The AP reported yesterday that, “the number of Haitians still displaced by the 2010 earthquake has dropped below 200,000… That marks an 89 percent decline since the camp population peaked in July 2010 at 1.5 million people.” According to official figures, the camp population currently stands at 171,974, compared to over 278,000 in June of 2013 at the time of the last report. The drop is the largest over a single reporting period in nearly three years.
Yet, looking closer, over 50 percent of this reduction since June is the result of a decision by the International Organization for Migration (IOM), the entity which monitors the camp population, to remove three areas, Canaan, Jerusalem and Onaville from the official camp list. Together, these three areas are home to an estimated 54,045 individuals. The IOM report states:
On July 11th 2013, the Government of Haiti represented by UCLBP (Unité de Construction de Logements et Bâtiments Publics), submitted a formal request to IOM to remove the three settlements from the DTM (i.e. from the list of IDP sites that exist in the country).
The UCLBP request is motivated by the observation that the characteristics of these settlements are those of “… new neighborhoods needing urban planning with a long term view …”, not of IDP sites.
But the situation facing those who reside in the three areas is far from secure. This week Amnesty International reported that:
Residents of the Lanmè Frape area of Canaan, an informal settlement in the municipality of Cabaret, on the northern outskirts of the capital, Port-au-Prince, have had their simple dwellings repeatedly destroyed by police officers accompanied by armed men. The residents told Amnesty International that they have been the victims of attacks on more than 10 occasions over the last 18 months and several of them have also been arrested on unfounded charges for periods of up to a month. Two hundred families currently remain in the Lanmè Frape area, although as many as 600 lived there before the forced evictions began.
Amnesty continues, describing how the area came to be occupied:
The Lanmè Frape area of Canaan is part of a large tract of land which the then government declared for “public use” (utilité publique) two months after the earthquake in March 2010. Tens of thousands of people who lost their homes in the earthquake have subsequently relocated there, but many face eviction from people claiming ownership of the land.
Beyond the previously “official” camp communities of Canaan, Jerusalem and Onaville, it is believed that tens of thousands more families have moved to the surrounding area since the earthquake. Over the last year, the UCLBP has lobbied the international community for funding to make investments in urban planning for the area. According to minutes from the February 2013 Haiti Reconstruction Fund (HRF) meeting (PDF), the head of the UCLBP, Odnell David, made a presentation requesting $15 million as part of a $50 million project to address the situation in Canaan-Jerusalem. The government “has a moral obligation to take care of these people and undertake investment,” David said. Yet, although donor countries all supported the use of HRF funds for investments in the Canaan area, when funding decisions were made this September, no resources were allocated for the project.
There were also other motives for addressing the displacement crisis in Canaan. According to the official minutes, the David explained that, “this area poses a threat to neighboring industrial and touristic development.” Two weeks later, at the next HRF meeting (PDF), he described how this “project is the starting point for the larger project of developing the entire northern area of the city of Port-au-Prince.”
Several new reports released in the past two weeks by the Workers Rights Consortium (WRC), Gender Action, and Better Work Haiti examine working conditions in Haiti’s garment factories and find that most workers are not being paid the wages they are legally owed, even as they are subject to unsafe and unsanitary working conditions, sexual harassment, and other abusive treatment.
A new report [PDF] released this week by the WRC, an organization that monitors working conditions in apparel factories producing products sold in the U.S. market, finds that most Haitian garment workers are subject to wage theft. The New York Times’ Randal Archibold and Steven Greenhouse reported this week that
[t]he report …focused on 5 of Haiti’s 24 garment factories and found that “the majority of Haitian garment workers are being denied nearly a third of the wages they are legally due as a result of the factories’ theft of their income.”
The group said that the factories deprive workers of higher wages they are entitled to under law by setting difficult-to-meet production quotas and neglecting to pay overtime.
The WRC report states:
Tacitly complicit in this theft of wages are the major North American apparel brands and retailers, like Gap, Gildan, Hanes, Kohl’s, Levi’s, Russell, Target, VF, and Walmart, that are buyers of garments from Haiti. Although most, if not all, of these firms are well-aware of this law-breaking, they continue with business as usual, profiting from the lower prices that they can obtain from factories that cheat their workers of legally owed wages.
In a development that has received much media attention, lawyers working on behalf of Haitian cholera victims brought a class action lawsuit against the United Nations on Wednesday over U.N. troops’ role in introducing the cholera bacteria to Haiti three years ago. The suit was filed in a federal court in New York on behalf of five named victims by the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti (IJDH), the Bureau des Avocats Internationaux (BAI) and the law firm of Kurzban, Kurzban, Weinger, Tetzelli & Pratt, with more plaintiffs expected to join. Since it is a class action complaint, the amount of damages sought is unspecified, although it does include $2.2 billion in order to provide full funding for the Haitian and Dominican governments’ cholera eradication plan, which was created with the U.N. but is only about 9 percent funded some 8 months after it was unveiled.
The IJDH warned the U.N. in May that such a lawsuit would be forthcoming if the organization continued to dodge responsibility for bringing cholera to Haiti. This Friday, October 19 will mark three years since the first cholera case was reported in Haiti in over a century.
"Haiti today has the worst cholera epidemic in the world," said Miami attorney Ira Kurzban, who announced the lawsuit at a joint news conference with the human rights groups Bureau des Avocats Internationaux (BAI) and the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti (IJDH).
"Before these events, Haiti did not know of cholera for 100 years. Cholera was brought to Haiti by U.N. troops," Kurzban said.
Asked to comment on the suit, U.N. spokesman Farhan Haq said: "We don't discuss claims brought against the U.N."
The United Nations was working on the ground in Haiti to provide assistance to those affected, he added. It was committed to do all it can do "to help the people of Haiti overcome the cholera epidemic," Haq said.
Although the U.N. has yet to admit responsibility for the epidemic that has killed over 8,300 people and sickened over 675,000, at least 10 scientific studies have linked the outbreak to U.N. troops from Nepal. As IJDH explains in a press release
On September 19, in an event attended by U.S. Ambassador to Haiti Pamela White, USAID and Haitian government officials, the U.S.’ largest post-earthquake program came to its official close. According to Ambassador White, the $155 million Haiti Recovery Initiative (HRI) “is among the U.S. Government’s biggest earthquake response programs, and throughout its entire lifetime, the program has remained committed to helping Haitians rebuild their communities and work with national and local leadership to prioritize and respond to community needs.” But, as the program comes to a close, there remain more questions than answers as to what was accomplished.
In the first days after the earthquake in Haiti, USAID awarded contracts to Chemonics International and Development Alternatives Inc. (DAI), each with a value of up to $50 million dollars. The contracts were awarded through USAID’s Office of Transition Initiatives, which aims to support "U.S. foreign policy objectives…in priority countries in crisis,” according to their website. Chemonics’ contract with USAID, obtained through Freedom of Information Act requests, explains that “OTI seeks to focus its resources where they will have the greatest impact on U.S. diplomatic and security interests.” Further, while noting that “OTI cannot create a transition or impose democracy,” they can “identify and support key individuals and groups…In short, OTI acts as a catalyst for change where there is sufficient indigenous political will.”
A press release from USAID announcing the end of the program lists a number of interventions taken by OTI: provision of emergency materials to those displaced, removal of rubble, cash-for-work programs and rehabilitation of government infrastructure, among others. While the press release contains few details, quarterly and annual reports on the OTI website are supposed to provide greater detail -- yet there hasn’t been an update posted in over a year-and-a-half. When asked about the lack of disclosure in December 2012, a USAID official responded that “Due to USAID's website overhaul, more information will be available in the New Year.” No such information has been posted.
USAID Refuses to Release Info to Prevent “Demonstrations”
What information has been made public about OTI’s operations in Haiti has called into question the efficiency and performance of OTI’s contractors. In October 2012, the USAID Office of the Inspector General (OIG) released an audit on the HRI program, finding that the program was “not on track” to complete its projects on schedule. The audit also found that Chemonics was operating with little to no oversight on the part of USAID. Performance indicators were “not well-defined” and only one performance evaluation was completed despite the contract stating that “they should be conducted between two and four times a year.” A previous USAID OIG audit found that OTI was not performing internal financial reviews, despite the contractors “expending millions of dollars rapidly…in a high-risk environment.”
Documents obtained from Freedom of Information Act requests submitted by HRRW have redacted cost information, and the contractually mandated report on to whom Chemonics distributed funds has not been released either. After HRRW appealed the redactions, USAID responded in July, upholding their decision and in fact going even further, reissuing the document that had previously been released, with the entire Statement of Work redacted (the previous version had redacted just part of it). As can be seen in the highlighted section of the image, below, USAID justifies the lack of transparency by stating that “if the information is released, we believe that the information will be used selectively and out of context,” and that “to release the information in such a way could willfully stir up false allegations about the HRI and cause strife within target communities.” Finally, USAID notes that the “release of the information in the Statement of Work would likely instigate demonstrations and create an unsafe environment in which to implement and/or develop programs.” It is unclear how or why the projects listed in their press release would lead to such a violent reaction.
The Organization of American States (OAS) will send electoral monitors to Haiti despite the election having not been scheduled, reports AFP. According to Frederic Bolduc, the OAS Special Representative to Haiti, the observers “intend to arrive several months in advance to help authorities register voters and then count votes.” Bolduc pointed out that setting the date of the election was up to the Haitian government and that the “OAS will not decide on a date.”
Elections, which were supposed to be held in November 2011, have yet to be scheduled as conflicts between the president and parliament over the electoral law continue. The head of the U.N. mission in Haiti, Sandra Honoré, told the U.N. Security Council (PDF) in late August that the “delay in the holding of long-overdue partial senatorial, municipal and local elections is of increasing concern and poses a series of risks to the stabilization process.” If elections are not held by January 2014, the terms of many parliamentarians will end, potentially shutting down an entire branch of Haiti’s government and allowing President Martelly to rule by decree.
On a trip to Washington D.C. last week, Haitian Senator Steven Benoit put the blame for the electoral delays squarely on Martelly. Benoit noted that “after two years of hide and seek” with the electoral reforms, formation of the electoral council and submission of the electoral law, there will not be time to reach an agreement before the terms of parliamentarians come to an end. Noting that Martelly told a crowd the previous week that for the next two years he would “run Haiti as he saw fit,” Benoit warned that “having President Martelly run Haiti without a Congress and without holding elections” would ensure a return to “political instability and turmoil.”
As with previous elections, the international community is footing the bill. A United Nations Development Program (UNDP) project, funded by the U.S., Canada, Brazil, the E.U. and others has already disbursed over $401,000 and has estimated the cost of holding elections to be over $32 million. The UNDP project aims to “strengthen the technical and strategic capabilities” of the Haitian electoral council, but the council itself has come under increasing scrutiny. Last week Benoit accused Martelly of having “done all he could to have a hand-picked electoral council.” According to AFP, the involvement of the OAS “elicited numerous complaints by opposition parties, which feel Haiti should determine its own ability to hold elections.” The reaction of the opposition may be a result of the OAS’s role during Haiti’s last election.
The United Nations mission in Haiti, already facing a credibility crisis over its introduction of cholera, is facing new allegations that one of its troops raped an 18-year old woman this past weekend in the town of Leogane, according to police inspector Wilson Hippolite. In an e-mailed statement, the U.N. acknowledged that they “are aware of the allegations made against a military staff member” and noted that a “preliminary investigation has been launched to determine the facts of the case.”
According to Metropole Haiti, the alleged assault occurred off National Highway #2 on Saturday when the 18-year old woman was approached by a Sri Lankan U.N. military officer. A Justice of the Peace, conducting a preliminary investigation, visited the site of the alleged assault on Sunday and found a used condom. Further tests are being conducted, according to the report. The accused has been moved to a different MINUSTAH base in another part of the country as the investigation unfolds. As of July 30, Sri Lanka had over 860 troops stationed in Haiti, making it the third largest troop contributing country to the 9 year-old mission.
This is but the latest in a string of sexual abuse scandals that have plagued the U.N. mission in Haiti. And it’s not the first time Sri Lankan troops have been involved; in 2007 over 100 Sri Lankan members of MINUSTAH were repatriated after allegations of “transactional sex with underage girls.” In fact, according to the U.N. Conduct and Discipline Unit, there have been 78 allegations of sexual abuse and exploitation by members of MINUSTAH reported in just the last 7 years.
Haitian Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe, on a trip to Europe to ensure continued donor support, was asked by France 24’s Marc Perelman about the ongoing cholera epidemic and U.N. responsibility. Perelman notes that “all the scientific evidence up to date points to the U.N.” but questioned Lamothe as to why the Haitian government has “never pushed for a public apology.” Lamothe stressed that the government has tried to address the issue through “direct dialogue” with the U.N., but also noted that the U.N. has an obvious “moral responsibility” to address the epidemic.
The U.N., in addition to not issuing an apology, has never accepted responsibility for the deadly epidemic that has killed over 8,260 and sickened over 675,000 in the last three years. A U.N.-backed cholera elimination plan has been unable to raise the required funds to adequately address the issue, despite Secretary General Ban Ki-moon’s assurance in late 2012 that he would “use every opportunity” to raise the necessary funds. A high-level donor meeting to raise funds for the plan, scheduled for early October in Washington, has now been postponed until 2014. It had been expected that Mr. Ban, as well as World Bank president Jim Yong Kim, would attend. The plan, which requires some $450 million over its first two years, remains less than half funded.
In the meantime, cholera continues to ravage the country as the response capabilities of national actors diminish. In a bulletin earlier this week, the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) noted that “resources for cholera response, including funding and staff, have been in steady decline since 2012.” OCHA concludes by stating that “if this trend continues, it would be virtually impossible to effectively and efficiently respond to the epidemic in the event of sudden outbreaks.” The lack of adequate resources also means that detailed data on where cholera outbreaks are occurring and how many are dying is becoming harder and harder to come by. The actual toll of this imported disease could be much higher than the official numbers indicate.
In late August, members of the U.N. Security Council and countries contributing to MINUSTAH met to discuss the extension of the mission’s mandate. Not a single country (PDF) raised the issue of U.N. responsibility for cholera, though many praised the Secretary General’s efforts to eliminate it. MINUSTAH’s proposed budget for 2013/2014 is $576,619,000, more than enough to fully fund the cholera elimination plan over its first two years.
In light of continued U.N. denials of responsibility, the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti and the Bureau des Avocats Internationaux continue to seek legal redress on behalf of over 6,000 cholera victims. An earlier claim brought to the U.N. was dismissed as “not receivable” in February. A recent Al Jazeera Fault Lines documentary by Sebastian Walker takes a detailed look at the evolution of the epidemic, its impact on rural communities and the responsibility of the U.N. In it, Walker interviews Deputy Spokesperson for the Secretary General Eduardo Del Buey. After Del Buey reads, verbatim, the U.N. press release from February, Walker pressures him to explain the decision:
Human rights defenders in Haiti are reporting new death threats, and seem to be openly persecuted by powerful individuals and groups, as Mark Snyder and Other Worlds describe today. In an article posted on Huffington Post, Snyder profiles the case of attorney Patrice Florvilus and the Haitian human rights organization Defenders of the Oppressed. Snyder writes:
"Those before you were strong. Now they're all dead. Stop what you are doing, or the same will happen to you."
Those were the words delivered to Frena Florvilus, Director of Education and Advocacy of the Haitian human rights organization Defenders of the Oppressed (DOP), early on the morning of August 11 by one of four unidentified men who attempted to enter DOP's office. The threat echoed numerous others that have been leveled against the DOP office and its staff since they took on the case of a young man who died in police custody within hours of his April 15 arrest, his body left covered with bruises and wounds inflicted by a severe beating. DOP has also been targeted for its work to support displaced peoples who face violent eviction from their camps, by the government and private landowners who are determined to rid the country of camps.
Among the latter may be former dictator Jean-Claude Duvalier himself, as
Reynald Georges, a lawyer representing Haiti's ex-dictator, Jean-Claude Duvalier, has brought formal accusations of arson and "association with wrongdoers" (conspiracy) against DOP's founder and director, Patrice Florvilus, and five others. The accused received criminal court summons for Monday, August 19. Their lawyers filed an objection and request that the charges be dropped, but the prosecutor's office has reissued the summons for Thursday, August 22.
On Monday, hundreds from the displacement camps and community organizations in Port-au-Prince marched to the courthouse together to show their support. A second march will occur Thursday.
(This post was revised on August 14, 2013 to add additional references to cholera studies suggested by reader feedback.)
Yet another study [PDF] has determined that the U.N. is responsible for having caused Haiti’s deadly, ongoing cholera epidemic. The new report written by Rosalyn Chan MD, MPH, Tassity Johnson, Charanya Krishnaswami, Samuel Oliker-Friedland, and Celso Perez Carballo and published by the Yale Law School and the Yale School of Public Health, in collaboration with the Haitian Environmental Law Association (Association Hatïenne de Droit de L’Environment), concludes that “The United Nations inadvertently caused a deadly cholera epidemic in Haiti, and has legal and moral obligations to remedy this harm.”
According to the press release accompanying the 58-page report [PDF], the results “directly contradic[t] recent statements by the U.N. Secretary-General that the organization did not bring cholera to Haiti, and has no legal responsibilities for the epidemic or its consequences.”
“The U.N.’s ongoing unwillingness to hold itself accountable to victims violates its obligations under international law,” Johnson said in the release.
A Washington Post editorial on Sunday once again called on the U.N. to take responsibility for the cholera outbreak, and on the international community to put up the funds needed to implement the cholera eradication plan designed by the Haitian and Dominican governments, the U.N., the Pan American Health Organization, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:
IT IS now all but certain that Haiti’s cholera epidemic, which has killed more than 8,000 people and sickened more than 600,000, is directly traceable to a battalion of U.N. peacekeepers who arrived in the country after the 2010 earthquake.
A report from researchers at the Yale School of Public Health and Yale Law School details the convincing epidemiological evidence, as well as the United Nations’ stubborn disavowal of responsibility. Initially, a panel of independent experts enlisted by the United Nations said that the evidence pointing to the peacekeepers was mainly circumstantial. Now the experts have reversed themselves, saying that the Nepalese peacekeepers were “most likely” the cause of the epidemic. Still, the United Nations refuses to accept legal, financial or moral responsibility.
Earlier this week, USAID posted financial information to the U.S. Foreign Assistance Dashboard “in more detail than ever before,” according to the Agency. USAID posted data on 53,000 “transactions” from across the world, and as USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah commented, it “is just the latest in a series of important changes we have made to advance President Obama’s unparalleled commitment to transparency and our own USAID Forward reform agenda.”
USAID’s Forward reform agenda calls for a remaking of the way USAID does business, from an increasing focus on monitoring and evaluation to changing the procurement policies which favor large American companies over local organizations.
The move was widely praised by individuals and groups advocating for greater transparency in foreign aid. Tom Murphy, writing in Humanosphere, called the data drop a “significant forward step for transparency at USAID,” while the D.C.-based Center for Global Development also cheered the move. David Hall-Matthews, the director of Publish What You Fund, told Devex, “This is a great step towards financial transparency … [the] next step is to link this information to performance and project data.”
The new data released by USAID is certainly a positive step, yet in the case of Haiti there is still a long way to go, both in terms of evaluating the effectiveness of U.S. aid as well as in measuring progress toward USAID Forward. The release also comes up far short of what the U.S. Congress is asking the State Department and USAID to provide regarding their work in Haiti.
In September of 2012, Shah stated that prior to the earthquake, less than 9 percent of aid was going to Haitian organizations, but that “we’re over the pre-earthquake level now.” The Miami Herald noted that Shah “was not more specific.” Increasing the use of local partners is a hallmark of the reform agenda, with the goal being to channel 30 percent of aid directly through local partners. However the data released this week paints a starkly different picture, with just over 2 percent of the $150 million in obligations going directly to Haitian groups. This is consistent with previous data analysis, which has shown the vast majority of aid going to groups located in the so-called Beltway around Washington D.C.
Though the new data does reveal the names of certain local organizations which weren’t publically available previously; it still shows USAID is far short of its goal of increasing direct partnerships in Haiti. On the positive side, as USAID intends to continually update the Foreign Assistance Dashboard with this transaction data, it will become significantly easier to track the changes in USAID’s procurement policies over time.
A key piece of the puzzle, which is still missing, is any information on subcontractors. In “Breaking Open the Black Box: Increasing Transparency and Accountability in Haiti,” we noted that only about 1 percent of contracts have reported subaward information, despite legislation requiring them to do so having already come into effect. This new data doesn’t afford any clarity on where the funds given to USAID’s implementing partners end up, key information for determining the local impact.
As Hall-Matthews points out, the critical next step is putting this transaction data in the context of specific projects, including expected benchmarks and actual results. Fortunately, at least in regards to Haiti, this is what the U.S. Congress is beginning to ask for.
Following a recent GAO report which noted significant delays, cost overruns and other problems with USAID’s work in Haiti, Rep. Eliot Engel (D-NY), the ranking Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee stated, “the Haitian people, as well as the US taxpayer, deserve better answers about our assistance than we have received to date.” The increased calls for further transparency come after Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA) recently reintroduced the Assessing Progress in Haiti Act, which, among other things, calls for the type of transactional data released by USAID, but also including the subprime level. The bill goes further, requiring a description of “goals and quantitative and qualitative indicators to evaluate the progress, or lack of achievement of such goals.” Recent language attached to the Senate Foreign Appropriations Bill includes similar requirements.
While the release of data by USAID is a welcome step toward transparency, it’s also a reminder of how much further there is to go.
The number of experts casting doubt on the likelihood of the U.N. having been the source of Haiti’s deadly cholera epidemic is getting increasingly smaller. In what Foreign Policy’s Turtle Bay blogger Colum Lynch calls a “dramatic retreat,” a panel of independent U.N. experts who earlier had reported that the outbreak’s cause "was not the fault" of any "group or individual" and cited environmental factors – most notably Haiti’s lack of adequate sanitation – as being partly at fault, have now determined that U.N. troops from Nepal "most likely” were the cause.
Lynch goes on to write:
the four scientists -- Alejandro Cravioto, Daniele Lantagne, G. Balakrish Nair, Claudio F. Lanata -- who wrote the original report say that new evidence that has come to light in the past two years. While not conclusive, that evidence has strengthened the case against the United Nations.
The experts -- who no longer work for the United Nations -- also defended their initial findings, saying the "majority of evidence" at the time was "circumstantial." They added, that the "current strain Nepal strain of cholera was not available for molecular analysis" at the time.
The team's new report tracks the arrival in October 2010 of a contingent of Nepalese peacekeepers from Kathmandu to a U.N. encampment in the Haitian village of Mirebalais, which sits on the banks of the Artibonite River.
Lynch writes that
The report stated that the peacekeepers had constructed a series a "haphazard "system of pipes from the U.N. camps showers and toilets to the six fiberglass tanks. The "black water waste," which included human feces, was then transferred to an open, unfenced, septic pit, where children and animals frequently roamed. The system provided "significant potential" for contamination.
A sad milestone has passed: it has now been 1,000 days since Haiti’s cholera outbreak began. Even though U.N. troops from Nepal have been linked to the outbreak through study after study, and even though U.N. Special Envoy for Haiti Bill Clinton admitted the troops were the “proximate cause” of the epidemic, the U.N. has yet to apologize. And its cholera eradication plan remains woefully underfunded, as we noted last week.
The Economist writes today of the U.N.’s continuance in dodging responsibility:
In a letter to members of the United States Congress who had urged the UN to take responsibility for the cholera outbreak, Ban Ki Moon, the UN's secretary-general, reiterated that the UN’s legal office has decided the claims are “not receivable” because of the UN’s privileges and immunities. The UN has offered little insight into its reasoning, except that consideration of the claims would involve a review of “political and policy matters”. That statement has only raised more questions, including whether “dumping disease-laden waste water in rivers is UN policy,” as a reporter asked at a press briefing last week.
Critics argue that the UN’s stance is tantamount to claiming impunity—that the UN, an organisation whose mission involves promoting the rule of law, is putting itself above it. The Haitians’ lawyers now plan to sue the UN in Haitian and United States courts. If a court decides to hear the claims, the case could have far-reaching implications for peacekeeping practices around the world.
The bacterium, meanwhile, has killed nearly 8,200 Haitians and made unwell close to 665,000, about 7% of the population. Waterborne diseases spread fast in Haiti because the country lacks proper sewerage. The rainy season is especially problematic, and although Tropical Storm Chantal did not make a direct hit on Haiti last week, the additional rain will probably cause cholera cases to spike.
In a press release yesterday, lawyers from the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti (IJDH) and Bureau des Avocats Internationaux (BAI) called U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon’s response to 19 members of congress and victims of cholera “outrageous.”
In May, Rep. Maxine Waters and 18 of her colleagues sent a letter to Ban urging the U.N. to “take responsibility” for the introduction of cholera and to commit enough resources to eradicate the epidemic which has already killed over 8,200 Haitians. The letter followed the U.N.’s rejection of compensation claims from over 5,000 victims of cholera, represented by IJDH and BAI.
In responding to the 19 members of congress, Ban expresses his "concern about the devastating impact of the epidemic,” but fails to mention the U.N.’s responsibility for its introduction, as more and more scientific studies continue to show. Ban touts the U.N.’s work in responding to the epidemic, but also notes that funding is “far from sufficient” and that “the austere fiscal climate” could put financing for the $2.2 billion 10-year cholera elimination plan in jeopardy. The U.N. has chipped in just $23.5 million of its own funds for the plan, which continues to face a massive funding shortfall.
In a separate letter from the Sectary General’s legal department to IJDH and BAI, the U.N. reiterates that the claims are “not receivable,” declining even to meet to discuss the matter further.
Yesterday, IJDH and BAI responded to the letters:
July 8, 2013, Port-au-Prince, Boston — Lawyers for victims of the cholera epidemic introduced to Haiti by poor United Nations (UN) sanitation practices in 2010 call two July 5 letters from the UN — one to members of the U.S. Congress from Secretary- General Ban Ki-Moon, the other from his legal department to the victims’ lawyers — “outrageous.” The letter to Congresswoman Maxine Waters and eighteen colleagues in the House of Representatives delivers an off-hand dismissal of serious legal questions raised by a letter from the Members, and provides a deeply disingenuous response to the Congressional concerns regarding a lack of progress by the UN in responding to its cholera epidemic. The letter to the lawyers states that the UN will not even consider the cholera victims’ claims — which are based on the UN allowing its waste disposal system to deteriorate to the extent that raw sewage was discharged directly into the top of Haiti’s largest river system — because doing so would include a “review of political and policy matters.” The UN provided no legal justification for such an extraordinary claim.
“The hypocrisy of the UN’s position is clear to the victims of UN cholera and everyone else in Haiti,” according to Attorney Mario Joseph of the Bureau des Avocats Internationaux, who is lead counsel for the 5000 victims and families who filed claims against the UN in November 2011. “The UN claims a mission of promoting the rule of law, and regularly lectures Haitian citizens and officials about the need to submit to the law. Yet the UN will not even explain why it is not subject to its own laws.”
Secretary-General Ban’s letter to Congress contains three claims of progress in fighting cholera that do not withstand scrutiny. First, the letter touts that a May 31 conference brought pledges in support of its Cholera Initiative to US$207.4 million, which is $31.1 million dollars less than the total pledge amount the Secretary-General announced for the initiative on December 11, 2012, and there are few details on how the plan will be fully- funded. Second, the letter points to the UN’s construction of wastewater treatment plants in Croix-des-Bouquets and Morne-à-Cabrit, but both plants have been repeatedly closed — Morne-à-Cabrit is currently closed — due to lack of international funding. Third, the letter claims that “the majority of [the] recommendations” made by a UN panel of experts to avoid future epidemics “have been adopted and are being implemented by the United Nations system” when a May 3 Report Card from Physicians for Haiti found that five of the seven recommendations were partially or completely unimplemented two years after the report’s release.
To read the entire release, click here.
Despite having “not constructed a port anywhere in the world since the 1970s”, USAID allocated $72 million dollars to build one, according to a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report released last week. The port is meant to help support the Caracol Industrial Park (CIP) which was constructed with funding from the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) and $170 million in funding from the U.S. for related infrastructure. The CIP has been held up as the flagship reconstruction project undertaken by the international community in Haiti. Even after putting aside criticisms of the location, types of jobs and the environmental impact of the CIP, the “success” of the entire project hinges on the new port. A prior study found that, “the CIP will only succeed if expanded, efficient port facilities are developed nearby.”
Despite a lack of experience in building ports, USAID decided to take on this critical project. However, over two years since it began the project is delayed, is over budget and its sustainability has been thrown into doubt. The GAO found that USAID “lacks staff with technical expertise in planning, construction, and oversight of a port,” and a ports engineer and advisor position has been empty for over two years. Additionally, the feasibility study for the port, contracted out by USAID, was delayed and “did not require the contractor to obtain all the information necessary to help select a port site.” As a result, while construction was set to begin in the spring of 2013, USAID “has no current projection for when construction of the port may begin or how long it will take because more studies are needed before the port site can be selected and the port designed,” reports the GAO.
Without any in-house expertise in port construction at USAID, the mission turned to private contractors. HRRW reported in January 2012 that MWH Americas was awarded a “$2.8 million contract to conduct a feasibility study for port infrastructure in northern Haiti.” The expected completion date was May 2012. MWH Americas had previously been criticized for their work in New Orleans, with the Times-Picayune reporting that MWH had “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.”
In Haiti, MWH quickly subcontracted out much of the work on the feasibility study. As HRRW reported in February, “[w]ithin two weeks of receiving the $2.8 million contract, MWH Americas turned around and gave out $1.45 million in subcontracts to four different firms, all headquartered in Washington DC or Virginia.” USAID staff told the GAO that the study was completed as required in May 2012, but that “multiple environmental issues not adequately addressed in the initial study needed additional examination.” MWH was awarded another $1 million and the completion date was extended. Overall, the GAO reports that “the feasibility study was amended six times and extended by 9 months.”
The study was finally completed in February of 2013, after USAID consulted with other government agencies with experience in port construction. In the end, the amount awarded to MWH increased by $1.5 million. Yet even after all of this, the GAO found that “other studies strongly recommended” by other agencies “still need to be performed.” Without any expertise to oversee the contractors, the work done was inadequate, expensive and took far longer than anticipated, revealing the pitfalls of being “more of a contracting agency than an operational agency with the ability to deliver,” as Hillary Clinton described USAID during her Senate confirmation hearing in 2009.
In 2010, just months after Haiti was struck by a devastating earthquake, the United States passed legislation allocating $651 million to USAID to support relief and reconstruction efforts. Three years later, just 31 percent of these funds have been spent as delays mount and goals are scaled back, according to a new Government Accountability Office (GAO) report [PDF] released yesterday. The report also criticizes USAID for a lack of transparency, especially in its reporting to Congress.
“This report shows a significant and sobering disconnect between what was originally promised for the Haitian people, and what it appears USAID is now prepared to deliver. The Haitian people, as well as the US taxpayer, deserve better answers about our assistance than we have received to date,” according to Rep. Eliot Engel (D-NY), the ranking Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
The GAO found that inaccurate cost estimates and delays led to an increase in the amount dedicated to providing shelter from $59 million to $97 million while at the same time “decreased the projected number of houses to be built by over 80 percent, from 15,000 to 2,649.” Originally estimated to cost less than $10,000 for a completed house, actual costs have been greater than $33,000. USAID has awarded over $46 million to contractors for housing. Meanwhile, some 300,000 people remain in camps over three years after the earthquake. Overall, the humanitarian community has constructed just 7,000 new homes, about 40 percent of what is currently planned.
Further, the GAO report is critical of U.S. investments supporting the Caracol Industrial Park. Randal C. Archibold of the New York Times reports:
A big portion of Agency for International Development money, $170.3 million, went toward a power plant and port for an industrial park in northern Haiti that was the centerpiece of United States reconstruction efforts and had been heavily promoted by the State Department and former President Bill Clinton.
But the project had mixed results. Although the aid agency completed the power plant under budget, the port, crucial to the industrial park’s long-term success, is two years behind schedule “due in part to a lack of U.S.A.I.D. expertise in port planning in Haiti,” the report said, and is now vulnerable to cost overruns.
Yesterday Canadian Minister of Defense Peter MacKay announced that 34 soldiers would be deploying to Haiti as part of the U.N. stabilization mission (MINUSTAH). The announcement, which comes as MINUSTAH is reducing the overall size of its force in Haiti, appears to be as much about strengthening relations with Brazil, as it is about “peacekeeping.” Lee Berthiaume reports for Canada’s Postmedia News:
But MacKay was quick to confirm that Canada wasn’t re-upping with the UN in any significant way, but that the mission was part of a larger effort to help Haiti while strengthening ties with the emerging political, economic and military powerhouse that is Brazil.
MacKay was joined by Minister of State for the Americas Diane Ablonczy, who highlighted “the tremendous potential and the great partners that are available to Canada in Brazil.”
Aside from the fact that MINUSTAH is not truly a “peacekeeping” force, as there is no armed conflict in Haiti, Canada wouldn’t be the first country to use MINUSTAH for diplomatic or political reasons as opposed to legitimate security concerns. In fact, as we have previously noted, diplomatic cables released by Wikileaks show the motives behind Brazil taking the lead for MINUSTAH were largely political. One such cable, from March 2008 asserts:
Brazil has stayed the course as leader of MINUSTAH in Haiti despite a lack of domestic support for the PKO [peacekeeping operation]. The MRE [Ministry of External Relations] has remained committed to the initiative because it believes that the operation serves [Foreign Minister Celso] Amorim's obsessive international goal of qualifying Brazil for a seat on the UN Security Council. The Brazilian military remains committed as well, because the mission enhances its international prestige and provides training and operational opportunities.
And it doesn’t stop there. In addition to being led by Brazil, MINUSTAH is comprised predominantly by troops from Latin America, making up over 70 percent of the total currently. Wikileaked cables provide insight into the U.S. strategic interests behind MINUSTAH and the advantage of having it be led by Latin American countries.
On May 31 the World Bank, PAHO and UNICEF announced $28.1 million in new funding for cholera elimination efforts in Haiti. The new funding was announced following a meeting in Washington, D.C. of the Regional Coalition to Eliminate Cholera Transmission in Hispaniola. In February 2013, a $2.2 billion, 10-year cholera elimination plan was announced by the Government of Haiti, with the support of the coalition. The plan calls for $443.7 million over the first two years. Thus far, however, there have been few details of how the plan will be funded and coordinated.
In announcing the new funding, PAHO noted that UNICEF would “take lead responsibility for the operation of a national trust fund to channel resources to cholera elimination.” While the terms of reference for the national fund are still being worked out, those familiar with the discussions told HRRW that it would be run by a steering committee led by the ministries of health of Haiti and the Dominican Republic. In contrast with previous aid and reconstruction funds that have largely bypassed the Haitian government and Haitian institutions, the new fund would have the ability to directly fund the work of the Haitian government as well as international NGOs.
“Donors are looking for improved international cooperation with Haiti and this is a model they’re looking for,” said Kate Dickson, Senior Policy Advisor at PAHO. Dickson added, “it is a model that allows the respective governments, Haiti and the Dominican Republic, to actually take the lead, accompanied by a coalition at the international level.”
This would represent a significant change from previous efforts, such as the Haiti Reconstruction Fund, which was only able to disburse funds to the U.N., World Bank and Inter-American Development Bank. It also may reflect the influence of Paul Farmer, named the U.N. Secretary General’s Special Envoy on Community Based Medicine and Lessons from Haiti. Under his previous role as Deputy U.N. Special Envoy, Farmer argued that “the way aid is channeled matters a great deal, and determines its impact on the lives of the Haitian people.”
During the meeting between coalition partners and donor groups in late May, Farmer directly addressed this, in an appeal to donors:
By December 2012, only 10% of the total $6.4 billion dollars invested in Haiti had gone through national systems. We have learned and relearned this lesson in Haiti: unless efforts are made to increase the amount of such resources to and through public institutions, the process of building them is slowed or thwarted. When we say “through”, we mean of course, that there can be local private entities, from contractors to NGOs, that wish to be part of rebuilding… Again, we are here not only to fund the national actions plans, but to do so in a way that strengthens ownership and local capacity, while accompanying local authorities and providers. This requires, as the Americans say, “boots on the ground” – not those of soldiers but of community health workers.
Nevertheless, some traditional donors, reluctant to give up operational control of their aid funds may instead opt to work outside of the national fund. This is already evident. In December, when the U.N. Secretary General announced an initiative to support the cholera elimination plan, he stated that there had already been $238.5 million committed. However, with the recent funding commitments of $28.1 million announced last week, PAHO noted that it “brings the total funds committed to support the national plans to $209.4 million, less than half the amount needed over just the next two years.”
The Associated Press’ Trenton Daniel takes a look at high levels of malnutrition and food insecurity in Haiti, reporting that
Three years after an earthquake killed hundreds of thousands and the U.S. promised that Haiti would "build back better," hunger is worse than ever. Despite billions of dollars from around the world pledged toward rebuilding efforts, the country's food problems underscore just how vulnerable its 10 million people remain.
In 1997 some 1.2 million Haitians didn't have enough food to eat. A decade later the number had more than doubled. Today, that figure is 6.7 million, or a staggering 67 percent of the population that goes without food some days, can't afford a balanced diet or has limited access to food, according to surveys by the government's National Coordination of Food Security. As many as 1.5 million of those face malnutrition and other hunger-related problems.
The AP article follows the release last week of a USAID-sponsored “Famine Early Warning System Network” report that warns that
The early depletion of food supplies from bad harvests, the growing dependence for poor households on market, and a reduction in agricultural employment opportunities have contributed to the increasingly widespread acute food insecurity throughout the country. Many municipalities are currently in Crisis
Late rains, seed shortages (driving up seed prices), and withering crops that were planted early are factors contributing to climbing food prices, the report states.
Writing in the Toronto Star, Catherine Porter reports on revelations from former Haitian President René Préval in Raoul Peck’s documentary film Fatal Assistance that UN head Edmond Mulet tried to remove him from the country on election day in November 2010:
“I got a phone call from Mr. (Edmond) Mulet, who was head of MINUSTAH, saying: ‘Mr. President, this is a political problem. We need to get you on a plane and evacuate you,’” Préval says in the documentary, Fatal Assistance. “I said: ‘Bring your plane, collect me from the palace, handcuff me, everyone will see that it’s a kidnapping.’”
The comments from Préval echo those made at the time by Organization of American States special representative Ricardo Seitenfus, who told BBC Brasil in January 2011 that Mulet and other representatives of the “core group” of donor countries, “suggested that President Rene Préval should leave the country and we should think of an airplane for that. I heard it and was appalled.” The forced departure of Préval wouldn’t have been the first time a Haitian president was spirited out of the country, as former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide was flown out of Haiti in 2004 on a U.S. airplane and taken to the Central African Republic in what he described as a “kidnapping” and “coup d’etat.” There is no doubt that it was a coup d’etat – the New York Times, among others, documented the U.S. role in bringing about the coup. And Aristide’s charges that it was a kidnapping are credible and backed up by witnesses.
In response, Edmond Mulet told the Star, “I never said that, he [Préval] never answered that,” adding “I was worried if he didn’t stop the fraud and rioting, a revolution would force him to leave. I didn’t have the capability, the power or the interest of putting him on a plane.”
The first round of voting for president in November 2010 was plagued by irregularities. A CEPR statistical analysis found that some three-quarters of Haitians did not vote, over 12 percent of votes were never even received by the electoral authorities and that more than 8 percent of tally sheets contained irregularities. Perhaps most importantly, Haiti’s most popular political party, Fanmi Lavalas, was excluded from the election. At the time, 45 Democratic members of Congress wrote to then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton warning that political party “exclusion[s] will undermine both Haitians' right to vote and the resulting government's ability to govern.” These warnings fell on deaf ears, but diplomatic cables released by Wikileaks reveal the international community’s thinking at the time. At an early December 2009 meeting, Haiti’s largest donors concluded that “the international community has too much invested in Haiti’s democracy to walk away from the upcoming elections, despite its imperfections.”
These imperfections proved even greater than anticipated. Based on the pervasiveness of the irregularities and the close results, we concluded at the time that “it is impossible to determine who should advance to a second round” and that if “there is a second round, it will be based on arbitrary assumptions and/or exclusions.”
Lawyers seeking justice on behalf of thousands of cholera victims announced their next steps after the U.N. rebuffed their claim in February, citing immunity. Saying that they were offering the U.N. its “last opportunity to accept its legal responsibility,” attorneys with the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti (IJDH) announced in a press conference today (video here) that the U.N.’s response opens doors to trying the case in national courts, and that they will pursue this option if the U.N does not reply with “an appropriate response” in the next 60 days. The BBC’s Mark Doyle reported that “The lawyers say they will file claims for $100,000 (£64,000) for the families of those who have died and $50,000 (£32,000) for every one of the hundreds of thousands who have fallen sick,” which would total billions of dollars.
The attorneys described the U.N.’s rationale for rejecting the claim as being on “flimsy grounds.” They also placed the case in a broader context of impunity for abuse, which has included sexual assaults by U.N. troops and officers, and extrajudicial shootings in Haiti and other countries where U.N. troops have been stationed.
Attorney and IJDH board member Ira Kurzban slammed the U.N.’s justification of dumping of sewage into rivers as a matter of “policy,” even though this would clearly go against U.N. principles. Kurzban also noted that the U.N.’s failure to establish a standing claims commission that would allow Haitians to seek redress for U.N. wrongs goes against its responsibility to the world.
Also speaking at the press conference, Dr. Jean Ford Figaro, MD, MPH, and Health Education Coordinator at Boston Medical Center detailed various recommendations that the U.N.’s own Independent Panel of Experts have made that have yet to be implemented. Among these are the screening of U.N. troops, the distribution of prophylaxis, and on-site treatment of human waste. Figaro cited a new Physicians for Haiti paper that states that all three of these “recommendations could be implemented at either no or minimal cost to the UN.” In its paper, Physicians for Haiti also notes, “Two year later, the UN has not responded publicly to the [Panel’s] report, made public any proceedings from the task force, or made any of the changes in its medical or sanitation protocols recommended by the report.”
On April 25th, Representative Barbara Lee of California introduced H.R. 1749, the Assessing Progress in Haiti Act, which would require the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to produce a detailed and comprehensive report on U.S. aid programs to Haiti since the January 2010 earthquake. The bill, which has 24 original co-sponsors, reflects the growing concern in Congress about the lack of tangible progress in U.S. post-quake relief and reconstruction efforts, and the lack of transparency around how U.S. aid money is being used.
An earlier version of this bill was passed in the House of Representatives in May of 2011 and later was approved by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, but never made it to a vote on the Senate floor. The legislation has been significantly revised and, whereas the old bill (which can be viewed here) had general reporting requirements, the new bill (which can be viewed here) has very specific and probing reporting language that should help shed light on how USAID funds are being used on the ground in Haiti. Among other things, the legislation calls for:
· An assessment of the “amounts obligated and expended on United States Government programs and activities since January 2010 (…) including award data [read: financial data] on the use of implementing partners at both prime and subprime levels, and disbursement data from prime and subprime implementing partners.”
· A description of “goals and quantitative and qualitative indicators to evaluate the progress, or lack of achievement of such goals…”
· An “assessment of the manner in which the Department of State and USAID are working with Haitian ministries and local authorities, including the extent to which the Government of Haiti has been consulted on the establishment of goals and timeframes and on the design and implementation of new programs…”
· An “assessment of how consideration for vulnerable populations, including IDPs (Internally Displaced Populations), women, children, orphans, and persons with disabilities, have been incorporated in the design and implementation of new programs and infrastructure”
· An “assessment of how agriculture and infrastructure programs are impacting food security and the livelihoods of smallholder farmers in Haiti”
Last month CEPR published a report titled “Breaking Open the Black Box” describing the lack of transparency of U.S. aid programs in Haiti, particularly at the contracting level, and recommended USAID reporting requirements similar to those found in H.R.1749. The report noted that the effectiveness of U.S. aid to Haiti has been questioned by the GAO, the USAID Inspector General and other government watchdogs.