jovenel decided to construct a canal to redirect the river’s flow away from the Dominican Republic. This project was halted due to the shocking assassination of President Moise, and the Haitian government continued to be inactive. Taking matters into their own hands, a group of Haitian farmers decided to finish the canal project. Nonetheless, President Abinader argued this action violates an existing and valid international treaty between the Dominican Republic and Haiti, but this is disputed by the Haitian government.

The Haitian government expressed via social media that their agriculture ministry was working with the Haitian group working on the canal to ensure that it meets necessary technical standards. Their aim is to ensure the canal would not adversely affect crops or individuals living nearby in the Maribaroux plains, currently mired in drought. The government stated emphatically on social media, a platform formerly known as Twitter, that the canal construction was essential. President Abinader countered by saying that the project hasn’t been formally communicated with the Dominican government, and pertinent documentation such as environmental impacts and the identity of the beneficiaries weren’t shared.

Moreover, Abinader called for immediate foreign military intervention in Haiti to suppress increasing gang-related activities and rising incidents of murder, rape, and abductions. He urged for prompt action as he believes that the situation cannot wait. This development is bound to exacerbate the already tense relationship between these two nations sharing the island of Hispaniola. The Dominican Republic is also reactivating an old canal near Massacre River to facilitate water supply for local farmers and residents. This project is anticipated to take a few months to complete.

Abinader had previously informed the Haitian authorities in April 2021 to stop the canal construction work. He reiterated that the concept of this project was never formally communicated to the Dominican government, and no related documents were provided. Meanwhile, the UN Security Council has yet to act on the request of Haitian Prime Minister Ariel Henry for a foreign military force. The United States has pledged to propose a UN resolution that will authorize it. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, however, stresses the need for giving the Haitian people’s voice precedence in dealing with the crisis and deciding the path forward.