Will the International Response to Hurricane Sandy Be Any Better than the Response to Haiti’s Quake or Cholera Disasters?

November 05, 2012

The Wall Street Journal reported yesterday on Hurricane Sandy’s ongoing toll on Haiti. Ingrid Arnesen writes:

Poor roads and communications have hindered damage assessments and relief efforts. Haitian government and international agencies say Sandy destroyed or damaged at least 21,000 houses, affected the livelihood of some 200,000 people, many of them subsistence farmers, and caused at least $104 million of damage.

The final toll is likely to be much higher once relief workers reach hard-hit areas cut off by flooded roads and rivers, relief organization officials say.

The government said last week it would compensate victims by sending about $25 to victims’ cellphones, and provide an additional $2 million in aid to the West Department, where Rivière Grise is, to help some 95,000 families with their losses.

Residents said the help hadn’t yet arrived. “We’ve not gotten one cent nor seen any official here,” Mr. Jean-Baptiste said.

AP reported Friday that Doctors Without Borders had noted an increase in cholera cases, with “at least 457 patients Monday,” 500 Tuesday, but down to 430 on Friday. Partners in Health has warned that such an uptick would come as CDC funding for cholera runs out, and at IDP camps such as Marassa, the Guardian reminds readers that “Aid groups such as Oxfam have helped, but humanitarian support has ebbed in the past two years.”

As the Haitian government appeals for new international aid in the wake of Sandy, reporter Kathie Klarreich and foreign aid investigative expert Linda Polman have a well-timed new article in The Nation that provides an important overview on the lacking international response to the cholera epidemic, Haiti’s housing crisis and the shortcomings of the relief and reconstruction effort since the 2010 earthquake:

Consider the cholera epidemic, which erupted in October 2010 and infected nearly half a million Haitians within the first year. Clean water has always been a scarce resource in the country, and its scarcity is one of the reasons the disease ripped so quickly through the population. Yet out of $175 million requested by the United Nations to help stanch the tide of the epidemic in late 2010, less than half came through. Meanwhile, a number of NGOs (including but hardly limited to UNICEF, the William J. Clinton Foundation and the British Red Cross) responded to the epidemic by launching a large-scale awareness campaign to combat cholera, stressing the importance of good hygiene—and then relocated displaced Haitians to areas lacking shower facilities and hand-washing stations. By August 2011, almost a year after cholera was introduced, only 12 percent of the tent camps equipped by NGOs had hand-washing stations, 8 percent less than the slim March 2011 figures. And only 7 percent of the camps surveyed by the UN had access to clean water, compared with 48 percent in March that year. Of 12,000 latrines needed, only 4,579—38 percent—were functional.

Writing before Hurricane Sandy hit Haiti and caused heavy flooding, Klarreich and Polman reported on Léogâne, epicenter of the 2010 earthquake, where some “80 to 90 percent of buildings” were destroyed, and which “sits at the intersection of three rivers”:

“In the Republic of NGOs, Léogâne is the City of NGOs,” said Joseph Philippe, 33, technical coordinator of the Municipal Civil Protection Committee of Léogâne.

The relief workers who flooded Léogâne, clogging the streets with their SUVs, were often young and idealistic, eager to join the effort to “build back better,” as Bill Clinton phrased it. But how these NGOs wanted to build Haiti back was often driven more by donor objectives than by the needs of the “beneficiaries,” as they are called in NGO-speak. What the people of Léogâne needed when their city was destroyed was new, safe housing on dry land. What they got instead were square boxes in the middle of a flood plain.

Léogâne sits at the intersection of three rivers. Yet not a single NGO was willing to work on shoring up the river bank and creating a sustainable drainage system, according to Philippe. It wasn’t part of their plan; it wasn’t what they’d been fundraising for. Philippe said that only the Canadian Center for International Studies and Cooperation helped reinforce the river banks with rocks, reducing the flood risk by 15 percent. Good, but hardly enough.

“The irony,” said Philippe, “is that all the projects that the NGOs did put money into will get washed away in the floods that will come. The NGOs will continue to finance projects in underdeveloped countries in an underdeveloped way.”

It is not just health NGO’s that are pulling back from efforts in Haiti. Klarreich and Polman write:

…aid groups have been focusing on trimming back their operations or simply getting out by whatever means necessary. NGOs have stopped virtually all water deliveries to the camps, and they no longer repair or clean portable toilets. Meanwhile, an aid listserv, created to share situation reports and humanitarian bulletins, is being used by some aid workers to unload their personal effects and post rental vacancies. A recent deal was in the leafy downtown neighborhood of Pacot: $1,850 a month for a four-bedroom home complete with three round-the-clock security guards. To put this in perspective, the NGOs employing these same workers are offering tent-camp dwellers a one-time relocation gift of $500, paid directly to the landlord for a year’s rent. In the absence of a widespread housing solution, this is what the international aid community has come up with.

“The emergency is over, as far as donors are concerned,” said Valerie Amos of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

In reality, however, the emergency is far from over. Nearly 400,000 people still live in tent camps, along with dogs, chickens, rats, garbage and overflowing toilets. Thousands more have retreated to earthquake-shattered houses or other makeshift structures forged out of bits of tarp and tent.

Support Cepr


If you value CEPR's work, support us by making a financial contribution.

Si valora el trabajo de CEPR, apóyenos haciendo una contribución financiera.

Donate Apóyanos

Keep up with our latest news