Haiti Relief & Reconstruction Watch

Haiti Relief & Reconstruction Watch

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.

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 DINEPA
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.

We walk past the two pools where the water is held. The third, where the filtered water collects, looks like the blue of the Caribbean compared to the murky pools before it.

Titanyen Ponds
Treatment ponds at Titanyen.

He shows off the workers, dredging solids out of the first pool – high boots, gloves, masks, full suit. Throughout it all he’s insistent on dumping chlorinated water on the ground to wash our feet off – “you don’t want to bring cholera home with you!” The plant, while still relatively new, stands as one of the great achievements of post-earthquake construction, especially given the ongoing cholera epidemic that has killed nearly 8,000. There is another plant, not far away, in Morne a Cabrit, and many more planned throughout the country. Amazingly, before September 2011, Haiti had never had a sewage treatment plant. Nevertheless, much more will need to be done to meet the vast water and sanitation infrastructure needs of Haiti.

Sanco Truck Titanyen
Sanco, one of Haiti’s private waste collectors, dumps wastewater at Titanyen. There has been a problem of getting private companies to pay the fees at the plant, required to fund its operations; two workers look on before cleaning the area.

He knows he’s one of the lucky ones in Kanaan, where there are few opportunities to earn an income. He’s been able to save up some, reinforce his house and add a few rooms. Occasionally, Sonny can afford to buy a large sack of rice that can last his family for at least a few weeks. But there is tremendous need in the community. “Sometimes people come and ask for some food. I tell my wife to give what we can so they can eat and try and feed their family.” He adds, smiling, “to receive, you have to give …it’s true, I see it.”

Yet, while Sonny was beaming with pride at the new sewage treatment facility, like the livelihoods of the hundreds of thousands in Kanaan, it’s future remains tenuous. While donors and agencies from the international community provided the funds to build the plants, DINEPA – Haiti’s under-funded water authority – has been left to a large extent alone to run it. The lack of an operational budget remains one of the biggest obstacles to its continued functioning. As is the case with so many projects in Haiti over the last three years, (and decades previously for that matter), while there may be funding for building things, there is often little funding for what in the end is the most important part: ensuring a project’s long term sustainability.

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 DINEPA
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.

We walk past the two pools where the water is held. The third, where the filtered water collects, looks like the blue of the Caribbean compared to the murky pools before it.

Titanyen Ponds
Treatment ponds at Titanyen.

He shows off the workers, dredging solids out of the first pool – high boots, gloves, masks, full suit. Throughout it all he’s insistent on dumping chlorinated water on the ground to wash our feet off – “you don’t want to bring cholera home with you!” The plant, while still relatively new, stands as one of the great achievements of post-earthquake construction, especially given the ongoing cholera epidemic that has killed nearly 8,000. There is another plant, not far away, in Morne a Cabrit, and many more planned throughout the country. Amazingly, before September 2011, Haiti had never had a sewage treatment plant. Nevertheless, much more will need to be done to meet the vast water and sanitation infrastructure needs of Haiti.

Sanco Truck Titanyen
Sanco, one of Haiti’s private waste collectors, dumps wastewater at Titanyen. There has been a problem of getting private companies to pay the fees at the plant, required to fund its operations; two workers look on before cleaning the area.

He knows he’s one of the lucky ones in Kanaan, where there are few opportunities to earn an income. He’s been able to save up some, reinforce his house and add a few rooms. Occasionally, Sonny can afford to buy a large sack of rice that can last his family for at least a few weeks. But there is tremendous need in the community. “Sometimes people come and ask for some food. I tell my wife to give what we can so they can eat and try and feed their family.” He adds, smiling, “to receive, you have to give …it’s true, I see it.”

Yet, while Sonny was beaming with pride at the new sewage treatment facility, like the livelihoods of the hundreds of thousands in Kanaan, it’s future remains tenuous. While donors and agencies from the international community provided the funds to build the plants, DINEPA – Haiti’s under-funded water authority – has been left to a large extent alone to run it. The lack of an operational budget remains one of the biggest obstacles to its continued functioning. As is the case with so many projects in Haiti over the last three years, (and decades previously for that matter), while there may be funding for building things, there is often little funding for what in the end is the most important part: ensuring a project’s long term sustainability.

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.

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.

It also seems that the while the report provides a platform to tout the highlights of the U.S.’s work in Haiti, it fails to include many aspects that are required in the legislation mandating the report. The report notes that the supplemental appropriations act mandated that the

report is to include…a description, by goal and objective, of the implementation of the Strategy; an assessment of progress, or lack thereof, during the preceding 180 days toward meeting the goals and objectives, benchmarks, and timeframes specified in the Strategy, including an assessment of the performance of the Government of Haiti; a description of U.S. government programs contributing to the achievement of the goals and objectives including the amounts obligated and expended on such programs during the preceding six months; and an assessment of efforts to coordinate U.S. government programs with assistance provided by other donors and implementing partners, including significant gaps in donor assistance.

That is the sole mention of the word “benchmark” in the report and there is extremely little information on “amounts obligated and expended” on specific programs. For example, in the section on Infrastructure and Energy, there is no mention of any costs associated with the new houses being built or how the completion of 900 houses compares to what the benchmarks of those programs actually were. Without this information, it would be extremely difficult for Congress to come to any sort of conclusion about the effectiveness of U.S. government aid in Haiti. And while the report certainly lists some areas where there has been progress, there is no mention of areas where progress has lagged, or if programs have not been as effective as intended, a fact hard to reconcile with previous independent government evaluations showing significant delays and problems in U.S. government funded programs.

Other accomplishments mentioned in the report may unfortunately already have been swept away, since the report covers a period of time that ended a full month before Hurricane Sandy hit Haiti. Progress on increased crop yields noted under “Pillar B: Food and Economic Security” has likely been undone by Sandy’s impact, which left 2.1 million people food insecure, according to the U.N. Office of Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs [PDF].

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.

It also seems that the while the report provides a platform to tout the highlights of the U.S.’s work in Haiti, it fails to include many aspects that are required in the legislation mandating the report. The report notes that the supplemental appropriations act mandated that the

report is to include…a description, by goal and objective, of the implementation of the Strategy; an assessment of progress, or lack thereof, during the preceding 180 days toward meeting the goals and objectives, benchmarks, and timeframes specified in the Strategy, including an assessment of the performance of the Government of Haiti; a description of U.S. government programs contributing to the achievement of the goals and objectives including the amounts obligated and expended on such programs during the preceding six months; and an assessment of efforts to coordinate U.S. government programs with assistance provided by other donors and implementing partners, including significant gaps in donor assistance.

That is the sole mention of the word “benchmark” in the report and there is extremely little information on “amounts obligated and expended” on specific programs. For example, in the section on Infrastructure and Energy, there is no mention of any costs associated with the new houses being built or how the completion of 900 houses compares to what the benchmarks of those programs actually were. Without this information, it would be extremely difficult for Congress to come to any sort of conclusion about the effectiveness of U.S. government aid in Haiti. And while the report certainly lists some areas where there has been progress, there is no mention of areas where progress has lagged, or if programs have not been as effective as intended, a fact hard to reconcile with previous independent government evaluations showing significant delays and problems in U.S. government funded programs.

Other accomplishments mentioned in the report may unfortunately already have been swept away, since the report covers a period of time that ended a full month before Hurricane Sandy hit Haiti. Progress on increased crop yields noted under “Pillar B: Food and Economic Security” has likely been undone by Sandy’s impact, which left 2.1 million people food insecure, according to the U.N. Office of Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs [PDF].

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.”

Titanyen Burnt Cross

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.

Jules Jelin told the story of residents of a nearby tent camp, which had been cleared out with the help of a Catholic Relief Services rental subsidy program. The residents were given some funds to move out of the camp and find apartments, though as Jules Jelin noted, the money was generally not enough to find a good place, if any place at all, and that “eventually they will have to return to the street.” He added, “think about what the NGO’s have done in the past. They [camp residents] were given water, then it was taken away, given toilets, then they were taken away, given a little job, then it was taken away. This created the situation where people had to accept what was offered, because it could be taken away at any time. Now they went back to the damaged houses they fled from, just returning to the same situation as before. These are the people who came together to discuss the situation on the 12th.”

A discussion was held where James Olrich of Bri Kouri Nouvel Gaye and Mark Snyder, a housing rights advocate, spoke of the ongoing conditions in camps and the problems of forced evictions, and addressed the question of “where did the money go?” Jules Jelin added, “We wanted to educate the people so they could understand what the reality of reconstruction is, after all the money, why are things still so bad?”

Snyder added, “It was the actual community deciding to come together to pay respect to their family, neighbors, and fellow Haitians who perished or suffered great loss from the earthquake three years earlier. It is a model for true inclusion for the visiting NGOs or UN entities in Haiti to strive for.”

Compared to the Clinton photo-op earlier in the day, the differences could not have been starker. It was a time of reflection, to look back at what has and has not happened and to engage with those whose lives have been most affected by the earthquake and the ongoing international and national response. “You can look all around you and see the country destroyed but not do anything about it. We try to make people aware, and then they can take action,” said Jules Jelin.

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.”

Titanyen Burnt Cross

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.

Jules Jelin told the story of residents of a nearby tent camp, which had been cleared out with the help of a Catholic Relief Services rental subsidy program. The residents were given some funds to move out of the camp and find apartments, though as Jules Jelin noted, the money was generally not enough to find a good place, if any place at all, and that “eventually they will have to return to the street.” He added, “think about what the NGO’s have done in the past. They [camp residents] were given water, then it was taken away, given toilets, then they were taken away, given a little job, then it was taken away. This created the situation where people had to accept what was offered, because it could be taken away at any time. Now they went back to the damaged houses they fled from, just returning to the same situation as before. These are the people who came together to discuss the situation on the 12th.”

A discussion was held where James Olrich of Bri Kouri Nouvel Gaye and Mark Snyder, a housing rights advocate, spoke of the ongoing conditions in camps and the problems of forced evictions, and addressed the question of “where did the money go?” Jules Jelin added, “We wanted to educate the people so they could understand what the reality of reconstruction is, after all the money, why are things still so bad?”

Snyder added, “It was the actual community deciding to come together to pay respect to their family, neighbors, and fellow Haitians who perished or suffered great loss from the earthquake three years earlier. It is a model for true inclusion for the visiting NGOs or UN entities in Haiti to strive for.”

Compared to the Clinton photo-op earlier in the day, the differences could not have been starker. It was a time of reflection, to look back at what has and has not happened and to engage with those whose lives have been most affected by the earthquake and the ongoing international and national response. “You can look all around you and see the country destroyed but not do anything about it. We try to make people aware, and then they can take action,” said Jules Jelin.

UN’s Muñoz Misses the Point

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.

Muñoz puts a happy face on things when he writes that “more than 1.1 million people who were displaced by the quake have been moved out of camps and into long-term housing, also with UNDP support.”

But he neglects to mention that some 66,566 of these people had been forcibly evicted [PDF] by the end of last April. Many others were encouraged to leave camps with payouts through the Martelly administration’s “16/6” plan, but the Under Tents campaign noted that “In the absence of work opportunities, families’ ability to pay rent one year from now is dubious. Advocates have also raised concerns that residents of the original six camps were not told about the plan or given input into how it would affect them.” Under Tents also expressed concern that “human rights advocates worry this ‘relocation’ has not ensured basic human rights such as access to water and sanitation services.”

Muñoz highlights that “Neighbourhoods, roads, and houses have been rehabilitated, creating thousands of jobs in the process.”

But according to the Shelter Cluster, only 18,725 houses have actually been repaired, and just 5,911 new houses have been built, while 1 million people were living in houses marked as either red (in need of demolition) or yellow (in need of repairs to make safe enough to live in) as of June 2011.

Muñoz writes that “Haiti’s remarkable recovery, moreover, has been largely driven by Haitians themselves. Within neighbourhoods, community members have set priorities for rebuilding homes and infrastructure, ensuring that the unique risks faced by city-dwellers are satisfactorily addressed.”

Despite their exclusion from decision making by international groups and NGO’s, many Haitians have of course worked together and accomplished much, beginning right after the earthquake when people removed rubble – by hand in many cases – to rescue trapped survivors. Many quake survivors quickly organized and got to work immediately after the quake had occurred, as independent journalist Ansel Herz reported at the time. They received little help from the U.S. military, which assumed the central role in the relief effort and which prioritized “security concerns” instead of the humanitarian emergency, while media outlets such as CNN described “a frenzy of looting” which in fact never took place.

The Haitian people – often normal, everyday people who are not paid by anyone to do the work they do – are responsible for much of the progress of the relief effort. This is why so many both within and outside of Haiti have clamored for three years for the international community to do more to provide these people with the resources and the support that they need. The numbers three years later – punctuated by egregious examples of waste – demonstrate how the international community has failed to do that, compounding the tragedy of how little has been achieved.

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.

Muñoz puts a happy face on things when he writes that “more than 1.1 million people who were displaced by the quake have been moved out of camps and into long-term housing, also with UNDP support.”

But he neglects to mention that some 66,566 of these people had been forcibly evicted [PDF] by the end of last April. Many others were encouraged to leave camps with payouts through the Martelly administration’s “16/6” plan, but the Under Tents campaign noted that “In the absence of work opportunities, families’ ability to pay rent one year from now is dubious. Advocates have also raised concerns that residents of the original six camps were not told about the plan or given input into how it would affect them.” Under Tents also expressed concern that “human rights advocates worry this ‘relocation’ has not ensured basic human rights such as access to water and sanitation services.”

Muñoz highlights that “Neighbourhoods, roads, and houses have been rehabilitated, creating thousands of jobs in the process.”

But according to the Shelter Cluster, only 18,725 houses have actually been repaired, and just 5,911 new houses have been built, while 1 million people were living in houses marked as either red (in need of demolition) or yellow (in need of repairs to make safe enough to live in) as of June 2011.

Muñoz writes that “Haiti’s remarkable recovery, moreover, has been largely driven by Haitians themselves. Within neighbourhoods, community members have set priorities for rebuilding homes and infrastructure, ensuring that the unique risks faced by city-dwellers are satisfactorily addressed.”

Despite their exclusion from decision making by international groups and NGO’s, many Haitians have of course worked together and accomplished much, beginning right after the earthquake when people removed rubble – by hand in many cases – to rescue trapped survivors. Many quake survivors quickly organized and got to work immediately after the quake had occurred, as independent journalist Ansel Herz reported at the time. They received little help from the U.S. military, which assumed the central role in the relief effort and which prioritized “security concerns” instead of the humanitarian emergency, while media outlets such as CNN described “a frenzy of looting” which in fact never took place.

The Haitian people – often normal, everyday people who are not paid by anyone to do the work they do – are responsible for much of the progress of the relief effort. This is why so many both within and outside of Haiti have clamored for three years for the international community to do more to provide these people with the resources and the support that they need. The numbers three years later – punctuated by egregious examples of waste – demonstrate how the international community has failed to do that, compounding the tragedy of how little has been achieved.

Three Years Later Round-up: Clinton Edition

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.

O’Connor notes that cutting the subsidies might have hurt Arkansas farmers, but could have helped their Haitian counterparts:

…for the last year a piece of U.S. legislation that could have arguably changed the playing field for Haiti’s farmers has been stalled in Washington, D.C. A new $500 billion, five-year farm bill that might have cut subsidies to American rice farmers was never passed. And in the final hours of 2012, politicians extended the old one for another nine months.

The move effectively kicked the can down the road for changes to America’s decades-old agricultural policies — changes that could represent the first challenge to the “devil’s bargain” Haiti and Arkansas have been a part of for so long.

It is a “devil’s bargain,” because, as O’Connor writes:

Since 1995, when it dropped its import tariffs on rice from 50 to 3 percent as part of a structural adjustment program run by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank, Haiti has steadily increased its imports of rice from the north. Today it is the fifth-largest importer of American rice in the world despite having a population of just 10 million. Much of Haiti’s rice comes from Arkansas; each year, Riceland Foods and Producers Rice Mill send millions of tons of rice down the Mississippi river on barges to New Orleans, where the rice is loaded onto container ships, taken to port in Haiti, and packaged as popular brands such as Tchaco or Mega Rice. Haiti today imports over 80 percent of its rice from the United States, making it a critical market for farmers in Arkansas.

This was after, following the end of Haiti’s revolution in 1804:

Shut out of global markets, Haiti’s farmers managed to survive, feeding the population and producing trade surpluses into the 20th century. Throughout the 1970s, Haiti imported a mere 19 percent of its food. The regimes of François Duvalier and his son Jean-Claude (“Baby Doc”) Duvalier had abysmal human rights records, but they largely protected farmers from foreign competition by instituting virtual bans on foreign food with tariffs that neared 100 percent. The country was self-sufficient when it came to rice production in part because Haitians only ate rice two or three times a week as part of a diverse diet that included corn and sorghum.

Open markets, virtually no access to banks and credit, and a lack of private and public sector investment made it impossible for Haitian farmers to thrive. Today, most farmers have an income level of just $400 per year and they view the policies that brought them to this state as not just bad economics for Haitians, but also as an ongoing assault by foreigners on their cultural independence.

In a related op-ed for The Guardian, Jonathan Katz writes on U.S. motivations behind food, and other “aid”:

Addressing an audience of wealthy New Yorkers, [Secretary of State Hillary Clinton] laid out a vision of what the US is trying to accomplish in the world; it was very telling for those trying to understand foreign aid – and its younger, hipper cousin, investment.

Clinton told the audience: “Our problems have never respected dividing lines between global economics and international diplomacy. And neither can our solutions.” That is why, she explained, she has put “economic statecraft” at the heart of the US foreign policy agenda. Clinton further defined how the US can use “the forces and tools of global economics” to bolster American “diplomacy and presence” abroad and to strengthen the economy at home. She argued that America should “put economics at the center” of its foreign policy. In foreign relations, the question should always be “how will this affect our economic growth?”

A superpower such as the US would, of course, always consider its domestic interests, especially economic ones, when it acts abroad. But we tend to forget this whenever the conversation turns to a specific circumstance – the intervention in one war instead of another, or the way we choose to respond to a humanitarian crisis abroad.

Take the 2010 Haiti earthquake. Clinton herself said in the wake of the disaster that it was necessary to work with Haiti’s government and not go around it by supporting NGOs or foreign-government projects as had been done destructively in the past. Bill Clinton remarked in March 2010 that a policy of importing huge amounts of heavily subsidised US rice and other grain into the impoverished country, which undercut Haitian farmers and drove families into poverty, had to change. Yet none of the US humanitarian funds spent in Haiti after the quake, and only about 1% of the longer-term recovery funds, went to the government. And the food policy remains unaddressed.

As CEPR Co-Director Mark Weisbrot noted in a statement last week, one proposal that could have supported Haitian farmers and helped provide food assistance to people who needed it never went far policy makers in Washington: “Some 2.1 million people now live in severe food insecurity in Haiti, up from 800,000 in 2011,” Weisbrot said. “The U.S. Congress had an opportunity after the quake to support Haitian farmers by buying up their crops as part of U.S. food aid, but this proposal went nowhere.”

Amy Wilentz meanwhile writes in The Nation of another Clinton-linked initiative: the Royal Oasis hotel, the name of which is laden with disturbing symbolism:

The “five-star” Royal Oasis is a violation of human decency. Not because it’s big and luxurious in a desperately poor country, although it is that: it has 128 rooms, five restaurants, five bars, a conference center, an art gallery and an upscale shopping mall. But the indecent, depraved thing about it is that—amazingly, astoundingly—its construction was financed in part by grants from organizations ostensibly providing post-earthquake reconstruction funds: $7.5 million from the World Bank’s International Finance Corporation went to the Oasis project, as well as $2 million from the Clinton Bush Haiti Fund, the recovery group headed by former presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush. (Having funded the Oasis, among other enterprises, the Clinton Bush fund announced that it was ceasing operations at the end of 2012.) The Royal Oasis is one of the few post-quake projects that have come to fruition, unlike dozens of housing and school construction projects. 

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.

O’Connor notes that cutting the subsidies might have hurt Arkansas farmers, but could have helped their Haitian counterparts:

…for the last year a piece of U.S. legislation that could have arguably changed the playing field for Haiti’s farmers has been stalled in Washington, D.C. A new $500 billion, five-year farm bill that might have cut subsidies to American rice farmers was never passed. And in the final hours of 2012, politicians extended the old one for another nine months.

The move effectively kicked the can down the road for changes to America’s decades-old agricultural policies — changes that could represent the first challenge to the “devil’s bargain” Haiti and Arkansas have been a part of for so long.

It is a “devil’s bargain,” because, as O’Connor writes:

Since 1995, when it dropped its import tariffs on rice from 50 to 3 percent as part of a structural adjustment program run by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank, Haiti has steadily increased its imports of rice from the north. Today it is the fifth-largest importer of American rice in the world despite having a population of just 10 million. Much of Haiti’s rice comes from Arkansas; each year, Riceland Foods and Producers Rice Mill send millions of tons of rice down the Mississippi river on barges to New Orleans, where the rice is loaded onto container ships, taken to port in Haiti, and packaged as popular brands such as Tchaco or Mega Rice. Haiti today imports over 80 percent of its rice from the United States, making it a critical market for farmers in Arkansas.

This was after, following the end of Haiti’s revolution in 1804:

Shut out of global markets, Haiti’s farmers managed to survive, feeding the population and producing trade surpluses into the 20th century. Throughout the 1970s, Haiti imported a mere 19 percent of its food. The regimes of François Duvalier and his son Jean-Claude (“Baby Doc”) Duvalier had abysmal human rights records, but they largely protected farmers from foreign competition by instituting virtual bans on foreign food with tariffs that neared 100 percent. The country was self-sufficient when it came to rice production in part because Haitians only ate rice two or three times a week as part of a diverse diet that included corn and sorghum.

Open markets, virtually no access to banks and credit, and a lack of private and public sector investment made it impossible for Haitian farmers to thrive. Today, most farmers have an income level of just $400 per year and they view the policies that brought them to this state as not just bad economics for Haitians, but also as an ongoing assault by foreigners on their cultural independence.

In a related op-ed for The Guardian, Jonathan Katz writes on U.S. motivations behind food, and other “aid”:

Addressing an audience of wealthy New Yorkers, [Secretary of State Hillary Clinton] laid out a vision of what the US is trying to accomplish in the world; it was very telling for those trying to understand foreign aid – and its younger, hipper cousin, investment.

Clinton told the audience: “Our problems have never respected dividing lines between global economics and international diplomacy. And neither can our solutions.” That is why, she explained, she has put “economic statecraft” at the heart of the US foreign policy agenda. Clinton further defined how the US can use “the forces and tools of global economics” to bolster American “diplomacy and presence” abroad and to strengthen the economy at home. She argued that America should “put economics at the center” of its foreign policy. In foreign relations, the question should always be “how will this affect our economic growth?”

A superpower such as the US would, of course, always consider its domestic interests, especially economic ones, when it acts abroad. But we tend to forget this whenever the conversation turns to a specific circumstance – the intervention in one war instead of another, or the way we choose to respond to a humanitarian crisis abroad.

Take the 2010 Haiti earthquake. Clinton herself said in the wake of the disaster that it was necessary to work with Haiti’s government and not go around it by supporting NGOs or foreign-government projects as had been done destructively in the past. Bill Clinton remarked in March 2010 that a policy of importing huge amounts of heavily subsidised US rice and other grain into the impoverished country, which undercut Haitian farmers and drove families into poverty, had to change. Yet none of the US humanitarian funds spent in Haiti after the quake, and only about 1% of the longer-term recovery funds, went to the government. And the food policy remains unaddressed.

As CEPR Co-Director Mark Weisbrot noted in a statement last week, one proposal that could have supported Haitian farmers and helped provide food assistance to people who needed it never went far policy makers in Washington: “Some 2.1 million people now live in severe food insecurity in Haiti, up from 800,000 in 2011,” Weisbrot said. “The U.S. Congress had an opportunity after the quake to support Haitian farmers by buying up their crops as part of U.S. food aid, but this proposal went nowhere.”

Amy Wilentz meanwhile writes in The Nation of another Clinton-linked initiative: the Royal Oasis hotel, the name of which is laden with disturbing symbolism:

The “five-star” Royal Oasis is a violation of human decency. Not because it’s big and luxurious in a desperately poor country, although it is that: it has 128 rooms, five restaurants, five bars, a conference center, an art gallery and an upscale shopping mall. But the indecent, depraved thing about it is that—amazingly, astoundingly—its construction was financed in part by grants from organizations ostensibly providing post-earthquake reconstruction funds: $7.5 million from the World Bank’s International Finance Corporation went to the Oasis project, as well as $2 million from the Clinton Bush Haiti Fund, the recovery group headed by former presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush. (Having funded the Oasis, among other enterprises, the Clinton Bush fund announced that it was ceasing operations at the end of 2012.) The Royal Oasis is one of the few post-quake projects that have come to fruition, unlike dozens of housing and school construction projects. 

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.”

The Titanyen sewage treatment plant represents a planned, durable, and modern solution to a serious humanitarian issue. It’s a triumph of Haitian political will. It’s everything that the aid response should have been.

Some might point out that rubble from the quake throughout Port-au-Prince has been cleared. This was done inefficiently and at high cost by a for-profit company contracted by USAID, however.

A bunch of the SUVs are leaving now, probably to make their way up the hill to Petionville, the well-off part of the capital city where most aid workers live. Traffic will be bad.

The fact that despite $10 billion was pledged to Haiti’s reconstruction effort and I can think of no other big successes, says enough about the endless litany of failures, don’t you think?

But one failure that stands out is the CIRH, a reconstruction commission co-chaired by Bill Clinton and the Haitian Prime Minister. Representatives from all the big donor countries (and a few tokenized Haitians) sat around a table trying to decide where to spend money. The body was stunningly slow and ineffective, until the Haitian legislature unceremoniously declined to renew its mandate, having protested its creation in the first place.

This is to say nothing of the cholera, which was brought to Haiti by the United Nations, according to scientific studies.

3.   What should the humanitarian community do differently? What have we learned?

I mentioned that Haiti is more like other countries, including our own, than commonly thought. Across the board, we face a similar set of issues.

But in the U.S., the idea is to solve these problems through political discussion and negotiation among ourselves. Elected officials listen to the citizenry, take action and implement programs. At least, that’s what we expect.

Now imagine something else. Imagine that in our midst, we have a foreign humanitarian community trying to help us solve our problems. Imagine that their combined budget dwarfs that of our government at every level.

Imagine that members of this community – Canadians, Venezuelans, Jordanians, the French, or Nigerians from hundreds of separate organizations – drive the best cars and occupy the largest houses. They eat at the most expensive restaurants because they are afraid to eat what the rest of us buy in the market. Most of them don’t speak English. They mainly hire American staff from the tiny, most educated and privileged sector of society.

And imagine that all of these groups claim they are supporting, rather than exercising any undue influence, over our government.

On top of all that, imagine that a foreign “peacekeeping” army larger than our own police force patrols the streets. Imagine that President Obama had asked the army to trade its tanks for bulldozers and its guns for shovels, but that his call had been completely ignored.

This is Haiti today, shed of its sovereignty. This has been the situation ever since it earned the nickname “The Republic of NGOs,” amidst a set of neoliberal economic reforms foisted upon it in the late 1980s.

What should the humanitarian community do differently? Two things:

In the short-term, be more inclusive of Haitians at every level. This point was urgently made by Refugees International shortly after the earthquake, when, to take one of many examples, a Haitian mayor could not access the military base where aid workers held meetings, often in English.

Over the medium- and long-term, the humanitarian community should transition all of its resources into Haitian hands. Frankly, it smacks of racism to pretend that the Haitian government is more prone to corruption than outside aid groups. In many ways, we’ve simply legalized it.

As U.N. Special Envoy to Haiti Bill Clinton asked a conference of development workers after the quake, “Are we serious about working ourselves out of a job?”

If the humanitarians can’t do that, then they are not actually humanitarians. And they should leave.

There’s another option: Haitians have kicked out exploitative foreigners before. They can surely do it again.

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.”

The Titanyen sewage treatment plant represents a planned, durable, and modern solution to a serious humanitarian issue. It’s a triumph of Haitian political will. It’s everything that the aid response should have been.

Some might point out that rubble from the quake throughout Port-au-Prince has been cleared. This was done inefficiently and at high cost by a for-profit company contracted by USAID, however.

A bunch of the SUVs are leaving now, probably to make their way up the hill to Petionville, the well-off part of the capital city where most aid workers live. Traffic will be bad.

The fact that despite $10 billion was pledged to Haiti’s reconstruction effort and I can think of no other big successes, says enough about the endless litany of failures, don’t you think?

But one failure that stands out is the CIRH, a reconstruction commission co-chaired by Bill Clinton and the Haitian Prime Minister. Representatives from all the big donor countries (and a few tokenized Haitians) sat around a table trying to decide where to spend money. The body was stunningly slow and ineffective, until the Haitian legislature unceremoniously declined to renew its mandate, having protested its creation in the first place.

This is to say nothing of the cholera, which was brought to Haiti by the United Nations, according to scientific studies.

3.   What should the humanitarian community do differently? What have we learned?

I mentioned that Haiti is more like other countries, including our own, than commonly thought. Across the board, we face a similar set of issues.

But in the U.S., the idea is to solve these problems through political discussion and negotiation among ourselves. Elected officials listen to the citizenry, take action and implement programs. At least, that’s what we expect.

Now imagine something else. Imagine that in our midst, we have a foreign humanitarian community trying to help us solve our problems. Imagine that their combined budget dwarfs that of our government at every level.

Imagine that members of this community – Canadians, Venezuelans, Jordanians, the French, or Nigerians from hundreds of separate organizations – drive the best cars and occupy the largest houses. They eat at the most expensive restaurants because they are afraid to eat what the rest of us buy in the market. Most of them don’t speak English. They mainly hire American staff from the tiny, most educated and privileged sector of society.

And imagine that all of these groups claim they are supporting, rather than exercising any undue influence, over our government.

On top of all that, imagine that a foreign “peacekeeping” army larger than our own police force patrols the streets. Imagine that President Obama had asked the army to trade its tanks for bulldozers and its guns for shovels, but that his call had been completely ignored.

This is Haiti today, shed of its sovereignty. This has been the situation ever since it earned the nickname “The Republic of NGOs,” amidst a set of neoliberal economic reforms foisted upon it in the late 1980s.

What should the humanitarian community do differently? Two things:

In the short-term, be more inclusive of Haitians at every level. This point was urgently made by Refugees International shortly after the earthquake, when, to take one of many examples, a Haitian mayor could not access the military base where aid workers held meetings, often in English.

Over the medium- and long-term, the humanitarian community should transition all of its resources into Haitian hands. Frankly, it smacks of racism to pretend that the Haitian government is more prone to corruption than outside aid groups. In many ways, we’ve simply legalized it.

As U.N. Special Envoy to Haiti Bill Clinton asked a conference of development workers after the quake, “Are we serious about working ourselves out of a job?”

If the humanitarians can’t do that, then they are not actually humanitarians. And they should leave.

There’s another option: Haitians have kicked out exploitative foreigners before. They can surely do it again.

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.”

Cholera Cases 2010 12 2

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.

In fact, there is some evidence that this is already happening. In the last three months of 2012 while the number of cases and deaths were lower than the same months of 2011, the case fatality rate actually increased slightly. December 2012 was the first month that saw a greater number of deaths than the same month of the previous year. And the increase wasn’t small – 137 this year compared to 47 last year. The fatality rate for December was 1.2, up from 0.8 last year. While the increase over 2011 can be partially explained by the passage of Hurricane Sandy in October, it had such a large impact because of the already declining response capacity. 

FatalityRate Cholera 3

Additionally, in some rural areas where those who contract cholera may have to walk many hours just to reach health facilities, fatality rates continue to be far above that of the national rate. In the Grand’Anse and Sud-Est provinces the rate remains above 4 percent, for example.

While in some parts of the country, the Haitian ministry of health is actively working on the response and taking over treatment facilities, this has not yet occurred on a national scale. As humanitarian actors pull out, it will become even more imperative to transfer the response system to the ministry of health. Unfortunately, the ministry remains poorly funded and has been unable to fill in the gaps left by departing aid agencies.

According to Médecins Sans Frontières, which has played a critical role in responding to the outbreak:

The transition process is much too slow…[t]hat’s because Haitian institutions are weak, donors have not kept their promises, and the government and the international community have failed to set clear priorities.

Of the money that has been disbursed by donors, little of it has made its way to the Haitian government. For example, direct budget support to the governmentwas lower in 2011 and 2012 than in 2009, the year before the earthquake. Amazingly, the Red Cross got more money for the cholera response than the national government.

 

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.”

Cholera Cases 2010 12 2

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.

In fact, there is some evidence that this is already happening. In the last three months of 2012 while the number of cases and deaths were lower than the same months of 2011, the case fatality rate actually increased slightly. December 2012 was the first month that saw a greater number of deaths than the same month of the previous year. And the increase wasn’t small – 137 this year compared to 47 last year. The fatality rate for December was 1.2, up from 0.8 last year. While the increase over 2011 can be partially explained by the passage of Hurricane Sandy in October, it had such a large impact because of the already declining response capacity. 

FatalityRate Cholera 3

Additionally, in some rural areas where those who contract cholera may have to walk many hours just to reach health facilities, fatality rates continue to be far above that of the national rate. In the Grand’Anse and Sud-Est provinces the rate remains above 4 percent, for example.

While in some parts of the country, the Haitian ministry of health is actively working on the response and taking over treatment facilities, this has not yet occurred on a national scale. As humanitarian actors pull out, it will become even more imperative to transfer the response system to the ministry of health. Unfortunately, the ministry remains poorly funded and has been unable to fill in the gaps left by departing aid agencies.

According to Médecins Sans Frontières, which has played a critical role in responding to the outbreak:

The transition process is much too slow…[t]hat’s because Haitian institutions are weak, donors have not kept their promises, and the government and the international community have failed to set clear priorities.

Of the money that has been disbursed by donors, little of it has made its way to the Haitian government. For example, direct budget support to the governmentwas lower in 2011 and 2012 than in 2009, the year before the earthquake. Amazingly, the Red Cross got more money for the cholera response than the national government.

 

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.

We examined the U.S. government’s “support” for these elections – and its idea of what “free and fair” means – in depth in this blog at the time, and in several research papers.

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. 

And Rep. Alcee Hastings calling for the creation of a Haitian Family Reunification Parole Program.

For its part, the Haitian government is planning a “subdued” memorial at the grounds of the former national palace tomorrow.

Where did the money go?

A piece by human rights attorney Bill Quigley on Huffington Post is one of many (our own is here) to provide an overview of the situation in Haiti three years after the earthquake. Quigley writes:

Despite an outpouring of global compassion, some estimate as high as $3 billion in individual donations and another $6 billion in governmental assistance, too little has changed. Part of the problem is that the international community and non-government organizations (Haiti has sometimes been called the Republic of NGOs) has bypassed Haitian non-governmental agencies and the Haitian government itself. The Center for Global Development analysis of where they money went concluded that overall less than 10 percent went to the government of Haiti and less than 1 percent went to Haitian organizations and businesses. A full one-third of the humanitarian funding for Haiti was actually returned to donor countries to reimburse them for their own civil and military work in the country and the majority of the rest went to international NGOs and private contractors.

BuzzFeed has a stunning aid-waste-by-the-anecdote look at “where billions in aid money from around the world” went, saying:

Most of it never touched Haitian hands.

Instead, it went to foreign contractors charged with rebuilding the country, as well as unexplained perks for Americans like a deep-fat fryer.

Cholera:

Jonathan Katz has a new piece in Foreign Policy with an eyewitness account of the UN’s negligence in causing the cholera epidemic, writing that “After natural disasters, survivors, responders, and journalists tend to assume that a disease epidemic may be imminent, due to the collapse of sanitation or simply the feeling that misery comes in bunches.” But as Katz describes, there was nothing “imminent” or “inevitable” about a cholera outbreak. He notes:

In fact, researchers have consistently found that the risk of post-disaster epidemics is wildly overstated. A team of French researchers has found that out of more than 600 disasters between 1985 and 2004, only three resulted in significant outbreaks of disease. The risk is only slightly larger when large numbers of people are displaced.

Katz also did an interview with Democracy Now this morning on his new book – from which his FP article is adapted – on the failures of the relief and reconstruction effort, The Big Truck That Went By.

Over 25,000 people have now signed a petition started by filmmaker Oliver Stone calling for the U.N. to take responsibility for the epidemic.

Housing:

Amnesty International issued a press release saying “Three years on from the Haiti earthquake the housing situation in the country is nothing short of catastrophic with hundreds of thousands of people still living in fragile shelters,” and urging “the authorities and the international community to make housing a priority.” Amnesty highlighted the conditions in IDP camps:

According to testimonies gathered by Amnesty International in Haiti, living conditions in the makeshift camps are worsening – with severe lack of access to water, sanitation and waste disposal – all of which have contributed to the spread of infectious diseases such as cholera.

Women and girls are vulnerable to sexual assault and rape.

“As if being exposed to insecurity, diseases and hurricanes were not enough, many people living in makeshifts camps are also living under the constant fear of being forcibly evicted,” said Javier Zúñiga, Special Advisor at Amnesty International.

A statement by the Collective to Defend the Right to Housing today asks “January 12, 2013: What are the Memories? Where are the Lessons?”

Successes:

Some have suggested that recent commentaries on the relief and reconstruction effort in Haiti have focused too much on the negative. Mario Joseph of the Bureau des Avocats Internationaux today offered some examples of successes:

We have seen tremendous progress in the justice system’s ability and willingness to respond to gender-based violence since the earthquake. Our office had trials in seven rape cases in 2012, and all resulted in convictions. These cases worked because grassroots women’s groups made them work. Poor women and girl victims of rape are some of the most marginalized in the world, but they were able to work within a challenged justice system to enforce their own rights. This is what building back better looks like.

And the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti’s Beatrice Lindstrom added, “This progress is sus­tain­able and has a rip­ple effect. Every­one involved has improved advo­cacy skills that can be used the rest of their lives. Pros­e­cut­ing rape frees women to par­tic­i­pate more fully in Haiti’s eco­nomic, polit­i­cal and social spheres. That ben­e­fits the women, their fam­i­lies and the coun­try.”

Media coverage:

One aspect of the international response to Haiti over the past three years that has been little considered in the major media is the racism, stereotyping and prejudices included in much of the media coverage itself. A study by University of Connecticut professors and students examines how Haiti’s depiction in the U.S. media may affect Americans’ approach to aid:

The media play a prominent role in shaping public perception of foreign countries, and such stereotypes of Haiti can often be found across the spectrum of the U.S. media, according to UConn professor of public policy Thomas Craemer. This is a problem, he says, not only because those epithets can paint a misleading picture, but because they can also affect how American citizens and governments act.

“I think there is a chance that these stereotypes can affect foreign aid and foreign policy,” Craemer says.

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.

We examined the U.S. government’s “support” for these elections – and its idea of what “free and fair” means – in depth in this blog at the time, and in several research papers.

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. 

And Rep. Alcee Hastings calling for the creation of a Haitian Family Reunification Parole Program.

For its part, the Haitian government is planning a “subdued” memorial at the grounds of the former national palace tomorrow.

Where did the money go?

A piece by human rights attorney Bill Quigley on Huffington Post is one of many (our own is here) to provide an overview of the situation in Haiti three years after the earthquake. Quigley writes:

Despite an outpouring of global compassion, some estimate as high as $3 billion in individual donations and another $6 billion in governmental assistance, too little has changed. Part of the problem is that the international community and non-government organizations (Haiti has sometimes been called the Republic of NGOs) has bypassed Haitian non-governmental agencies and the Haitian government itself. The Center for Global Development analysis of where they money went concluded that overall less than 10 percent went to the government of Haiti and less than 1 percent went to Haitian organizations and businesses. A full one-third of the humanitarian funding for Haiti was actually returned to donor countries to reimburse them for their own civil and military work in the country and the majority of the rest went to international NGOs and private contractors.

BuzzFeed has a stunning aid-waste-by-the-anecdote look at “where billions in aid money from around the world” went, saying:

Most of it never touched Haitian hands.

Instead, it went to foreign contractors charged with rebuilding the country, as well as unexplained perks for Americans like a deep-fat fryer.

Cholera:

Jonathan Katz has a new piece in Foreign Policy with an eyewitness account of the UN’s negligence in causing the cholera epidemic, writing that “After natural disasters, survivors, responders, and journalists tend to assume that a disease epidemic may be imminent, due to the collapse of sanitation or simply the feeling that misery comes in bunches.” But as Katz describes, there was nothing “imminent” or “inevitable” about a cholera outbreak. He notes:

In fact, researchers have consistently found that the risk of post-disaster epidemics is wildly overstated. A team of French researchers has found that out of more than 600 disasters between 1985 and 2004, only three resulted in significant outbreaks of disease. The risk is only slightly larger when large numbers of people are displaced.

Katz also did an interview with Democracy Now this morning on his new book – from which his FP article is adapted – on the failures of the relief and reconstruction effort, The Big Truck That Went By.

Over 25,000 people have now signed a petition started by filmmaker Oliver Stone calling for the U.N. to take responsibility for the epidemic.

Housing:

Amnesty International issued a press release saying “Three years on from the Haiti earthquake the housing situation in the country is nothing short of catastrophic with hundreds of thousands of people still living in fragile shelters,” and urging “the authorities and the international community to make housing a priority.” Amnesty highlighted the conditions in IDP camps:

According to testimonies gathered by Amnesty International in Haiti, living conditions in the makeshift camps are worsening – with severe lack of access to water, sanitation and waste disposal – all of which have contributed to the spread of infectious diseases such as cholera.

Women and girls are vulnerable to sexual assault and rape.

“As if being exposed to insecurity, diseases and hurricanes were not enough, many people living in makeshifts camps are also living under the constant fear of being forcibly evicted,” said Javier Zúñiga, Special Advisor at Amnesty International.

A statement by the Collective to Defend the Right to Housing today asks “January 12, 2013: What are the Memories? Where are the Lessons?”

Successes:

Some have suggested that recent commentaries on the relief and reconstruction effort in Haiti have focused too much on the negative. Mario Joseph of the Bureau des Avocats Internationaux today offered some examples of successes:

We have seen tremendous progress in the justice system’s ability and willingness to respond to gender-based violence since the earthquake. Our office had trials in seven rape cases in 2012, and all resulted in convictions. These cases worked because grassroots women’s groups made them work. Poor women and girl victims of rape are some of the most marginalized in the world, but they were able to work within a challenged justice system to enforce their own rights. This is what building back better looks like.

And the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti’s Beatrice Lindstrom added, “This progress is sus­tain­able and has a rip­ple effect. Every­one involved has improved advo­cacy skills that can be used the rest of their lives. Pros­e­cut­ing rape frees women to par­tic­i­pate more fully in Haiti’s eco­nomic, polit­i­cal and social spheres. That ben­e­fits the women, their fam­i­lies and the coun­try.”

Media coverage:

One aspect of the international response to Haiti over the past three years that has been little considered in the major media is the racism, stereotyping and prejudices included in much of the media coverage itself. A study by University of Connecticut professors and students examines how Haiti’s depiction in the U.S. media may affect Americans’ approach to aid:

The media play a prominent role in shaping public perception of foreign countries, and such stereotypes of Haiti can often be found across the spectrum of the U.S. media, according to UConn professor of public policy Thomas Craemer. This is a problem, he says, not only because those epithets can paint a misleading picture, but because they can also affect how American citizens and governments act.

“I think there is a chance that these stereotypes can affect foreign aid and foreign policy,” Craemer says.

Haiti by the Numbers, Three Years Later

En français

Number of people killed in the earthquake in 2010: over 217,300

Number of people killed by cholera epidemic caused by U.N. troops since October 19, 2010: over 7,912 [i]

Number of cholera cases worldwide in 2010 and 2011: 906,632

Percent of worldwide cholera cases that were in Haiti in those years: 57

Total number of cholera cases in Haiti from 2010-2012: 635,980 [ii]

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

Percent of $2.2 billion that the U.N. has spent on MINUSTAH[iii] since the earthquake: 87

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

Amount of budget support to the Haitian government in 2011, the year after the earthquake: $67.93 million

Number of dollars, out of every $100 spent in humanitarian relief, that went to the Haitian government: 1

Value of all contracts awarded by USAID since the earthquake: $485.5 million [iv]

Percent of contracts that has gone to local Haitian firms: 1.2 [v]

Percent of contracts that has gone to firms inside the beltway (DC, Maryland, Virginia): 67.6 [vi]

Number of people displaced from their homes by the earthquake: 1.5 million

Number of people still in displaced persons camps today: 358,000

Percent that have left camps due to relocation programs by the Haitian government and international agencies: 25

Share of camp residents facing a constant threat of forced eviction: 1 in 5

Number of transitional shelters built by aid agencies since the earthquake: 110,964

Percent of transitional shelters that went to camp residents: 23

Number of new houses constructed since the earthquake: 5,911

Number of houses marked “red”, meaning they were in need of demolition: 100,178

Number of houses marked “yellow”, meaning they were in need of repairs to make safe enough to live in: 146,004

Estimated number of people living in houses marked either “yellow” or “red”: 1 million

Number of houses that have actually been repaired: 18,725

Percent growth of the Haitian economy (GDP) in 2012, predicted by the IMF in April 2011: 8.8

Actual percent growth of the Haitian economy (GDP) in 2012: 2.5

U.N. Office of Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) funding appeal for 2013: $144 million

Percent of last year’s OCHA appeal that was actually funded: 40

Funding committed by the U.S. Government for the Caracol industrial park: $124 million

Share of U.S. funds earmarked for “reconstruction” that this represents: 1/4th

Cost of building 750 houses near the Caracol park for workers: $20 million

Cost of building 86-100 houses for U.S. Embassy staff: $85 – 100 million

Share of garment factories in Haiti found to be out of compliance with minimum wage requirements: 21 of 22

Number of garment factories that have lost preferential tariff benefits to the U.S. because of labor violations: 0



[i] According to the Haitian Ministry of Health, based on reported cases. The actual number is probably much higher.

[ii] According to the Haitian Ministry of Health, based on reported cases. The actual number is probably much higher.

[iii] The U.N. Stabilization Mission in Haiti, comprised mostly of military troops and police officers. U.N. troops were responsible for causing the cholera epidemic, according to scientific studies.

[iv] Authors’ calculations based on information in Federal Procurement Data System.

[v] Ibid.

[vi] Ibid.

En français

Number of people killed in the earthquake in 2010: over 217,300

Number of people killed by cholera epidemic caused by U.N. troops since October 19, 2010: over 7,912 [i]

Number of cholera cases worldwide in 2010 and 2011: 906,632

Percent of worldwide cholera cases that were in Haiti in those years: 57

Total number of cholera cases in Haiti from 2010-2012: 635,980 [ii]

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

Percent of $2.2 billion that the U.N. has spent on MINUSTAH[iii] since the earthquake: 87

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

Amount of budget support to the Haitian government in 2011, the year after the earthquake: $67.93 million

Number of dollars, out of every $100 spent in humanitarian relief, that went to the Haitian government: 1

Value of all contracts awarded by USAID since the earthquake: $485.5 million [iv]

Percent of contracts that has gone to local Haitian firms: 1.2 [v]

Percent of contracts that has gone to firms inside the beltway (DC, Maryland, Virginia): 67.6 [vi]

Number of people displaced from their homes by the earthquake: 1.5 million

Number of people still in displaced persons camps today: 358,000

Percent that have left camps due to relocation programs by the Haitian government and international agencies: 25

Share of camp residents facing a constant threat of forced eviction: 1 in 5

Number of transitional shelters built by aid agencies since the earthquake: 110,964

Percent of transitional shelters that went to camp residents: 23

Number of new houses constructed since the earthquake: 5,911

Number of houses marked “red”, meaning they were in need of demolition: 100,178

Number of houses marked “yellow”, meaning they were in need of repairs to make safe enough to live in: 146,004

Estimated number of people living in houses marked either “yellow” or “red”: 1 million

Number of houses that have actually been repaired: 18,725

Percent growth of the Haitian economy (GDP) in 2012, predicted by the IMF in April 2011: 8.8

Actual percent growth of the Haitian economy (GDP) in 2012: 2.5

U.N. Office of Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) funding appeal for 2013: $144 million

Percent of last year’s OCHA appeal that was actually funded: 40

Funding committed by the U.S. Government for the Caracol industrial park: $124 million

Share of U.S. funds earmarked for “reconstruction” that this represents: 1/4th

Cost of building 750 houses near the Caracol park for workers: $20 million

Cost of building 86-100 houses for U.S. Embassy staff: $85 – 100 million

Share of garment factories in Haiti found to be out of compliance with minimum wage requirements: 21 of 22

Number of garment factories that have lost preferential tariff benefits to the U.S. because of labor violations: 0



[i] According to the Haitian Ministry of Health, based on reported cases. The actual number is probably much higher.

[ii] According to the Haitian Ministry of Health, based on reported cases. The actual number is probably much higher.

[iii] The U.N. Stabilization Mission in Haiti, comprised mostly of military troops and police officers. U.N. troops were responsible for causing the cholera epidemic, according to scientific studies.

[iv] Authors’ calculations based on information in Federal Procurement Data System.

[v] Ibid.

[vi] Ibid.

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