The Miami property developer, volunteering after Haiti's earthquake, was horrified to see children sleeping in the dirt under makeshift tents of bed sheets propped up on sticks. A global, billion-dollar aid effort should be able to do better, he thought.
He decided he could do better himself.
Michael Capponi flew home, collected donated tents, flew them back to Haiti and persuaded a mayor to let him build a proper camp for hundreds of families on the soccer field of a gated community of luxury villas. It took him three days and less than $5,000.
"I didn't put this together to get a pat on the back, but to show the world it can be done rather quickly, and with limited funds," said Capponi, 37.
After the Jan. 12 quake, which killed as many as 300,000 people, the world launched a massive relief effort to bring food, water, medicine and other supplies to needy Haitians. The U.S. alone has spent more than $665 million, official figures show.
But only a tiny fraction of that money is being spent in Haiti, buying goods from local businesses. Worse, the aid is having the unintended consequence of making life harder for many businesses here, because of competition from free goods brought in by relief agencies. The damage to Haitian companies is making it harder for them to get back on their feet and create the jobs the country needs for a lasting recovery.
"It's hard to believe that four weeks after the quake, so many people still live under bed sheets in camps and on the street," said Christophe Fournier, MSF's International President who recently returned from Haiti. "Where it can, MSF has been distributing tents as well as hygiene kits and cooking supplies, but it is mainly concentrating on providing medical care. "One can only wonder how there could be such a huge gap between the promise of a massive financial influx into the country and the slow pace of distribution. MSF is concerned that with the onset of the rainy season, we'll be facing new medical emergencies, when people who are living without shelter, come to us with diarrhoea or respiratory infections."
Subsidized U.S. rice has flooded Haiti for decades. Now, after the Jan. 12 quake, 15,000 metric tons of donated U.S. rice have arrived.
"The only time I've seen one of these U.N. troops jump out of the back of a truck was to beat up on somebody or take a shot at them,"
revolves around registering residents of the camps and determining whether their homes can be rebuilt.
"If the home has been damaged, teams will be sent to remove the rubble, or a structural engineer will be sent to see if it can be fixed," said Mark Turner, spokesman for the Organization of International Migration, which is assisting in the effort.
But for 12 of the children, last month’s airlift transported them from one uncertain predicament to another. As it turns out, those children — between 11 months and 10 years old — were not in the process of being adopted, might not all even be orphans and are living in a juvenile care center here while the authorities determine whether they have relatives in Haiti who are able to take care of them.
"But now, more than five weeks after the quake, the dangers of inadequate sanitation could amount to the most pressing public health issue in this quake-wrecked city. "
At a shelter distribution by CARE International at a camp in a Petionville public square, the tarps were received with a mixture of confusion and disappointment.CARE later told Herz that in the future they would set up an example tarp in each camp before distribution.
"It's not clear for us. We can't set them up because they don't send anyone to give an explanation," said Joseph Jean-Ones, whose family lives in the camp, as he tried to fit one metal pole on top of another.
His wife was given a gray tarp, a set of gleaming metal poles, and a single piece of paper with pictoral diagrams showing how to tie the materials together. The tarps do not come with text instructions, in Haitian Creole or any language.
"They should teach people how to set them up before distributing them," said another man, setting the supplies down on the ground. "Now we don't know what to do with it. It's like they're distributing problems to us."
"What we're about is shelter, warmth and dignity - it's difficult to get that with tarps," said John Leach, Shelterbox's Head of Operations, in an interview. He said the plastic tarps will prove inadequate under heavy rains.The reality is that no matter how much shelter material is distributed, the situation remains grave:
"If tarps are that great, why are all the U.N. people living in tents?" he asked.
"No one is pretending that this offers anything but very partial protection from the rains," Alex Wynter, spokesman for the International Federation of the Red Cross, told reporters in a press briefing.
"I would say that the tents and tarpaulins, in addition to giving people a modicum of privacy, give people a tool with which they can stay dry overnight," he said. "But there's no doubt that we face a very grave crisis here, when the rains come."
Villagers are near the breaking point as they try to accommodate tens of thousands of displaced city dwellers just when they would be putting their precious resources into preparing for planting. In desperation, some have resorted to eating their meager seed stocks or killing their chickens and goats to feed the influx, rather than keeping them to sell.
In a declaration full of optimism and hope, the Dean of Health Sciences, Dr. Yves Polynice stated: “The inauguration of the Aristide Foundation University is an opportunity to renew our Hippocratic Oath where each physician pledges to care for the poor, widows, and orphans free of cost. We must be conscious that any illness affecting one citizen represents a threat to us all. Today we say ‘health care for all, without exclusion.’ ” On February 3, 2004, the hospital officially opened its doors and began treating many of Haiti’s most vulnerable. For many it was their first visit to a doctor.
Americans want to help Haiti; Democrats control the U.S. Congress; the Haitian Parliament has passed legislation saying Haitian workers should be paid at least $5 a day; and specific legislation that provides preferential access to the U.S. market to garments from Haiti is already U.S. law. Therefore, the following policy reform ought to be a slam dunk: Haitian garment workers whose products receive preferential access to the U.S. market under the HOPE II Act ought to be paid at least $5 a day.
I ask Sony to tell me about the importance of community radio in Haiti, the first priorities for rebuilding it, and the role it can play in reconstructing a just Haiti. First, he clarifies my terminology. SAKS works with community radio, but views itself as part of the network of popular radio, which he defines as radio in the struggle to transform society.
Witnesses said police beat 22-year-old Dalida Jeanty in the morning after she picked up a broom to sweep around her tent. "They called her and she did not come so they beat her," said her cousin, Alix Jeanty.
Friends and relatives carried the woman down the hill and U.N. peacekeepers arranged for her to be taken to the hospital.
The decision, announced in an interview with The Associated Press, is potentially explosive in a country where a small elite owns most of the land in and around the capital.
That elite, a traditionally corrupting force in Haitian politics, has the power to bring down the government.
Every time I meet with foreign leaders and delegations, I tell them that [shelter] is the most urgent need.