An op-ed in the Caribbean Journal by HRRW's Jake Johnston reads:
Less than a week after cholera began its violent spread throughout Haiti, a UN military base in the central plateau became the prime suspect for having introduced the bacteria.
The UN was quick to shoot down this theory, claiming the base met international standards. Days later, journalists found sewage tanks and latrines overflowing, with the resulting black liquid flowing into a tributary of Haiti’s largest river.
Still, the UN didn’t hesitate to defend itself; the head of the UN troops (known as MINUSTAH), said that it was “really unfair to accuse the UN for bringing cholera into Haiti.”
Even the UN’s own investigation into the outbreak found that the UN base was the likely source, though the results were obfuscated by blaming the spread on a “confluence of factors.”
In the meantime, Haitians continued to die. By the end of January 2011, just over three months after cholera’s introduction, the official death toll was over 4,300. All the while the U.N. maintained its innocence.
Read the rest here.
865 days after Haiti’s cholera epidemic first began, with over 8,000 dead and some 650,000 sickened, the government of Haiti, with international support, officially launched a ten-year cholera eradication plan today after months of delays. The plan calls for an investment of $2.2 billion in clean water and sanitation infrastructure, with some $485.9 million needed for the next two years. Currently 31 percent of the population does not have access to potable water, while 83 percent lack access to adequate sanitation. By 2022, the plan aims to deliver potable water and improved sanitation services to 85 and 90 percent of the population, respectively.
The plan notes that in the short term, “actions will focus on preventing the transmission of cholera from one person to another through the use of drinking water disinfected with chlorine, and the promotion of hand washing, good sanitary practices, and food hygiene.” Resources will also go to capacity building and training for the relevant government agencies, in particular the health ministry (MSPP) and the water agency (DINEPA). Over the long-term, some $650 million will go to DINEPA to build water supply systems in the 21 largest cities in the country, though most of this would start after the next two years. A breakdown of funding needs by sector, program and time-frame can be seen below. Overall, about 70 percent of the needed funds are to go to water and sanitation provision, though just over 10 percent of that is planned to be spent in the first two years.
The objectives, in terms of cholera specifically, are to reduce the incidence rate to below 0.5 percent by 2014, below 0.1 percent in 2017 and below 0.01 percent by 2022. This compares to an incidence rate of over 1.1 percent in 2012, which translates to about 110,000 cases for that year.
The plan also envisions a strengthening of the public health sector and of the coordination between NGOs and the government. To this end, the government plans to “integrate their support into the national health system.” Through investments in training, capacity building and by channeling funds through the domestic institutions in charge of each sector, the plan aims to create a stronger public sector overall. This could be especially significant given that aid for the cholera response (and for the overall relief and reconstruction effort) has largely bypassed the Haitian government. According to data from the U.N. Special Envoy, only 2.5 percent of humanitarian spending for cholera went through the Haitian government. As noted in the plan, the “lack of investment coming directly from the country’s fiscal budget represents a threat to the stability of the” water and sanitation sector.
There are to be three evaluations of implementation done in 2014, 2017 and 2022 and an audit will be conducted at the half-way point and at the conclusion of the plan. Additionally, a technical committee made up of high-level representatives from relevant government agencies will meet quarterly to assess progress and propose remedies.
Plan Remains Woefully Underfunded
Responding to the plans’ launch today, implementing partner PAHO’s Director Carissa F. Etienne noted that, “For the plan to be implemented, Haiti’s friends in the international community must align their efforts and harmonize around this plan and provide the necessary financial resources.” Yet thus far, meaningful support has been hard to find.
The U.N.’s claim of immunity in response to the legal complaint filed against it on behalf of over 6,000 cholera victims has provoked outrage. Author Kathie Klarreich called it “unconscionable and immoral” in a Miami Herald op-ed yesterday, saying the U.N.’s statement “appears more like an apology for a snake bite than an effective response to what is currently the worst cholera outbreak in the world.” Klarreich underscores the urgency of cholera in contrast to U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon’s expressed sympathy:
The World Health Organization expects 100,000 new cases this year alone, and some think that’s conservative, given the data. Many, if not most, of the non-governmental organizations that were involved in educating Haitians about the bacteria have scaled back their programs or closed shop, taking with them the chlorine they had been providing to make drinking water safe, and the soap to wash hands, fruits and vegetables.
Writing for the Atlantic, Armin Rosen suggests that “If a multinational corporation behaved the way the U.N. did in Haiti, it would be sued for stratospheric amounts of money.” As well “They would have to contend with Interpol red notices, along with the occasional cream pie attack.”
Former AP correspondent Jonathan Katz, whose important work in documenting the source of the outbreak is detailed in his book The Big Truck That Went By notes that the U.N. immunity claim is just the latest in a series of efforts to stall and obstruct the efforts of cholera victims to receive justice – and for the U.N. to take appropriate action to stop cholera. Katz writes in Slate:
A more recent tactic has been for the U.N. to shut down talk about the epidemic’s cause by discussing its new effort to eradicate the disease—despite the fact that the primary program it is touting is not actually a U.N. effort, lacks clear goals, and remains almost totally unfunded.
Katz notes that “Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon added a generic statement expressing sympathy for the thousands killed and hundreds of thousands sickened or left unable to work by the disease. His spokesman dodged all further questions.”
There were two significant and possibly historic legal developments in Haiti today.
After Jean-Claude Duvalier refused yet again to appear in court today, Judge Jean Joseph Lebrun issued an order for him to appear at the next hearing, meaning Duvalier will be escorted there by the authorities. Reed Brody of Human Rights Watch commented that the “ruling is a victory for Duvalier 's victims who have never given up hope of seeing him in a court of law,” adding that the “decision means even Duvalier is not above the law.”
In his stead, Duvalier’s lawyer, Reynold Georges, appeared in the appeals court today, 90 minutes late, according to AP – after apparently initially saying he wouldn’t – and continued to display the Duvalier legal team’s contempt for the human rights plaintiffs, the media, and the court itself. According to Twitter updates from journalists, members of the Institute for Justice in Democracy in Haiti team, and observers from Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, during the proceedings this morning, Georges held his own press conference of sorts in the court room, during which he is said to have told an Aljazeera reporter “your international law, keep it for yourself,” and to have said to the press that "I don't lose. I'm Haiti's Johnnie Cochran." He also reportedly claimed that Amnesty had at some point given his client a good grade on human rights, which led to laughter and the expected denials from Amnesty International’s representative in the court room.
According to the AP, “Georges, a brash former senator, said he was confident that the Supreme Court would not only overturn the order to compel Duvalier's presence in court but also block the effort by victims of the Duvalier regime from getting the court to reinstate the charges.”
The BAI’s Mario Joseph told the BBC that “Duvalier is trying to control the justice system like when he was a dictator.”
No less outrageous, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon finally issued a statement today in response to the complaint filed by over 6,000 cholera victims calling for U.N. responsibility in causing the epidemic. Apparently no more interested in facing the music than Duvalier is, the statement reads:
In Argentina, Guatemala, Peru and other countries in the region, former dictators and many of those responsible for egregious human rights violations under former authoritarian regimes have been, or are in the process of being tried for their crimes. In Haiti, for the first time, there appears to be genuine hope that Haiti’s former dictator Jean-Claude Duvalier will face human rights charges in court. But there’s still a very difficult road ahead.
After Duvalier failed to appear at an appeals hearing regarding human rights charges on February 7, the judge rescheduled the hearing for February 21. “The hearing on February 21 could be a pivotal moment in the prosecution of Jean-Claude Duvalier,” the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti’s Nicole Phillips told NACLA blogger Kevin Edmonds. “If Duvalier appears as ordered by the appellate court, it will present the first opportunity for the former brutal dictator to speak about his political violence crimes in a courtroom full of his victims and the media. If Duvalier fails to appear, the Haitian government will be under intense pressure to arrest him for violating a court order.” While Duvalier has blatantly violated his house arrest related to pending corruption charges, failure to appear again would presumably be a more flagrant disregard for the Haitian judicial system. Duvalier also must appear in his own role as an appellant; he is appealing the standing corruption charges against him.
Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have both announced that they will monitor the proceedings tomorrow. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) issued a press release today “reminding the Haitian state of its international obligation to investigate, prosecute, and punish the serious human rights violations committed in that country, and to ensure that justice operators may work with independence and impartiality.”
On January 30, 2012, Investigative Judge Carvés Jean ruled that Duvalier could not stand trial for human rights crimes, while allowing corruption charges to go ahead. The ruling shocked the human rights community, considering that Duvalier is one of the hemisphere’s more notorious past dictators, infamous for brutally crushing dissent with the assistance of the dreaded “Tonton Macoute” secret police and the Haitian army during 15 years in power. “Under the presidency of Duvalier and his Tonton Macoutes, thousands were killed and tortured, and hundreds of thousands of Haitians fled into exile,” according to Human Rights Watch.
On September 23, 2011 MWH Americas, previously alleged to have overcharged the city of New Orleans on reconstruction projects, was awarded a $2.8 million contract from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) to conduct a “feasibility study of northern ports in Haiti.” The study is likely linked to the new, much touted Caracol Industrial Park in northern Haiti, which includes plans for new port facilities.
Within 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. MWH gave $363,540 to Nathan Associates to perform “economic and financial studies on potential port projects,” including a review “of previous studies and existing conditions.” URS Group received $438,670; the project description for that subaward is simply “feasibility study of northern ports in Haiti,” the same as is listed for MWH. Meanwhile TEC Inc. (which later became Cardno-TEC Inc.) was awarded $620,123 to provide the “Senior Port Engineer,” “Senior Environmental Specialist” and the engineering and support staff to “perform” the feasibility study. Finally, GW Consulting Inc., was given $26,932 for security and logistics. At this point, there were five U.S. firms based in the DC area working on the feasibility study, each with its own staff and associated overhead costs. Firms are allowed to allocate a percentage of their contract to headquarters to cover general operating costs of the firm; this is known as the indirect cost rate. Although this information is not disclosed (and has been redacted in contracts obtained through the Freedom of Information Act), according to those familiar with the process it is generally around 20 percent.
Despite the millions already spent on the feasibility study, when the expected project completion date came, MWH was awarded $1 million to cover additional costs and the completion date was changed. Subsequently, MWH was awarded $435,000 in September 2012 and the completion date was pushed back to November 30, 2012. Since then, the completion date has been pushed back two more times and is now set for the end of February 2013. Of the additional $1.44 million awarded to MWH, they gave out some $550,000 in subcontracts. In total, as can be seen below, nearly 50 percent of the total award to MWH was spent on subcontracts to other U.S. firms.
The contract with MWH Americas is, however, commendable in one way. It is the only USAID contract in Haiti for which there is information on subcontractors, thanks to the fact that MWH actually reported their sub-awards to USASpending.gov. While MWH Americas is the only contractor to have done this, it is likely that many others are also required to do so. For example, Chemonics, the largest USAID contractor in Haiti (and the world) is required to report on their use of subcontractors, according to a copy of their contract acquired through a Freedom of Information Act request. Yet no information from any other contracts for work in Haiti appears on the USAspending.gov website. Additionally, there is legislation which now requires prime contractors to report sub-awards: the Federal Funding Accountability and Transparency Act, which was passed in 2006. Under the legislation, as of March 2011 all sub awards over $25,000 must be reported to a centralized system.
Port-au-Prince - It “shook the house, like this” he says, violently rocking back and forth, acting it out. He yelled to his wife to get out, grabbed the children and went to the street. “Ten minutes later it was,” he said, bringing his hands together, “flat.” With this, Sonny Jean’s post-earthquake story begins; three years later we’re speaking at one of Haiti’s first sewage treatment plants, located in Titanyen.
Sonny Jean, showing off the DINEPA sewage treatment plan in Titanyen; Hundreds of shelters dot the background in Kanaan.
Like many of those who lost their homes, Sonny settled with his family on the Champ de Mars, the public park in downtown Port-au-Prince across from where the national palace once stood, which later became home to at least 20,000 people. Sonny lived there with his family in a small shelter and “it was tough,” he said, adding, “it wasn’t the place I wanted to raise my family.” In December of 2010, a friend tried to convince him to move to a tract of land the government had declared to be of public utility. While at first skeptical of moving so far from downtown Port-au-Prince, he knew he couldn’t stay in the Champ de Mars camp either.
Eventually, he packed up his tent and what belongings had survived the earthquake and went with his wife and children to Kanaan, a vast expanse of land on a hillside about 20 km outside of Port-au-Prince. Like the majority of those who have left the camps, it wasn’t through a rental subsidy or because they were given a temporary shelter or had their home repaired. According to Sonny, he was the first to set up a tent so far west in the area, though he’s now joined by hundreds of others close by, and up to hundreds of thousands in all of Kanaan.
But life there is difficult and was especially in those early days. “I was lonely, man, scared,” he said. With the wind whipping incessantly and no other families around, there were many restless nights.
Later, across the street from his new home, Sonny noticed some people starting to clear the land. He told his wife he was going to check it out; she was skeptical anything good would come of it. He went across the street, standing alone, just looking on. Eventually he heard someone, who seemed to be in charge, speaking Kreyol but “different than I speak it.” So he responded in English, which he had picked up in the years he had lived in the U.S. on a seaman’s visa. (Though he’d like to return to the U.S. someday, he hasn’t been able to get a new visa.)
The manager, an English speaker from another Caribbean island, was impressed by his English, and after speaking for awhile, offered him a job on the site.
It’s been many months since that chance encounter, and now, some nine months since Haiti’s second sewage treatment plant opened, he was showing the place off; the area where the trucks dump their waste water, the treatment ponds which the water filters in to, the area where they clean the trucks before they exist the plant and also where they hope to have a garden, where they can use the treated water for irrigation.
CEPR’s Arthur Phillips and Stephan Lefebvre have written a nice post analyzing the World Bank and IMF’s repeatedly over-optimistic economic growth projections for Haiti over at our sister-blog, “The Americas Blog.” They note that the latest “projections of 6 percent or higher GDP growth in 2013 seem unfounded.” The institutions’ growth projections for Venezuela in recent years, by contrast, have repeatedly been overly pessimistic compared to the actual results.
The Office of the Haiti Special Coordinator under the U.S. State Department has issued a new report to the U.S. Congress as required under the Supplemental Appropriations Act of 2010. The new report covers the period of 180 days up to September 30 last year. While there are some noteworthy accomplishments, these are unfortunately few, and it is important to keep in mind the greater context of money raised, committed, disbursed and spent, as well as the urgent needs at hand. The report notes that of $2.35 billion committed to Haiti since 2010, only about 50 percent has actually been spent. Excluding debt relief, of the $900 million made available in the 2010 supplemental appropriations bill as part of the New York donor conference pledge, just 32.9 percent has been spent [PDF]. It’s also noteworthy that of the nearly $300 million committed in 2012, only about a third was even obligated.
Considering that some 360,000 people are still estimated to be living in IDP camps three years after the earthquake, the report of “over 900 seismic and hurricane resistant houses under construction in Caracol, Northern Haiti and in Cabaret north of Port-au-Prince” seems relatively insignificant, not to mention the figure of “227 Haitian beneficiaries…selected to receive housing” “to date.” This is even less impressive considering that the sprawling U.S. Embassy compound in Port-au-Prince “consists of 107 new [three to five bedroom] townhouse units and a new Deputy Chief of Mission residence, along with support facilities, including a recreation center with an outdoor pool and courts, for two separate compounds,” according to the architectural firm that the State Department contracted to design it.
The report similarly mentions “250 LPG commercial stoves were sold to large charcoal users (street food vendors and schools) in Port-au-Prince” and four “Haitian small- and medium-size enterprises” that “won matching grants” in a “business plan competition.”
The report is also notable for what it does not mention: cholera, for example. This is a word and topic that does not appear once in the report, despite the ongoing epidemic and despite that “Health and Other Basic Services” is “Pillar C” of USAID’s “Haiti Rebuilding and Development Strategy.” Pillar C is allotted three paragraphs of the report; cholera is arguably Haiti’s most urgent humanitarian crisis, killing more people every day.
Port-au-Prince - Some 24 hours before making an appearance in Hollywood at the Golden Globes, former President Bill Clinton was in Haiti on January 12, commemorating the three year mark since the Haiti earthquake and remembering the hundreds of thousands who died. The Haitian government held another ceremony, without Clinton, earlier in the morning where the national palace once stood, in what the AP described as “purposely low-key.” Other than the beefed up security and stream of official vehicles entering the grounds, life around the former palace gates seemed little different than most days, though local church services picked up throughout the morning. Unable to enter without being on an official list, those passing by peered in at the distant ceremony behind the gates.
Meanwhile, about 25 kilometers north, in Titanyen, the burial site for many of the earthquake’s victims, as well as victims of the Duvalier dictatorships, another steady stream of official vehicles was arriving. These belonged mainly to what appeared to be members of the diplomatic corps, as well as a number of Haitian and foreign journalists. Clinton was also there, arriving well before Haiti’s President Martelly and Prime Minister Lamothe made it to the “barren hillside at the outskirts of Haiti's capital.”
There was an eerie feeling at the site. Just the day before, the hundreds of memorial crosses which once dotted the hillside had apparently burned, leaving a backdrop of scorched earth. A few crosses were still standing amidst the burnt grass. Adding to the strange feeling was that other than the officialdom and journalists present, there was a noticeable lack of “people”. Apparently not many had decided to make the trip, if they were aware of it at all. Once Martelly arrived from the ceremony in Port-au-Prince, the entire event with Clinton lasted less than 30 minutes. Neither Martelly nor Clinton gave a speech. Journalists got photos of the two of them together, and as quickly as the motorcades had arrived, they left.
There was no public reflection on what has happened over the past three years or whether Clinton’s brief visits to Haiti had resulted in “building back better,” as he had envisioned. It seemed like little more than a haphazardly planned photo-op.
The same afternoon, a different ceremony took place back in Port-au-Prince at the Asanble Vwazen Solino (Solino Neighbors Assembly), a community center and school that has been around since 2006, where a participative commemoration was held with local residents. Esaie Jules Jelin, a member of the coordinating committee at AVS commented, “it was an open invitation, everyone was encouraged to participate and interact, not just sit and listen. We wanted people to understand the difference between the rhetoric and the reality.”
The rhetoric Jules Jelin spoke of was what one can hear from the Haitian government, the international community and many of the international organizations present in Haiti, that indeed, recovery and reconstruction has been progressing. The reality in Solino, however, was very different.
In the face of headlines such as “3 years after Haiti's quake, lives still in upheaval” and “Haiti: the graveyard of hope,” Heraldo Muñoz, U.N. assistant secretary-general and director of the Regional Bureau for Latin America & the Caribbean at UNDP, had a defensive piece in Foreign Policy Tuesday titled “Haiti’s Recovery is Real.” It may be true that some media coverage and commentary has been unfairly focused on the negative to the exclusion of any mention of progress. But, while overwhelmingly negative coverage of Haiti fits into tired stereotypes, there is a real danger in exaggerating what has been accomplished when so many emergencies remain.
The UNDP deserves credit for accomplishments that have indeed made a difference, which Muñoz lists throughout his piece. But passages such as this one are troubling:
The UNDP has also helped train more than 7,000 people in home reconstruction, strengthened Haiti's national disaster risk-management system, and launched environmental protection programs. The results have been significant and tangible -- a direct outcome of the international support that followed the earthquake and that remains a critical lifeline. The government of Haiti is now building on these achievements and developing a longer-term development roadmap toward a truly inclusive, resilient society.
It is hard not to read this as propaganda, considering the wasted resources (financial and human), wasted time, and perhaps most importantly, wasted opportunities that have been the focus of much other analysis and commentary on the state of affairs after three years. Truly inclusive society? Tell that to the tens of thousands [PDF] of camp residents who have been forcibly evicted, the many others who lack clean water [PDF] or toilets, or the garment factory workers who are paid below minimum wage.
Muñoz misses the point with the overall premise of his article. He writes:
With support from national and international partners, Haitians are rebuilding a better, more resilient country -- a fact that has been repeatedly overlooked in the international press. Among Haitians, however, the sense of progress is unmistakable.
If Haitians are really at the center of the relief effort, as they should be, and UNDP sees this as a good thing, then one might wonder why Haitians – unaccompanied by foreigners - would be automatically barred from relief coordination cluster meetings (in which UNDP participates), or why such meetings would be conducted in English – or French – and not kreyol.
Muñoz notes that:
Gallup also found that an unprecedented 46 percent of Haitians expressed confidence in national government institutions. (In 2008, just 24 percent reported confidence in the government and by 2010 that number had fallen to 16 percent.)
One might then ponder why the international community continues to express so little confidence in the Haitian government, giving it less budget support in 2011 than it did the year before the earthquake, and just one dollar out of every $100 [PDF] spent in humanitarian relief.
Haiti marked the third anniversary of the 2010 earthquake on Saturday. The LA Times’ Tracy Wilkinson reported:
In simple ceremonies Saturday in and around the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince, President Michel Martelly laid a wreath at a mass grave and, earlier, called on his countrymen and women to remember, persevere and move on. He was joined by former U.S. President Clinton, a U.N. special envoy to Haiti.
"Haitian people, hand in hand, we remember what has gone," Martelly said against a backdrop of a Haitian flag at half-staff and Cabinet members dressed in mourning black, according to the Associated Press.
Clinton told the Reuters news agency that though some progress has been made, particularly in rebuilding airports and roads, “we still need a lot more infrastructure work."
"From my point of view, keeping the investment coming in, dealing with the housing and unlocking the education, those are the things I'd like to see real progress on this year," Clinton said.
As Democracy Now noted, Clinton was questioned about the U.N.’s responsibility for bringing the cholera epidemic to Haiti:
Reporter: "And cholera? What about — you’ve said the U.N. introduced cholera to Haiti. Do you think they should be liable for all of those deaths? There’s nearly 8,000 people who have been killed."
Bill Clinton: "I think that’s a decision someone else has to make now. I think the most important thing is that the U.N. asked Paul Farmer to oversee the response. We’ve got the infection and mortality rate cut in half, and I think it can be contained, so I’m encouraged by that."
Speaking of Bill Clinton, Foreign Policy magazine has taken a cue from Clinton’s now (in)famous mea culpa that U.S. food aid policy “may have been good for some of my farmers in Arkansas,” but also resulted in the “lost capacity to produce a rice crop” in Haiti – something we’ve examined on this blog before. Maura O’Connor reports from Stuttgart, Arkansas, where:
…the farm bill has been a tremendous source of anxiety over the last year. For rice farmer Dow Brantley, the consequences are huge. Cuts to subsidy programs would take away his safety net and the risk of growing rice would become prohibitive, forcing him to turn his fields to corn or soybeans. "There's a lot of fear in the countryside," he said.
Freelance journalist Ansel Herz survived the earthquake and reported from Haiti for two years. His work has been published by ABC News, the New York Daily News and Al Jazeera English, among other media outlets. Ansel is a graduate of the University of Texas at Austin School of Journalism. Below, in a guest post for Haiti: Relief and Reconstruction Watch, Herz answers three key questions about Haiti three years after the earthquake.
1. How would you describe the situation in Haiti today?
“Peyi a vin kraze.” As Haiti enters a new year, I’ve heard this phrase several times from different Haitians over the past week. It’s usually said with a resigned, slight shake of the head.
In English, this means “The country has completely crashed.”
Last week, the U.S. Coast Guard repatriated 168 people fleeing Haiti by boat. At least 360,000 people displaced by the earthquake live in appalling conditions in tent camps throughout the capital city, three years after the earthquake. The cholera epidemic killed 27 more people in the first week of January, bringing the total number of casualties to nearly 8,000.
So the situation is dire. And while I don’t want to add to Haiti’s bad press, this really should not be understated. It’s hard to take the government’s ubiquitous new slogan, “Haiti is Open for Business,” seriously.
At the same time, it’s important to point out that in the minds of outsiders, Haiti often comes packaged with a set of spurious assumptions.
Haiti is simultaneously romanticized and demeaned as so unique, poor and chaotic that it becomes a category unto itself. It’s the land of zombies and vodou (usually this word is spelled pejoratively as voodoo). Haitians are amazingly “resilient” – code for inhuman, able to go on suffering indignities that others could not.
In fact, Haiti is more like the United States than one might think. The country is afflicted with vast wealth inequality and an influential power elite. Many young people can’t find jobs. The healthcare system is a mess. Farmers are struggling to maintain their livelihoods amidst environmental destruction.
Of course, Haiti suffers from all of this to a more extreme degree, along with other crises.
More on this below.
2. What’s been the biggest success in terms of the aid response? The biggest failure?
As I search my memory, I’m looking out on a restaurant parking lot full of SUVs belonging to wealthy Haitians and aid workers.
The only meaningful success that comes to mind is the construction and opening of a government-run sewage treatment plant outside Port-au-Prince. There is an urgent need for improved sanitation in Haiti.
Aid groups have long since left most of the tent camps, leaving clogged and overflowing latrines in their wake. Before, the toilets were desludged by trucks that would empty the contents on a massive, unregulated dump site not far from where people live.
The foul stink in the camps and the bubbling shit ponds are a vivid example of an aid response that has proved to be fleeting, haphazard, negligent and disrespectful to Haiti and her people.
I never thought that the understated, utilitarian look of a sewage treatment plant could be attractive. But in the dust of a barren area called Titanyen, gleaming in the sun, it looks rather beautiful. Not far away are mass graves of the quake dead.
For months after the temblor, one of the country’s wealthiest families claimed to own the land and held up construction of the plant. Finally, the government seized the land. With direct financing from the Spanish government and other donors, the structures went up.
“This was a pioneering step,” one Haitian official told me. “It’s the first time the country has ever had a plant like this. In terms of sanitation, this is revolutionary for Haiti.”
An editorial in the Christian Science Monitor today begins:
The third anniversary of Haiti’s devastating earthquake on Jan. 12, 2010, has not drawn much attention. This is despite the fact that 1 out of every 2 Americans donated money to the relief and thousands of people from around the world volunteered to rebuild the Caribbean nation.
The reason is that the hope of “rebuilding Haiti better” after this particularly big natural disaster is, well, still largely a hope.
It is true that the sad anniversary has received less attention this year; there have been fewer TV crews flying down to Haiti, for one thing, and apparently less attention on Haiti this time by national and local radio programs. Other “three years later” pieces have already run in papers such as the New York Times and the Miami Herald.
Here’s a sampling of some of the news, reporting and commentary posted today and yesterday.
First, the European Union announced today that it would provide an additional €30.5 ($40.69) million to Haiti, saying “This new money will mainly help those still homeless as a result of the earthquake, cholera victims and those badly affected by Hurricane Sandy.”
The U.S. State Department issued a statement celebrating what it described as “more than three and a half years” of “work[ing] closely to be a good partner to the government and people of Haiti.”
Among these are that
The United States and other donors supported the Government of Haiti’s free and fair presidential and legislative elections in late 2010 and early 2011. These elections paved the way for the complete re-establishment of all three branches of government. The U.S. provided capacity building support, including the provision of experts to work within the Government of Haiti and the provision of temporary office space.
Members of the U.S. Congress also issued statements today, with Rep. John Conyers (D – MI) saying in part:
Moving forward, the United States needs to recommit itself to ensuring that all aid funding to Haiti is allocated in a transparent manner and in close consultation with Haitian authorities and civil society beneficiaries. It is also incumbent upon the international community to fulfill its commitments to the people of Haiti made in the months following the earthquake.
Port-au-Prince – The origin of Haiti’s deadly cholera outbreak is not much in doubt, at least not to anybody outside the U.N. A host of scientific studies have all pointed to UN troops whose waste made it in to the largest river in Haiti as the source. While the U.N. has yet to accept responsibility, it has announced an initiative to raise funds for a $2.2 billion 10-year cholera eradication plan. At this point however, no official plan even exists, at least not publicly. Meanwhile, pressure continues to build for the U.N. to do more, and put up its own funds rather than just relying on notoriously unreliable donor pledges. The U.N. said it would chip in $23 million for the plan, a mere 1 percent of what is needed. This compares to the nearly $1.9 billion that the U.N. has spent since the earthquake on the troops that brought cholera to Haiti.
As we have previously noted, Haitian President Martelly recently added his voice to the chorus, saying that “certainly” the U.N. should take responsibility and that “[t]he U.N. itself could bring money to the table.” Grassroots pressure both within Haiti and outside has also increased. More than 25,000 have signed an online petition created by Oliver Stone calling on the U.N. to take action and secure the needed funding. And while it has been over 14 months since over 5,000 Haitians demanded reparations for those affected and for the U.N. to invest in the needed infrastructure, as of yet there has been no formal response from the U.N.
Cholera Not “Under Control”
In the meantime, cholera continues to wreak havoc throughout the country. Although the number of cases and deaths has dropped this year, the epidemic still sickened over 110,000 and killed 900, making cholera more prevalent in Haiti than anywhere else in the world. Nevertheless, the Haitian Health Minister took to the radio a few days ago to talk about the “success” of the cholera response; the Prime Minister has previously declared the epidemic to be “under control”. The U.N. recently lauded the efforts of the government and humanitarian actors for managing “to contain the spread of cholera in 2012.”
But despite the statements of success, the ability to respond to the epidemic continues to decrease. From August of 2011 to August of 2012 the number of cholera treatment centers has decreased from 38 to 20, while the number of treatment units has decreased from 205 to 71. Funding to respond to the outbreak is decreasing as NGOs struggle to get donors interested in an epidemic over two years old. While funding comes in fits and starts after a hurricane or devastating storm, the response needs consistent support so as to be prepared for those emergencies rather than just a response to them.
As one health expert who asked to remain anonymous noted, while the number of cases may slow slightly next year because of the natural progression of the disease, “2013 will be even worse than 2012.” With the number of health facilities dwindling and humanitarian actors pulling out, it is likely that the mortality rate could actually increase in 2013, according to the expert.
Number of people killed in the earthquake in 2010: over 217,300
Number of cholera cases worldwide in 2010 and 2011: 906,632
Percent of worldwide cholera cases that were in Haiti in those years: 57
Days Since Cholera Was Introduced in Haiti Without an Apology From the U.N.: 813
Percent of the population that lacks access to "improved" drinking water: 42
Funding needed for U.N./CDC/Haitian government 10-year cholera eradication plan: $2.2 billion
Percent of $2.2 billion which the U.N. pledged to provide: 1
Amount disbursed by bilateral and multilateral donors to Haiti from 2010-2012: $6.43 billion
Percent that went through the Haitian government: 9
Amount the Haitian government has received in budget support over this time: $302.69 million
Amount the American Red Cross raised for Haiti: $486 million
Amount of budget support to the Haitian government in 2009, the year before the earthquake: $93.60 million
The American Red Cross has issued a new progress report on its work in Haiti since the earthquake, describing how it has used the $486 million USD that it has raised. The report, while brief, and still vague in some places, seems to be intended in part as a response to recent criticism the organization has received over the pace and efficacy of its spending. ARC President and CEO Gail McGovern writes:
At this point, virtually all of the money donated to the American Red Cross has been spent, committed or allocated for planned housing and neighborhood recovery, health, clean water and sanitation and disaster preparedness projects. A relatively small amount of unallocated money—or 4 percent of all donations received—is held in reserve for unanticipated or emerging needs. That’s because even as we focus on long-term recovery, we must at the same time respond to cholera outbreaks and disasters in Haiti such as Tropical Storm Isaac and Hurricane Sandy.
By “virtually all,” McGovern means 85 percent, or $415 million, 33 percent of which it says it has “spent and committed” to “housing and neighborhood recovery”; 16 percent each to emergency relief and health, respectively; 12 percent to water and sanitation; 11 percent to disaster preparedness and risk reduction; 8 percent to “livelihoods” (undefined in the report, but previously described as including “grants, jobs and other help”); and 4 percent to cholera.
The report contains several anecdotal stories, but also some additional useful information. For example, the ARC says “We provided more than 72 percent of the funds needed for the distribution of a cholera vaccine, which more than 90,000 Haitians received this year.” It also notes that “we helped fund the construction of Mirebalais Teaching Hospital and partnered with the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) to rebuild a prosthetics and physical rehabilitation center.” Less useful is the statement “the American Red Cross has also spent more than $50 million on projects that have improved access to clean water and sanitation for 545,000 people,” where “improved access” is not further defined.
The ARC notes that “we have helped build, upgrade or repair more than 14,000 transitional and permanent homes for more than 70,000 people, and have helped more than 20,000 people transition out of camps by subsidizing rents,” but does not differentiate between the “transitional” and “permanent” dwellings, nor does it provide additional information on what people who have “transition[ed] out of camps” have done after leaving, how they live and whether their new situations are sustainable and will allow them to have a dignified, safe and healthy quality of life – even in the near term. The lumping together of “transitional” and “permanent” dwellings is especially problematic since, as so many residents and observers have noted, in many cases “transitional” shelters have become de facto “permanent.”
Over the next month, Haiti Relief and Reconstruction Watch blogger and CEPR International Research Associate, Jake Johnston will be in Haiti following up, on the ground, many of the issues this blog has covered since the earthquake nearly three years ago.
Port-au-Prince – In the last thirteen months, the “official” total of displaced persons in Haiti has decreased by 35 percent and over 300 camps have been closed. One could be forgiven for thinking the decrease was even larger. The sprawling tent camp near the airport, for everyone entering Haiti to see, as well as the Champ de Mars camp, are no longer. With their closure, some of the most visible signs of the stalled reconstruction effort have been erased. As the three-year commemoration of the earthquake approaches, the reduction in the IDP population will undoubtedly be touted as one of the great successes of the relief and reconstruction effort. And yet an estimated 360,000 Haitians remain in official tent camps.
Those who remain may not be as visible; many are tucked behind high walls and off main streets but their situation remains just as dire and continues to deteriorate. The most recent OCHA Humanitarian Bulletin notes that those who remain in the camps “face worsening living conditions, as humanitarian partners pull out as a result of lack of funding.” It is estimated that at least 230,000 will still be in the camps at this time next year.
For those that have left the camps, little is known about their current status. According to OCHA, over 250,000 have left the camps due to resettlement programs, yet there has been no systematic tracking of what has happened to them. The government’s flagship relocation program, “16/6”, began over a year ago, meaning the one-year rental subsidies offered to camp residents have already run out, or will in the next few months. One former resident of the Champ de Mars camp said that his subsidy will run out next month, and with no steady employment, he expects to be back on the street soon. If so, he, and others in similar situations, would likely fall outside of the “official” camp population.
January 1 was the anniversary of Haiti’s independence, and another marker – the third year since the earthquake – is coming up at the end of next week. Media outlets are examining what has been achieved - and what hasn’t - over the past three years.
The New York Times’ Deborah Sontag had a major, must-read feature article based on her investigative look at the shortcomings of the aid and reconstruction efforts, examining the Interim Haiti Recovery Commission, the agency and NGO coordination “clusters” and the Caracol industrial park, among other aspects. She also reports on contractors such as Chemonics, one that has been scrutinized by this blog repeatedly:
One American taxpayer-financed program, scrutinized by the Agency for International Development’s inspector general, was intended to provide short-term jobs for Haitians and to remove significant rubble. But the program, and in particular the work carried out by two Beltway-based firms, was less than successful on both fronts, the inspector general said: It generated only a third of the jobs anticipated and it appeared to demonstrate that using manual labor to clear debris was so inefficient as to slow the rebuilding effort.
One of the firms, Chemonics International, which was awarded $150 million in post-earthquake contracts, built a $1.9 million temporary home for the Haitian Parliament. The American ambassador presented it as a gift to Haitian democracy, but many legislators were more irked than thankful because the building was delivered devoid of interior walls and furnishings, as The Global Post reported, and it took almost half a year to scrounge together the money to finish it.
The New York Times editorial board weighed in yesterday with a lengthy editorial decrying the failures of the reconstruction process, and also highlighting the ongoing cholera epidemic caused by the UN, concluding:
A recently announced 10-year and $2.2 billion effort to rid Haiti and the Dominican Republic of cholera by improving water and sanitation will require close coordination among the Haitian government, the United Nations, United States and other partners. Senator John Kerry, who has paid astute attention to Haitian issues in the Senate, will be well placed to do so if he becomes the next secretary of state. As long as the miseries continue, the need for the world to get this right remains.
Tonight, in a ceremony presided over by U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, BBC correspondent Mark Doyle and producer Piers Scholfield will be presented with an award from the U.N. Correspondents Association (UNCA). The award, one of many to be handed out, is described by the UNCA as being for “the best coverage of the United Nations and its agencies.” Certainly by “best” they do not mean the most flattering. The BBC radio documentary that earned Scholfield and Doyle the prize was an investigation into the source of the cholera outbreak in Haiti, which over the past two years has killed over 7,800 and sickened over 625,000. A host of scientific evidence, as well as on the ground reporting, including by Doyle and Scholfield, has pinpointed a U.N. military base as the source of the outbreak.
Just last week, Ban Ki-moon announced that the U.N. would be starting a new initiative to secure funds for a 10-year, $2.2 billion plan, set to be formally announced in January, that aims to provide Haiti and the Dominican Republic with the clean water and sanitation infrastructure needed to eradicate the disease. Yet despite the U.N.’s pledge to support this plan, the U.N. has failed to ever accept responsibility for the epidemic. Despite a legal complaint filed with the U.N. on behalf of over 5,000 victims of cholera by the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti and Bureau des Avocats Internationaux, U.N. officials continue to avoid their own role in its introduction.
Writing in Foreign Policy on the U.N. announcement last week, Jonathan Katz and Tom Murphy note:
One of the primary means by which the U.N. has deflected blame since the beginning has been to insist that efforts to find the source of the epidemic would detract from fighting it. By relaunching an existing Haitian-Dominican effort under the guise of a U.N. initiative, the world body can once again claim to be too busy saving Haitian lives to comment on how those lives were put in danger in the first place. It took no time for this to happen. When an AP reporter asked on Dec. 11 whether humanitarian coordinator Nigel Fisher thought the U.N. caused the cholera epidemic, he refused to comment, saying: "My focus is on today."
In announcing this new initiative the U.N. pledged just $23.5 million of their own funds, less than four percent of what they are spending on keeping MINUSTAH troops in the country this year; the same troops that introduced the disease in the first place. As Mark Doyle commented after last week’s announcement, “The United Nations is good at launching appeals for aid. It is less good at admitting its own faults.”
As expected, the U.N. launched a new cholera eradication initiative yesterday at a press event in the late afternoon featuring U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and other speakers. The Miami Herald’s Jacqueline Charles leads off her article on the announcement by noting the U.N.’s own relatively small contribution toward funding the $2.2 billion plan (which also calls for an additional $70 million for the Dominican Republic):
The United Nations will provide support and $23.5 million in funding to help Haiti and the neighboring Dominican Republic eliminate a deadly cholera epidemic that has sickened more than 600,000 and killed more than 7,700, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said Tuesday.
In addition to the U.N.’s contribution, Ban said donors will provide $215 million. But the money still falls short of the $600 million Haitian Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe said is needed to implement the plan over the next two years focusing on improving water and sanitation services.
AP’s Alexandra Olson reports:
Ban promised to "use every opportunity" in the next months to advocate for more funding for the plan.
"We know the elimination of cholera is possible. Science tells us it can be done," Ban said. "It can and will happen in Haiti."
Ban also announced he was enlisting Partners in Health founder Paul Farmer as a “Special Advisor” who will help raise funds for the initiative, including from “governments, multilateral organizations, the private sector and individual philanthropists.”
Ban did not refer to the cause of the epidemic – U.N. troops from Nepal, according to several scientific studies.