January 11, 2013
An editorial in the Christian Science Monitor today begins:
The third anniversary of Haiti’s devastating earthquake on Jan. 12, 2010, has not drawn much attention. This is despite the fact that 1 out of every 2 Americans donated money to the relief and thousands of people from around the world volunteered to rebuild the Caribbean nation.
The reason is that the hope of “rebuilding Haiti better” after this particularly big natural disaster is, well, still largely a hope.
It is true that the sad anniversary has received less attention this year; there have been fewer TV crews flying down to Haiti, for one thing, and apparently less attention on Haiti this time by national and local radio programs. Other “three years later” pieces have already run in papers such as the New York Times and the Miami Herald.
Here’s a sampling of some of the news, reporting and commentary posted today and yesterday.
First, the European Union announced today that it would provide an additional €30.5 ($40.69) million to Haiti, saying “This new money will mainly help those still homeless as a result of the earthquake, cholera victims and those badly affected by Hurricane Sandy.”
The U.S. State Department issued a statement celebrating what it described as “more than three and a half years” of “work[ing] closely to be a good partner to the government and people of Haiti.”
Among these are that
The United States and other donors supported the Government of Haiti’s free and fair presidential and legislative elections in late 2010 and early 2011. These elections paved the way for the complete re-establishment of all three branches of government. The U.S. provided capacity building support, including the provision of experts to work within the Government of Haiti and the provision of temporary office space.
Members of the U.S. Congress also issued statements today, with Rep. John Conyers (D – MI) saying in part:
Moving forward, the United States needs to recommit itself to ensuring that all aid funding to Haiti is allocated in a transparent manner and in close consultation with Haitian authorities and civil society beneficiaries. It is also incumbent upon the international community to fulfill its commitments to the people of Haiti made in the months following the earthquake.
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?
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.
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.
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?”
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.”
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.