Haiti: Relief and Reconstruction Watch is a blog that tracks multinational aid efforts in Haiti with an eye towards ensuring they are oriented towards the needs of the Haitian people, and that aid is not used to undermine Haitians' right to self-determination.
According to reports on Twitter yesterday, the United Nations independent expert on the human rights situation in Haiti, Michel Forst has resigned for “personal reasons,” even though his mandate was supposed to continue for another year. In one of his last acts, Forst’s report for the U.N. Human Rights Council was presented yesterday, recommending to Haiti and the international community that they “throw light” on the cause of the cholera outbreak and “respond to any compensation requests”. The cholera outbreak has killed at least 8,050 and sickened over 650,000 more.
In his report Forst notes that the “question of what caused the outbreak of the epidemic in Haiti remains a burning issue that has attracted significant public controversy.” Over the last few years, a number of scientific reports have identified U.N. troops as the source of cholera’s introduction. Forst’s report, which was issued before the U.N.’s denial of victims’ compensation claims, notes “that silence is the worst response.”
The U.N. broke their “silence” on the issue by rejecting the victims’ claims, yet they have continued to stonewall on the issue of responsibility. While Forst “deplores” the exploitation of the issue by “certain organizations…for political ends,” he recognizes the “need that victims or their families have expressed to know the truth and perhaps even to be given compensation.”
In addition to recommending shedding light on the cause of the outbreak, Forst also calls on the international community and Haitian government to, “Secure international assistance to combat the spread of the cholera epidemic.” The claim against the U.N., in addition to seeking damages, also asks for the U.N. to fund the needed infrastructure to eradicate cholera from Haiti. A 10 year, $2.2 billion eradication plan has been announced, but thus far the funding for it remains in doubt. The plan for the first two years notes that “The total cost for implementation of the Action Plan for 2013–2015 is estimated to be US$443,723,100.” So far, little more than half of that - $238 million - has been secured, most of it from existing funds.
On Sunday, the New York Times editorial board added their voice to those critical of the U.N.’s immunity claim, noting that the U.N.’s “handling of cholera is looking like a fiasco.” The Times adds:
While it insists that it has no legal liability for cholera victims, it must not duck its moral obligations. That means mobilizing doctors and money to save lives now, and making sure the eradication plan gets all the money and support it needs.
Its record so far is dubious. A U.N. appeal last year for $24 million for cholera programs ended the year only 32 percent financed, and in December, the U.N. said it would contribute $23.5 million to the new 10-year plan — about 1 percent of what is needed.
An op-ed in Bloomberg Businessweek yesterday lays out the case for USAID reform, highlighting the case of contractors in Haiti (and citing this blog) as an example. The piece, by Charles Kenny of the Center for Global Development, also examines the politicized nature of USAID practices. Kenny writes:
When it comes to buying friends at the United Nations, or buying crops in the Midwest, or creating jobs around the Capital Beltway, the U.S. foreign aid system is a paragon of effectiveness. Take the goal of buying friends. Eric Werker, a Harvard Business School associate professor, and Ilyana Kuziemko, now a Columbia Business School associate professor and Harvard Ph.D., estimated in a 2006 Harvard paper that countries rotating onto the UN Security Council were likely to see their U.S. aid increase by 59 percent. The aid then fell as the countries finished their terms. In a 1999 study, Illinois State University’s T.Y. Wang found that U.S. aid successfully affects UN voting patterns on issues vital to America’s national interests.
It is notable that the fifth largest USAID vendor is the government of Pakistan, currently a U.N. Security Council member. (The top four vendors – as September 30, 2012 – were the World Bank, the U.N. World Food Program, Chemonics (whose work in Haiti we have examined on this blog), and John Snow, Inc.)
Kenny also describes problems with USAID’s food assistance to developing nations:
The U.S. food aid program, for instance, purchases about $1 billion worth of American crops a year. It spends roughly an additional $1 billion transporting the crops overseas, in most cases using U.S.-flagged ships.
Economics professors Nathan Nunn of Harvard and Nancy Qian of Yale demonstrated in a 2010 paper that what determines the size of U.S. food aid shipments isn’t recipient need, but the size of the U.S. crop. And about half the funding is used on shipping. That same money could buy supplies in local markets and help farmers in developing countries.
The U.N. Office of the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) issued a press statement at the end of last week “express[ing] the grave concern of the humanitarian community in country regarding the recent incidents of forced evictions of internally displaced persons (IDPs) from camps in Port-au-Prince.”
The OCHA release follows a visit to the Acra 2 IDP camp in Port-au-Prince which “followed evictions of about 1,000 displaced families in camps Acra 1 and 2 (Petionville) and Gaston Margron (Carrefour) in metropolitan Port-au-Prince on 17 February 2013.”
The OCHA press statement notes:
Today, a little less than 350,000 displaced people live in 450 camps, most of them unable to find a return solution and without access to appropriate services. The humanitarian community estimates that more than 66,000 internally displaced persons (in 150 camps) have been victims of forced evictions since July 2010. More than 73,000 people living in 87 camps (20 per cent of the total displaced population) are facing threats of eviction in 2013. A forced eviction is the permanent or temporary removal against their will of individuals, families or communities from the homes or land they occupy, without the provision of access to appropriate forms of legal or other protection.
The statement was an improvement over past OCHA mischaracterizations of some forced eviction cases as “voluntary returns.”
According to the release, the United Nations Humanitarian Coordinator Ross Mountain “met with the Minister of Human Rights and the Fight against Extreme Poverty, Mrs. Rose Anne Auguste to discuss the issue of forced evictions in IDP camps.” Ms. Auguste
stated that a judicial inquiry was ongoing and security presence was being strengthened around camps at risk. She pointed out that President Martelly had on several occasions condemned forced evictions and that the Government-designed 16/6 programme for camp closure remains the way forward. The 16/6 project supports the return and resettlement of displaced persons living in camps, as well as the rehabilitation of the neighborhoods affected by displacement.
But as we have previously noted, the Martelly administration’s “16/6” program has failed to assist the majority of Haiti’s IDP’s. We noted in October that after one year, only some 44,000 people had been resettled through the program, significantly less than had been forcibly evicted, and just 60 of the remaining IDP sites were planned to benefit from return programs similar to 16/6. As we have also noted, there has been no systematic tracking of what has happened to people leaving the camps, and there is a need to examine what will happen to former camp residents once the rental subsidies they receive under the 16/6 program end.
Last week, after the passing of Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez, Haiti declared three days of national mourning. President Martelly stated that Chávez was a “great friend of Haiti who never missed an opportunity to express his solidarity with the Haitian people in their most difficult times.” It’s not the first time Martelly had such kind words for the Venezuelan president. Last year, Martelly told the press that it was Venezuelan aid that was “the most important in Haiti right now in terms of impact, direct impact." In February, Martelly attended the 11th summit of the Bolivarian Alliance for the People of Our Americas, a regional political organization spearheaded by Venezuela, and announced that Haiti was debating joining the group as a full member. While most of the coverage around Chávez’s legacy in Haiti and the greater Caribbean has focused on the Petrocaribe initiative, which provides subsidized fuel to the region, Chávez developed close ties to the Haitian people well before Petrocaribe. Following the earthquake of 2010, Chávez, in cancelling Haiti’s debt to Venezuela, declared, “Haiti has no debt with Venezuela -- on the contrary, it is Venezuela that has a historic debt with Haiti." As Chávez was quick to point out, it was Haiti that provided a vital safe-haven for Latin American independence hero Símon Bolívar before he went on to liberate much of South America from Spanish rule.
Opposition to 2004 Coup
In 2004, following the U.S.-backed coup against Jean-Bertrand Aristide, Chávez was one of only a few voices in the region condemning what had taken place and refusing to recognize the coup government. Chávez told the Organization of American States that, “The President of Haiti is called Jean-Bertrand Aristide, and he was elected by the people." He formally extended an offer of asylum to Aristide in March of 2004. Perhaps the solidarity was in part due to the fact that just two years previously Chávez had been temporarily ousted in a coup, and similar actors were involved in both the Venezuelan and Haitian coups. As detailed in a 2004 investigation by Mother Jones, the International Republican Institute was active in both organizing and training those involved in the 2004 coup in Haiti as well as opposition factions before the 2002 coup in Venezuela, and its point man in Haiti at the time – Stanley Lucas, now an advisor to Martelly – had been in Venezuela some seven times prior to the coup. Senior Bush administration officials Roger Noriega and Otto Reich also actively supported both the Venezuelan and Haitian coups.
One with the People
In 2007, President Chávez traveled to Haiti; Brian Concannon and Mario Joseph described the scene at the time:
Venezuela’s President Hugo Chávez found a hero’s welcome when he visited Haiti on March 12. People from Port-au-Prince’s poor neighborhoods lined the streets of the capitol to cheer, to chant, to dance and sing, with the infectious enthusiasm of Haitian celebrations. President Chávez returned the affection. He jumped from his motorcade and joined the party, marching, even running with the crowd. At the National Palace, Mr. Chávez climbed up on the perimeter fence to shake and slap hands, like he had just scored a World Cup goal. He publicly thanked the Haitian people for their hospitality and enthusiasm, and for their historic support for liberty in the world.
President Chávez and the Haitian people hit it off so well for reasons of principle and of practice. Haitians consider Chávez a leader in the global fight against the global power inequalities that keep people in Haiti, Venezuela and the rest of Latin America poor, hungry and uneducated. They see him standing up to the most powerful leader in today’s world- President Bush (whose name was frequently invoked that day, not charitably) – and to the World Bank and other powerbrokers. Even better, unlike their President Aristide (whose name was frequently, and charitably, invoked), Chávez keeps getting away with standing up to the powerful.
Of course, while the solidarity between Chávez and the Haitian people has long existed, the more recent direct impact of this solidarity has been through the Petrocaribe initiative. The agreement, which was nearly blocked by the U.S. government and major oil companies, has provided Haiti with 23.6 million barrels of oil since 2008. Through the agreement Venezuela finances part of Haiti’s fuel import bill, allowing for a portion to be paid up front and the remainder to be used as a loan with a long maturity and low rates. Since the program’s inception, Venezuela has provided oil worth nearly $2.5 billion. Haiti has paid back over $1 billion of that and although Venezuela cancelled nearly $400 million in debt after the earthquake, Haiti retains a debt of roughly $950 million to Venezuela. Most of this will be paid back over a period of 25 years at a 1 percent interest rate. In the meantime, there is a two-year grace period. The IMF estimated fiscal year 2012/2013 external debt payments to be 0.1 percent of GDP, or less than 0.5 percent of government expenditure.
As of March 4, 2013, cholera has killed 8,057 Haitians and infected nearly 650,000 more. Despite some claims of progress, the epidemic, which was introduced by United Nations troops, has been significantly worse in 2013 than during the same period the year before. From January 1, 145 cholera victims have officially been reported dead, compared to just 22 last year. Worse, this occurred during the dry season, when cases generally taper off. The latest bulletin from the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) noted that compared to February 2012, this year “the Centre department has seen an increase of 67 per cent during this period, while the Artibonite and Ouest departments have seen increases of 38 per cent and 35 per cent respectively.”
Three weeks ago the U.N., after 15 months of dodging and evading, formally rejected a claim brought on behalf of over 6,000 cholera victims for damages. The claimants had also demanded the U.N. provide funding for the new infrastructure needed for the clean water and sanitation that would eradicate the epidemic. A new, 10-year, cholera eradication plan was announced less than a week later. The ambitious plan, if carried out, would provide lifesaving infrastructure, which previously had been blocked due to political pressure from the United States. Yet, while the plan was welcomed as a positive step forward, there is little funding available for its implementation. The U.N., for its part, committed just $23 million, a far cry from the $2.2 billion needed.
While the infrastructure which is needed may be a long way off, some groups are already looking at new solutions to combatting the cholera epidemic and creating a more sustainable country in the process. Isabeau Doucet reports for The Guardian:
"If we can take all the poop that's making people sick right now," said Dr Sasha Kramer as she stuck a thermometer into a large mound of faecal waste in the middle of Troutier, Port-au-Prince's city dump, "and turn it into this really valuable resource that could be used for reforestation or for increased agricultural production, then you really take a problem and turn it into a solution."
Every week, Soil (Sustainable Organic Integrated Livelihoods) collects the human waste from 56 dry toilets built in camps for displaced earthquake victims, and mixes it with chips of sugar cane bagasse, a byproduct of local rum production.
And it’s not just NGOs which are taking part:
The Haitian government recently built several sewage treatment plants that process traditional pit latrine waste in open-air stabilisation ponds. It and sewage treatment companies such as Jedco are experimenting with the alchemy of transforming a potentially deadly substance into a rich and much-needed fertiliser.
In order to treat human waste safely and kill pathogens, the waste must sit for at least seven days at 50C, according to the World Health Organisation. After six to nine months, the potentially toxic waste is transformed, with low carbon emissions, into fertile soil, simultaneously helping to fight cholera and deforestation, and revive food production.
The government has opened two sewage treatment plants on the outskirts of Port-au-Prince and there are a number planned for other major cities in the coming years. The plants are the first ever in Haiti’s history. SOIL is exploring ways to transform their composting process to be able to handle waste from pit latrines, which are currently emptied at the government sewage plants, and not just the dry toilets that they distribute.
In addition to composting, the sewage treatment plants hope to be able to use the water they are treating for irrigation. Together, the reuse of waste could have a large impact on sustainability. Doucet continues:
In Haiti's northern region of Cap Haïtien, where Soil built its first toilets in 2006, there is now a farm and the compost is used to grow peanuts and fight malnutrition. Collaborating with farmers and Scouts, Soil aims to fight Haiti's extreme deforestation – it has only 2% forest cover – by planting 10,000 mango, cashew, orange, lemon and other indigenous fruit trees.
Please see below for a series of pictures from the SOIL composting site in Port-au-Prince and from the Haitian government’s two new sewage treatment plants.
The U.S. Agency for International Development Inspector General (IG) last week released an audit of a program to provide loans to businesses in Haiti (available here). The audit is just the latest report from the IG to find significant problems with USAID’s programs in Haiti, following previous findings regarding cash-for-work programs, shelter provision, food aid and USAID’s largest contractor, Chemonics. The Associated Press’ Trenton Daniel reports that:
An audit of a U.S. Agency for International Department program that aimed to boost Haiti's economy by providing loans to businesses has found that the program failed to award loans to intended targets, train workers and keep accurate records.
The aim of the audit released in late February by USAID's Office of the Inspector General was to see whether a USAID loan program was indeed introducing lending practices to overlooked areas and borrowers, particularly in the areas of agriculture, construction, tourism, handicrafts and waste management. Most of the loans were supposed to go toward women, first-time borrowers and small- and medium-sized enterprises.
The loan program provided some $37.5 million in guarantees, of which just over $19 million in guarantees have been extended. According to publicly available data, only about a quarter went to woman-owned businesses, less than 30 percent went to first-time borrowers, and 75 percent were concentrated in the West department, though these numbers likely overstate the reality on the ground. In addition to many other problems, the audit found that “the key monitoring data was outdated, incomplete, or inaccurate,” for example, information on whether the recipient was a first-time borrower was “recorded incorrectly 41 percent of the time.”
The focus of the audit, Daniel reports, was the four largest of the seven guarantees, “worth $31.5 million,” of the $37.5 million total. Of these Daniel notes that two were made after the 2010 earthquake:
They were a Haitian bank named Sogebank, a Haitian development finance institution named Sofihdes that USAID helped create in 1983 and an agriculture-focused outfit named Le Levier Federation.
The audit found that few women and first-time borrowers received loans and lenders didn't make much effort to work with them.
And while the loans were intended to target “development corridors,” Daniel notes,
Instead they stayed in the Port-au-Prince area.
Ninety percent of Sogebank's loans were confined to the capital and the bank didn't give loans to other parts of the country. Some 81 percent of the Sofihdes loans were in Haiti's capital.
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.