The UN announced today that three Pakistani officers were found guilty of sexual exploitation and abuse. Although the UN did not discuss many specifics, Reuters reported earlier that two members of the UN stabilization mission (MINUSTAH) had “been sentenced to a year in prison for raping a 14-year-old Haitian boy.” Reuters also notes that:
It was the first time that members of the U.N. military on deployment in Haiti have been tried and sentenced within its borders.
The Haitian government had previously requested the lifting of immunity for the Pakistani officers and the Senate passed a resolution requesting they be tried in Haitian courts. Yet, while the trial was held in Haiti, it was a “military justice procedure…undertaken in accordance with the national laws of Pakistan.” Those found guilty will serve their sentence in Pakistan. As Reuters reports, “Haitian government authorities were given no advance notice of the military tribunal.” Had the Pakistani police officers been tried in a Haitian court they likely would have faced much harsher penalties. Haiti’s Justice Minister, Michel Brunache told Reuters it was a “small” step, adding:
"We expected more from the U.N. and the Pakistani government, but now we want to focus on the proper reparation that the victim deserves."
The case is but the latest in a long string of sexual abuse cases involving MINUSTAH personnel. In 2007 over 100 Sri Lankan MINUSTAH soldiers were repatriated (PDF) after allegations of “transactional sex with underage girls”. To this date no information on if they were ever prosecuted has been made public. More recently, five Uruguayan MINUSTAH troops were repatriated and jailed after a cell phone video showing them sexual assaulting a young Haitian man was reported by the press. The soldiers have since been released from jail and the trial has stalled.
This case, however, differs from the Sri Lanka and Uruguay cases in that the abuse involved members of a Formed Police Unit rather than military personnel. Of the 11,241 MINUSTAH personnel in Haiti, 3,542 are police. The UN announced the case in January, noting a significant difference from previous cases of sexual abuse my MINUSTAH troops:
However, unlike cases involving UN military contingent personnel, investigations into allegations involving UN police fall under the responsibility of the United Nations. For this reason, a team was dispatched to Haiti, on 21 January 2012, to investigate these allegations with the utmost determination
Despite the UN’s “zero tolerance” policy on sexual abuse, they have few means to actually ensure legal prosecution of troops as the responsibility for investigating and prosecuting abuses falls on the troop contributing country. In the case of Formed Police Units (PDF), the UN has the power to investigate, but “responsibility for disciplinary action in these units rests with the commanders of the national units, who must keep the Head of Mission fully informed in all disciplinary matters.” Although Pakistan was responsible for the disciplinary action, it is unclear if it was prompted by the UN investigation. It seems likely, however, that because the guilty officers were police rather than soldiers, the UN had a greater ability to influence the case and actually enforce their “zero tolerance” policy. Still, the circumstances in which the Pakistani officers’ abuses were investigated and prosecuted remain murky at best. The UN could take an important step toward fostering an environment of transparency and accountability by releasing their internal investigation into the rape committed by the Pakistani police officers, and clarifying their role in the prosecution.
To mark International Women’s Day, HRRW is highlighting recent research concerning issues relating to women’s rights in Haiti.
Gender Action released a report this week analyzing the extent to which the World Bank and Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) address gender-based violence (GBV) in their post-earthquake loans. Gender Action applies their Essential Gender Analysis Checklist to five different projects implemented by the two international financial institutions. The report finds that:
[N]either the World Bank nor the IDB adequately address GBV within other critical post-earthquake investments. Sadly, this lack of attention to GBV is hardly surprising: according to Interaction, an alliance of international non-governmental organizations, “the humanitarian community continues to see women’s protection as a second-tier concern in crises, particularly natural disasters, and is slow to address GBV at the onset of an emergency” (Interaction, 2010). This case study underscores the urgent need for the World Bank and IDB to strengthen their own gender policies and explicitly address GBV across all sectors.
The report does salute the World Bank for a recent grant to combat GBV in Haiti, which was the result of advocacy efforts on the part of Gender Action and other groups.
To mark International Women’s Day, HRRW is highlighting recent research concerning issues relating to women’s rights in Haiti.
Recent research from the Center for Human Rights and Global Justice sheds light on factors contributing to an increase in sexual violence since the earthquake over two-years ago. The report, “Yon Je Louvri: Reducing Vulnerability to Sexual Violence in Haiti’s IDP Camps,” is based on surveys conducted in four IDP camps in January 2011 and additional follow up research throughout 2011. While the small sample size and logistical constraints prevent the research from being representative of the IDP population at large, it nonetheless provides an important analysis of the factors contributing to gender-based violence (GBV) and steps that can be taken to remedy the situation using a human rights based approach.
The report found that in the four camps visited, 14 percent of surveyed households reported that at least one member of the household had been a victim of sexual violence since the earthquake, while 70 percent of those surveyed were “more worried” about sexual violence after the earthquake. The report explains that because of underreporting this “is particularly striking because it likely captures a minimum level of sexual violence within the studied IDP camps.” Other studies have estimated significantly higher levels of sexual violence.
The vast majority of victims, 86 percent, were female. The study also found a significant correlation between a lack of services in IDP camps and the likelihood of being a victim of sexual violence. The report finds four significant factors other than gender:
• Suffer from limited access to food. Individuals who reported that they went at least one day without eating in the previous week were more than twice as likely to come from a victim household, as compared to those who did not report insufficient access to food;
• Confront limited access to water. The average victim household had less consistent access to drinking water than their non-victim counterparts. Four out of ten respondents from victim households did not obtain water from a free connection inside their camp during the previous week;
• Face limited access to sanitation. Participants who felt that the nearest latrine was “too far” from their shelter were twice as likely to live in a victim household, and among victim households, 29 percent indicated that they knew someone who was attacked while using the latrines;
• Live in a camp that lacks participatory and responsive governance structures. The survey found that camps with lower levels of consultation regarding camp management had a higher proportion of households reporting that one or more of their members had experienced sexual violence.
To mark International Women’s Day today, human rights groups and cholera victims are peacefully protesting “against the cholera and sexual violence that the UN and its peacekeeping mission, MINUSTAH, have inflicted on Haitians.” (You can follow updates from the march via the twitter feed of BAI, @BAIayiti as well Alexis Erkert of Other Worlds, @aerkert). In a statement released earlier this week to announce the march Rose Getchine Lima, the Bureau des Avocats Internationaux (BAI) Women’s Network Coordinator stated:
Despite its ‘protection’ mandate, the UN’s militarization of Haiti has harmed women. MINUSTAH soldiers themselves have been guilty of sexual violence and the deadly cholera the UN brought to Haiti has destroyed families. Women, often the heads of their households, have been most vulnerable to these harms. They continue to suffer while the UN’s wrongs go unpunished.The UN security council met today to discuss the Secretary General’s bi-annual report on MINUSTAH and Haiti, with many members expressing the need for the UN to redouble their efforts to prevent future abuses and hold those responsible accountable. The representatives of Pakistan and Uruguay, whose troops have been implicated in abuses, both pledged thorough investigations. As of yet, however, no MINUSTAH troops have been held accountable for the myriad of crimes committed against Haitians. These issues are not new. In 2007 over 100 Sri Lankan MINUSTAH soldiers were repatriated after allegations of “transactional sex with underage girls”. To this date no information on if they were ever prosecuted has been made public.
The United Nations says it acts to ‘advance the status of women.’ Yet it won’t hold its personnel accountable for raping Haitian women, girls, and boys, or take responsibility for the cholera epidemic that has killed over 7,000 Haitians. The UN needs to act or the rapes and the cholera deaths will continue to decimate Haiti’s people
While the UN has long denied responsibility for introducing cholera to Haiti, the UN Special Envoy to Haiti Bill Clinton acknowledged today that a MINUSTAH soldier introduced the deadly bacteria that has killed over 7,000 and sickened more than half a million. The statement by Clinton is the first by a UN official to acknowledge UN responsibility.
Independent journalist Ansel Herz reported via Twitter this afternoon that at a press conference in Mirebalais, Haiti, Bill Clinton acknowledged “that a UN peacekeeping soldier brought cholera to Haiti by accident.” Herz has just posted the audio recording of Clinton’s comments, during which he responds to a question from Herz by stating:
I don’t know that the person who introduced cholera into Haiti, the UN peacekeeping soldier from South Asia was aware that he was carrying the virus. [Ed. Note: cholera is not a virus, but bacteria].
It was the proximate cause of cholera, that is, he was carrying the cholera strain; it came from his waste stream into the waterways of Haiti and into the bodies of Haitians.
Clinton goes on to repeat the line from the UN investigation, which shifts blame off the UN and onto Haiti for not having adequate water and sanitation infrastructure. Clinton states that, “what really caused it is that you don’t have a sanitation system, you don’t have a comprehensive water system…”
This explanation, however neglects to account for the fact that as the UN’s own investigation found, “sanitation conditions at the Mirebalais MINUSTAH camp were not sufficient to prevent fecal contamination of the Meye Tributary System of the Artibonite River.” Had the UN adequately disposed of their waste, the outbreak would never have begun. Additionally, the UN failed to screen troops prior to their deployment from a cholera endemic region.
Since the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti (IJDH) and Bureau des Avocats Internationaux (BAI) filed a claim on behalf of 5,000 cholera victims in November, the UN has not responded and repeatedly denied their responsibility. The statement today marks an important shift from these repeated denials.
This acknowledgement of responsibility comes on the heels of statements made by U.S. Permanent Representative to the UN Susan Rice, which IJDH and BAI applauded in a press release earlier this week:
With Bill Clinton’s comments today, perhaps the UN will finally begin taking responsibility for the deadly epidemic and heed calls for financial compensation to victims and investment in critical life-saving infrastructure.
In a statement to the United Nations (UN) Security Council last week, U.S. Permanent Representative Susan Rice stressed the importance of UN accountability for its role in bringing cholera to Haiti, calling on the UN to “redouble its efforts to prevent any further incidents of this kind and to ensure that those responsible are held accountable.”
For the previous five years an independent organization, DARA, has been publishing the Humanitarian Response Index (HRI). The DARA website explains the HRI as “the world’s only independent tool for measuring the individual performance and commitment of government donors to apply the principles of Good Humanitarian Donorship which they agreed to in 2003.” (To learn more about the HRI, see the DARA website).
Unlike other independent evaluations which have focused as much on NGO behavior as donors, the 2011 HRI Haiti report focuses almost exclusively on the donor side of the equation. The report finds a host of missed opportunities, skewed priorities, a lack of coordination and perhaps most importantly, a shortage of communication with both the Haitian government and Haitian people. The result, as the report concludes, is that:
The international community cannot claim that it has helped Haiti build back better, and missed an opportunity to redress years of neglect and inattention to the issue of building capacity, resilience and strengthening preparedness for future crises.
Coordination and Local Input
While the HRI report found that coordination among international actors was relatively good, this “came at the price of better engagement and ownership of local actors.” A problem that has been mentioned numerous times before was the holding of meetings at the UN Logistics base, which the report notes “excluded local NGOs: there was no mechanism by which the large number of Haitian NGOs could be identified or contacted, and their participation was physically limited by making their entry difficult to the logistics base and by convening cluster meetings in English.”
One interviewee told the report’s authors:
“Donors having meetings in a military base in a humanitarian crisis makes no sense and the fact that they still do it one year and a half later is even worse. It hampers participation. Haitians are totally excluded. Many people can’t enter because there are strict controls at the entrance. As Haitians it’s harder for them to get through.”
The report suggests that rather than housing UN operations on a military base, “UN agencies and clusters should have been physically based within government ministries, to expedite their re-building and support their efforts.”
Many organizations also criticized donors for being “inflexible in allowing Haitian NGOs to be subgrantees.” One exception to this was Spain, which required that NGOs partner with local organizations. Canada also set some money aside specifically to build capacity of local NGOs. The U.S. government on the other hand was “criticized…for being confusing, non-transparent and inward-looking, despite their large presence."
As an interviewee explained:
USAID has had a complete bunker mentality. It’s impossible to have any continuity in conversations with them. OFDA had platoons of consultants rotating in and out.
An important article this week from William Booth of the Washington Post took an in-depth look at the government and international community’s efforts to clear some of most high profile of the remaining 707 IDP camps in and around Port-au-Prince. The article focused on the Champ de Mars, home to some 17,000 people, one of the largest remaining IDP camps, and also the most visible – situated just a block from the presidential palace downtown. In a program coordinated by the International Organization for Migration (IOM), families in the camp will be given $500 rental subsidies for one year. Booth continues:
“We’re not talking about a house. We’re talking about renting a room, space on the floor, with a roof, access to water, a communal kitchen, maybe a toilet,” Fitzgerald said. As program coordinator for the International Organization for Migration, he is working alongside the Haitian government to clear the Champ de Mars camp, with a $20 million grant from the Canadian government.
Booth also notes that the program, even if successful, will only address a small part of the problem:
But the darker reality is this: The Haitian government is spending $30 million to empty six camps. There are 701 more. The Champ de Mars project will cost $20 million for 20,000 people. There would still be close to half a million displaced persons in camps. No country, no group of donor nations, no NGO is considering donating $500 million to Haiti to empty the camps.
The math does not work.
Anastasia Maloney, reporting for AlertNet, explains the details of how the beneficiaries are chosen, noting that each day long lines form to get on buses provided by the IOM to take camp residents into neighborhoods looking for accommodations:
The office can only handle around 50 cases a day, and tensions are simmering. Several people vent their frustrations at IOM officials.
“I’ve been coming here every day, every day, for weeks and I haven’t got anywhere,” said one man, clutching his paperwork.
Missed appointments with landlords can mean more weeks of waiting. Often camp residents find accommodation but it turns out to be unsafe, for example, houses built in areas at risk from flooding and landslides.
A new report from Haiti Grassroots Watch examines the State University of Haiti (UEH), more than a year after the university first came to the Interim Haiti Recovery Commission (IHRC) with a proposal for rebuilding following the January 2010 earthquake. The report describes how the IHRC’s mandate ended before it ever got around to doing anything for the university – one of Haiti’s most important institutions of public education, concluding:
The fact that the Haitian government and its “friends” have not financed the reconstruction – and a sufficient operating budget – of the oldest and most important institution of higher learning in then country represents more than a “peril” to Haiti’s future.
The university’s 11 “units of teaching and research” are spread throughout Port-au-Prince, a spatial decentralization that, in a city where traffic is as notoriously difficult as it is in Haiti’s capital presents a significant logistical challenge to communication and organization by students and faculty across schools. Following the earthquake, in which many university buildings were destroyed and others damaged, and 50 faculty and 380 students killed or disappeared, centralization became a key component of the University’s reconstruction plan, which it brought to the IHRC.
The report details how
Over one year ago, the Rectorate submitted a proposal to the Interim Haiti Recovery Commission (IHRC), the institution charged with approving and coordinating all reconstruction projects.
“Right in its first extraordinary meeting, on Feb. 5, 2010, the University Council decided to face the reconstruction problem… and we voted a resolution asking the Executive Council to take all measures deemed necessary to assure all the University faculties could be rehoused together,” according to the project, which HGW obtained.
On February 13, a high-level delegation from the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) arrived in Haiti to review UN activities there, in particular the work carried out by the Stabilization Mission in Haiti, or MINUSTAH. The UN Secretary General, the U.S. government and other international actors have consistently sought to paint the military mission in a positive light, praising, in the words of U.S. Ambassador to the UN Susan Rice, its “critical role in improving stability and governance in Haiti and in creating the conditions for security, reconstruction and development.”
But this position has become increasingly untenable, as an increasing number of reports of alleged abuses by UN troops, including various incidents of rape and violent attacks against unarmed Haitians, have come to light. UN soldiers are also widely considered to be responsible for introducing cholera to Haiti, an epidemic that has killed over 7000 people and infected over half a million, according to conservative estimates.
A newly published survey on popular perceptions of MINUSTAH in Port-au-Prince confirms that MINUSTAH is viewed negatively by residents of the nation’s capital. The survey team, under the leadership of CUNY anthropologist Dr. Mark Schuller, interviewed members of 800 households in various neighborhoods of the city, from both low and mixed income areas.
Only 24.2% of respondents considered that MINUSTAH’s presence was “a good thing” and a majority indicated that, for the most part, they didn’t feel more secure when in close proximity to a U.N. soldier. To the question “when should MINUSTAH leave the country?”, 72.2% of those who expressed an opinion thought that MINUSTAH should leave either now, within six months or within a year. Only 5.9% stated that they thought MINUSTAH should not leave.
Another question in the survey asked whether respondents believed that MINUSTAH owes some form of restitution to cholera victims. (As we’ve discussed before, numerous independent scientific studies have shown that MINUSTAH troops from Nepal are very likely responsible for introducing a devastating cholera epidemic to Haiti in October of 2010.) An overwhelming 74.5% of those surveyed considered that MINUSTAH should offer compensation, while only 4.9% opposed the idea (the rest of those surveyed said they didn’t know). As Schuller noted in the report:
This survey question and the responses that it generated raise the larger issue of MINUSTAH’s accountability before the law and the people of Haiti. Haitians and human rights organizations have expressed their concern over the fact that MINUSTAH operates in Haiti with very little legal accountability for their criminal conduct. Under a Status of Forces Agreement (or SOFA) that the Haitian government signed with the UN, MINUSTAH troops enjoy an almost blanket waiver of liability in Haitian courts for any crimes they commit in Haiti. Both military and civil members enjoy immunity for all acts performed in their official capacity. MINUSTAH military members who commit a crime outside of “their official capacity” are only subject to their home country’s jurisdiction. Civilian members can only be prosecuted if the UN agrees. Haitians may not seek damages for civil liability in a Haitian court unless the UN certifies that the charges are unrelated to the member’s official duties.
Water quality as well as access worsened in December as free water distribution service was discontinued and NGOs continued shifting their operations out of IDP camps, according to a water assessment by DINEPA, the Haitian government's water and sanitation authority. The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reported that:
The decline in water quality coincides with the end of free water distributions in camps through water trucking, in accordance with the national strategy developed by DINEPA. Only three per cent of households in camps are now receiving water provided by an NGO.
The DINEPA assessment found that “47% of the water tests conducted in households are of poor quality, compared to 29% in early December,” and that “[o]nly 55 per cent of households in camps drink chlorinated water.” This probably results in part from DINEPA’s finding that “Only three per cent of households in camps are now receiving water provided by an NGO.” A third of all camp residents’ primary access to water is from a remote source, far from their camp. According to DINEPA, nearly 40 percent of these remote sources are non-chlorinated.
Free water distribution was supposed to come to an end in December 2010, however, as the cholera epidemic had just begun at that time, the program was extended. Although trucks were able to deliver free water to the camps, this did little to reinforce the work of DINEPA or to create sustainable access to quality water in the camps and neighborhoods. As the free water distribution came to a close, there was no effective alternative in place and DINEPA, which receives very little support from the national government, has been unable to fill in the gaps.
The surveys reveal that while many Haitian businesses have won contracts or subcontracts since the earthquake, many others have been left out. There is also a severe disconnect in many areas between local contractors and international organizations. While procurement officers were generally supportive of local procurement, the report does not, as the authors point out, provide an idea of the actual level of local procurement taking place since the respondents were primarily organizations that had used the PDT marketplace previously. Explaining this bias the report states, “PDT is a well-known advocate for local procurement in Port-au-Prince, hence those that were willing to take part in a survey from PDT are more likely to support local procurement themselves.”
PDT interviewed 303 Haitian construction companies and while the percentage of those that received a contract from an international organization increased from 25 percent to 45 percent since the earthquake, many reported feeling excluded from the contracting process. For instance, the survey found that “[a]pproximately 43% of the Haitian businesses surveyed believed that international organisations were neither good nor bad for the economy. Eleven per cent even stated that international organisations do the Haitian economy more harm than good.” Only half of Haitian companies believed international organizations were interested in working with local companies. PDT is advocating for a “Haiti First” policy, “in which both the Government of Haiti and the international community agree to procure locally as often as possible and adopt recognised best practices that ensure maximum development impact from local procurement.”
Interestingly, despite their professed preference for local businesses, 67 percent of procurement officers interviewed “do not believe the local market can deliver technical work to the required quality without high levels of supervision and guidance.”
Filmmaker Michele Mitchell presented her documentary, "Haiti: Where Did the Money Go?" at a congressional briefing yesterday sponsored by Rep. Yvette Clarke, Rep. Barbara Lee, and Rep. Donald M. Payne (CEPR Co-Director Mark Weisbrot spoke at the briefing, and CEPR helped to publicize the event.) Through visits to Haiti in 2010 and 2011 in which she conducted interviews with IDP camp residents, NGO spokespersons, aid workers, and others, and through other background research, Mitchell examines why so many people (currently half-a-million) remain stuck in tent camps with few services, despite the billions of dollars pledged for relief following the earthquake. The film is currently airing on dozens of PBS stations around the U.S.
One NGO that Mitchell focuses on, in interviews, and in on-the-ground examination of the situation in IDP camps, is the Red Cross. Mitchell notes that the Red Cross is the biggest NGO operating in Haiti, and American Red Cross (ARC) Senior Vice President International Services David Meltzer is provided with a significant portion of screen time to explain the Red Cross’ activities in Haiti, and why some services – such as shelter and sanitation – appear to be so sorely lacking. As the Huffington Post’s Laura Bassett describes:
A senior Red Cross official for international aid is interviewed extensively throughout the film, and Mitchell said she repeatedly asked ARC to answer questions and corroborate facts during the production process.
Despite the prominent role that Meltzer has in the film, and Mitchell’s apparent reaching out to the organization, staff from the American Red Cross attended the briefing yesterday, handing out copies of a document titled “Correcting Film@11’s Errors and Distortions on the Haiti Response” (which we have posted here in PDF format). The several ARC staffers from the Washington office also interrupted a panelist (see the video here, 50:40) by complaining that the film was imbalanced and that Meltzer was not given sufficient notice ahead of the event (he was invited six days earlier, according to organizers).
In a front page Washington Post article, William Booth reports on the luxurious lifestyle that former dictator Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier has been living since his return to Haiti last year. Although officially on house arrest, Booth reports that Duvalier “dines with his many admirers at the chic bistros of Petionville” and last week for the two year anniversary of the earthquake “Duvalier drove himself — with a police escort — to the government’s memorial ceremony to mark the second anniversary of Haiti’s cataclysmic earthquake. The audience, which included Haiti’s President Michel Martelly, his prime minister and former president Bill Clinton, rose to greet him.” (Journalists on the scene noted that both Martelly and Clinton also shook Duvalier’s hand.)
Duvalier’s presence at the ceremony in Titanyen was particularly troubling because, as Susana Ferreira pointed out in an article for TIME:
Titanyen, located north of Port-au-Prince, has been used as a body dumping ground for decades. It's where the Tonton Macoutes, the feared militia of the 1957-86 Duvalier family dictatorship, buried many of its estimated 30,000 victims.
Booth reports that Duvalier’s attorney believes all charges will be dropped, “He will be cleared of all charges. It is almost finished now; the judge is typing up the order to throw it all out,” Reynold Georges told Booth. This should come as little surprise given that President Martelly has consistently voiced his support for amnesty for the former dictator, telling Booth “It is part of the past. We need to learn our lessons and move forward.” Additionally, as Booth points out, “Martelly’s government includes many officials with ties to Duvalier’s government.” The AP’s Trenton Daniel reported in October that:
Now, a former minister and ambassador under the regime is serving as a close adviser to Martelly. And at least five high-ranking members of the administration, including the new prime minister, are the children of senior dictatorship officials.
Miguel Vivanco, the Americas director of Human Rights Watch said when Duvalier returned a year ago, that "Duvalier's return to Haiti should be for one purpose only: to face justice. Under the presidency of Duvalier and his Tonton Macoutes, thousands were killed and tortured, and hundreds of thousands of Haitians fled into exile. His time to be held accountable is long overdue." Amnesty International issued a statement this week calling on the Haitian government to prosecute Duvalier. Amnesty’s statement is even more forceful, placing blame directly on Martelly and his administration for delaying the prosecution:
“The authorities haven’t made a serious effort to look into past events that afflicted a generation of Haitians with torture, enforced disappearance, extrajudicial executions, arbitrary arrests and other serious human rights violations.”
“The investigation seems to have deliberately stalled by changing Public Prosecutors multiple times,” said Javier Zúñiga.
“It has become evident that in Haiti, the independence of the judiciary is just a mirage.”
In the weeks prior to the 2nd anniversary of Haiti’s January 12, 2010 earthquake, an unprecedented U.S. State Department public relations offensive has unfolded. On December 28 the U.S. State Department released 11 fact sheets, celebrating the achievements of the U.S. humanitarian and development assistance in Haiti in areas ranging from shelter to food security. To make sure the message got through to journalists, on January 6th the U.S. government partnered up with UN entities and held a joint press teleconference on Haiti to discuss the “amazing” work done removing rubble and providing clean water and shelter to those made homeless by the quake.
The effort continued with an op-ed by Cheryl Mills, Counselor and Chief of Staff to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton that appeared on January 9thin the Huffington Post. The piece was then sent out widely by the State Department public affairs office. Finally, on the day of the anniversary, additional op-eds were published by Rajiv Shah, the head of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and Mark Feierstein, Assistant Administrator, Bureau for Latin America and the Caribbean at USAID. Shah and Feierstein appeared to have received the same memo: their talking points were strikingly similar and the two articles had nearly the same titles “Haiti Is on the Move” and “Haiti ‘a country undeniably on the move’”.
Clearly, there is heightened concern – within the U.S. foreign policy machine – about the perception of U.S. efforts in Haiti, given the increased press scrutiny generated by the 2nd quake anniversary commemorations. A lot of money has been spent - $2.2 billion by the US alone according to their fact sheet on funding - and it’s important to show some results after two years. And, apparently, there are plenty of results on display, as Cheryl Mills has emphasized in her piece, which rolls out ten impressive-sounding achievements. But are these achievements real, and – if they are – do they really represent significant steps forward? Let’s try to go beyond the hype by taking a closer look at Cheryl Mills’ article “Haiti – Two Years Post-Earthquake: What You May Not Know,” and providing the reader with a few additional facts that Mills and the U.S. State Department may prefer you not know:
There have been a host of assessments in the media over the past week examining the state of recovery in Haiti two years after the earthquake. All of these present a mixed review, usually noting early on, as this one from Reuters’ Kevin Gray and Joseph Guyler Delva does, that “More than a half a million people still live in a critical situation in crowded tent camps, many without running water or electricity.” Gray and Guyler Delva also mention that “throngs of Haitians line the streets every day in a jarring reminder that 70 percent of the population is either unemployed or underemployed.”
Reuters goes on:
"It's been two years and I'm still here in the camps," said Jerome Mezil, a 28-year-old who lives in the Sainte-Therese tent camp in the capital's Petionville district.
Some tent camp dwellers say they fear life outside the camps will be even tougher.
Indeed, this echoes what respondents told the International Organization for Migration last year regarding their decision to leave camps: "Poor conditions in the IDP site", "eviction", "high incidence of crime/insecurity in the IDP site", and "rain/hurricane" were cited by 77.9 percent of respondents. These answers contradict claims by the Washington Post that “most were pulled away [from tent cities] by programs that gave them rent subsidies or assistance to repair a home.”
As the two year mark approaches, many are justifiably asking, where did the money go? With billions pledged by donors, and billions more in private donations, it is a natural question. As important as the level of disbursement is the question of where that money has gone and whether it has been spent appropriately. Independent evaluations have shown that many NGOs were responding more to their donors than to those whom they are supposedly in Haiti to help. Last year, the United Nations Special Envoy to Haiti (OSE) released a report, “Has Aid Changed? Channeling Assistance to Haiti Before and After the Earthquake,” which analyzed whether donors “have changed the way they provide their assistance in accordance with the principle of accompaniment” which “is specifically focused on guiding international partners to transfer more resources and assets directly to Haitian public and private institutions as part of their support.”
Yet the vast majority of aid projects and donor support bypassed the Haitian government. In fact, there was less direct budget support in 2011 than there was in 2009 before the earthquake. Additionally, many aid projects were undertaken outside the purview of the government. Rather than reinforcing the government’s capabilities, these types of projects have historically undermined them. Despite this, there are examples of aid done right; the construction of a new teaching hospital in Mirebalais by Partners in Health is one such example.
Partners in Health/Zanmi Lasante (PIH) had been in Haiti for 25 years before the earthquake and has a history of working closely with the government. Dr. Paul Farmer of PIH, writing in the introduction of the OSE report referenced earlier, stresses the importance of working with, not around Haitian institutions:
We know from our shared experiences in Haiti and elsewhere that the way aid is channelled matters a great deal, and determines its impact on the lives of the Haitian people. For example, with over 99 percent of relief funding circumventing Haitian public institutions, the already challenging task of moving from relief to recovery—which requires government leadership, above all—becomes almost impossible.
We have heard from the Haitian people time and again that creating jobs and supporting the government to ensure access to basic services are essential to restoring dignity. And we have learned that in order to make progress in these two areas we need to directly invest in Haitian people and their public and private institutions. The Haitian proverb sak vide pa kanpe—“an empty sack cannot stand”—applies here. To revitalize Haitian institutions, we must channel money through them.
As media coverage intensifies around the two-year anniversary of the earthquake in Haiti, there appears to be a serious effort on the part of the largest donors and aid organizations to present the relief and recovery in Haiti as an unmitigated success. One notable exception is Oxfam, which released a two-year report critical of the reconstruction effort. The State Department, on the other hand, issued 11 separate fact sheets on the U.S. response in Haiti; none of them suggested that the U.S. had learned from its mistakes, or indeed that any mistakes had been made at all. One of the key statistics that is most frequently touted to suggest that big advances have been made is the decline in the number of internally displaced persons (IDPs) living in camps. In a State Department blog post (also published on the Huffington Post) Cheryl Mills, chief of staff to Hillary Clinton, points to the reduction of IDP numbers as a clear sign of progress:
Almost two-thirds of the estimated 1.5 million Haitians living in tent shelters after the January 2010 earthquake have left camps, many returning to houses that have undergone structural improvements or moving into temporary shelters and permanent homes.
Of course, a reduction in people living in IDP camps seems like an entirely positive development. Yet a closer look at this development reveals significant problems with both the relief and reconstruction effort and a much more tepid success story.
In March, the International Organization for Migration (IOM), which tracks the IDP camp population, found that there were 680,000 people living in the camps. So by March the majority of the decrease Mills cites had already taken place. Yet what the IOM found was that many people were leaving the camps for even more precarious living situations, not for new homes or T-shelters. The IOM study shows that only seven percent indicated that an "assistance package was provided" (2.0%), "my home was repaired" (4.7%) or "transitional shelter was provided" (0.3%) as reasons for leaving IDP sites. On the other hand, "Poor conditions in the IDP site", "eviction", "high incidence of crime/insecurity in the IDP site", and "rain/hurricane" were cited by 77.9 percent of respondents. Between June 2010 and March 2011, some 230,000 people were evicted from IDP camps and more than 100,000 still face the constant threat of eviction.
In March 2010, the New Orleans inspector general found that a major contractor for the city’s recovery efforts, MWH Americas, had been overcharging the city. The Times-Picayune reported at the time:
The controversial engineering firm hired to manage New Orleans' massive rebuilding effort has been operating for more than two years under a dubiously awarded contract that has allowed it to overbill the city repeatedly even as the bricks-and-mortar recovery work it oversees has lagged, according to a draft report by the city's inspector general.
Now this same company accused of wrongdoing in New Orleans has landed a USAID contract for work in Haiti. And it's not the first time this has happened. MWH announced on December 21 that it had received a $2.8 million contract to conduct a feasibility study for port infrastructure in northern Haiti (the contract was signed on September 23). The company’s release goes on:
The $2.8 million contract will include a market demand and project finance structure study, economic feasibility analysis, and the preparation of a detailed technical study including geotechnical, environmental assessment, operational performance, water supply system, emergency response, access roads and institutional and regulatory assessment. The project is expected to be complete in May 2012.
The awarding of the contract to Colorado-based MWH, despite a record of waste and abuse, is consistent with other contracts awarded by USAID in the aftermath of the January 2010 earthquake. Overall, USAID has awarded over $300 million in contracts, with only 0.02 percent going directly to Haitian firms. The largest contractor is Chemonics, a company with a long record of waste and abuse in Afghanistan and which was criticized by the USAID inspector general last year for its work in Haiti. MWH Global, the parent company of MWH Americas, spent over $675,000 dollars on lobbying expenses in 2011, according to OpenSecrets.org, although it was below the $1.2 million spent in 2010.
A recent report by Haiti Grassroots Watch examines Haiti’s much trumpeted apparel manufacturing, planned for significant expansion with the new Caracol Industrial Park, which is “being built with 124 million dollars of U.S. taxpayer funds, and another 55 million dollars from the Inter-American Development Bank.” At the park’s groundbreaking ceremony last month, Haitian President Michel Martelly said "Haiti is open for business," and "This model of investment will allow Haitians to feel proud.” Reuters reported that “Martelly said the park could eventually provide jobs for 65,000 workers, which would increase Haiti's garment industry workforce by more than 200 percent.”
But among HGW’s key findings are that:
HGW’s investigative reporters interviewed a factory worker named Evelyn Pierre-Paul, who
hasn't been able to save up a year's rent yet. Twenty-three months after the catastrophe that killed hundreds of thousands, she and her children are still living under a tent in one of the capital's hundreds of squalid refugee camps.
Pierre-Paul's average daily take-home wage is actually more than Haiti's minimum factory wage of 150 gourdes, or 3.75 dollars, a day. She earns about 236 gourdes, or 5.90 dollars a day. But that doesn't cover even one-quarter of what would be considered a family's most basic expenses.
If an international agency brought a deadly disease to New York City that killed more people than the 9/11 attacks, what would be the consequences? Could they simply brush it off and have nobody hold them accountable for the damages? The answer is obviously "no," and the same would be true for most of the countries in this hemisphere. But so far, it looks like they can get away with it in Haiti.
For some reason the “international community” thinks that it can get away with anything in Haiti. More than 7,000 Haitians have been killed since October of 2010 by the deadly cholera bacteria that UN troops brought to Haiti. More than 500,000 have been infected, and the disease – which Haiti has not had in more than a century – is now endemic to the country and will be killing people there for many years to come.
Last week, UN officials once again denied responsibility for the disaster, and even lied publicly about the available scientific research – some of which was included in the UN’s own report on the epidemic. On Thursday Nigel Fisher, the UN’s Deputy Special Representative for MINUSTAH said, "The cholera strain we have in Haiti is the same as the one they have in Latin America and Africa. They all derive from Bangladesh in the 1960s so they are all an Asian strain.
"But the UN’s own report stated definitively that this was not true: "Overall, this basic bacteriological information indicates the Haitian isolates were similar to the Vibrio cholerae strains currently circulating in South Asia and parts of Africa, and not to strains isolated in the Gulf of Mexico [or] those found in other parts of Latin America ...”
So according to the UN’s own research, Fisher was lying. The UN’s denials of its responsibility for introducing cholera in Haiti are analogous to the dishonesty of “climate change deniers.” The evidence for the origin of the epidemic is overwhelming.
An independent evaluation of shelter provision released last week by Estudios Proyectos y Planificación S.A., under commission of the International Federation of the Red Cross, provides perhaps the first systematic evaluation of the provision of shelter since the earthquake nearly two years ago. The report, while acknowledging the tremendous constraints in post-earthquake Haiti and pointing to some notable successes, is highly critical of the overall effort on the part of the international community despite the fact that “money was not an issue for the shelter response.”
The report focuses on the Shelter Cluster, which took the lead in providing emergency and then interim shelter solutions in Haiti, finding that affected populations and Haitian institutions were excluded from the process and a rigid, singular focus on transitional shelters (T-shelters) hindered the ability to develop a comprehensive housing solution.
Meetings were most often conducted in English and access was restricted inside the UN Log base leading to “a barrier between the international response system and the Haitian institutions.” One government official states that, “[o]ur ideas were not taken too much into consideration. Some said it is because we didn’t have the capacity [to actively participate in the cluster’s decisions] (…) Perhaps we were weak but we were there and tried, but they [shelter agencies] wouldn’t listen to us.”
The evaluation found that “a more participatory strategy would have been desirable to better address the affected population’s needs and plans and to seek collaboration with them, to allow a more self-driven response and to reduce the burden on the humanitarian actors.”
“Affected people were not consulted nor their capacities considered, the response was what those with the [foreign] money decided,” one interviewee told the evaluation team.