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Haiti: Relief and Reconstruction

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New Tools for Assessing Progress in Haiti Reconstruction and Development Print
Friday, 23 January 2015 16:21

Last July, in a stirring and rare demonstration of bipartisanship, the U.S. House and the Senate passed a bill dedicated to increasing transparency and accountability around the billions of dollars of U.S. government funds allocated to assistance to Haiti since the January 2010 earthquake.  On August 8, President Obama signed the Assessing Progress in Haiti Act and the clock began ticking down for the State Department to produce the first of several comprehensive reports detailing the government’s assistance efforts, as mandated by the new law.

Assessing Progress instructed the State Department to complete a first report by the end of 2014.  While it’s not clear that that deadline was met, the Department’s Office of the Haiti Special Coordinator posted their report on their web page by the time the fifth anniversary of Haiti’s earthquake rolled around on January 12.

The reporting requirements outlined in Assessing Progress are far-reaching and fairly concrete.  It’s therefore not surprising that the report is truly massive in size, consisting of a general report on the results of U.S. assistance to Haiti and 17 attachments, many of which are PDFs of spreadsheets containing detailed quantitative and qualitative information about U.S. aid programs.

The question is: Is all of this information useful to those seeking an answer to the oft-repeated question, “Where did the money go?”  The answer is undoubtedly yes, but it doesn’t take more than a rapid survey of the report to see that the information provided is, in many cases, incomplete.  Furthermore, there are instances where State’s reporting may formally comply with the letter of the law, but not with its clear intent of providing lawmakers and the public with a better idea of the concrete results of U.S. Haiti assistance.

We’re not going to attempt a thorough analysis of this report at this time.  A rigorous and complete assessment requires considerable input from stakeholders, in particular those on the ground in Haiti.  For now we’ll share a few general observations regarding the report’s contents, highlighting what we see as the good, the bad and the murky.

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Security Council Arrives in Haiti as New Electoral Commission is Announced Print
Friday, 23 January 2015 14:49

A United Nations Security Council delegation is set to arrive in Haiti beginning a three-day visit to discuss the ongoing political crisis in the country. Thousands of protesters, who have taken to the streets of the capital to call for the president’s resignation, planned to go to the airport to greet the visiting members.  On Monday, Haiti’s Foreign Minister, Duly Brutus addressed the Security Council in New York, asking for “the Security Council as well as all of our partners in the international community to continue to back the government” of President Martelly.

But the international community’s overt support for Martelly has already had a negative impact on the political crisis, as Jacqueline Charles of the Miami Herald reported earlier this week:  

The U.S. had hoped a last-minute deal brokered between Martelly and several opposition political parties would have allowed for lawmakers’ terms to be extended for up to four months, and an electoral law to be passed. But parliament dissolved before either measures could be voted after pro and anti-Martelly senators failed to show up to provide the necessary 16 member quorum.

Biden commended Martelly’s “efforts to reach a negotiated agreement,” while recognizing that he had “made several important concessions in order to reach consensus, and expressed disappointment that Haiti’s Parliament did not pass an electoral law before lapsing on January 12,” said the statement from the White House.

Hours before the signing of the deal, the U.S. Embassy issued a press release stating U.S. support for Martelly should he have to rule by decree. Many believed that statement, and later U.S. Ambassador Pamela White’s appearance in the parliament chambers on the night of the aborted vote, were deal changers that helped encourage senators not to show up. Both were widely condemned as un-welcomed interference in Haitian domestic politics.

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It’s Been Five Years, and All the Money Raised is Gone: What did the Red Cross Accomplish in Haiti? Print
Friday, 16 January 2015 14:11

(Updated January 20, 2015, 12:10 p.m. to include a response from the American Red Cross - see below.)

Two years ago, we noted that the American Red Cross’ (ARC) annual update on its response to the Haiti earthquake raised a number of questions, and seemed to provide less detailed information than earlier updates that the ARC had released. This year is little different: The ARC’s five-year update [PDF] is big on saying how many people have been “helped,” “reached” or are “benefiting” due to ARC activities, but few details are offered to explain exactly what this means. Since the ARC is far and away the top U.S. recipient [PDF] of funds for disaster response, and notably served as the go-to organization for millions of Americans who wanted to donate in the aftermath of the earthquake, transparency from the Red Cross is especially warranted.

The Red Cross’ update is overwhelmingly glowing and positive, and certainly the organization has had an impact through helping to build or repair hospitals and waste-water treatment facilities, among other concrete examples. While it may not be surprising for an organization to tout its achievements while downplaying (or ignoring) its shortcomings, considering past questions about its spending and documented problems with some of the ARC’s post-earthquake work in Haiti, an acknowledgment, at least, of “lessons learned” might not be out of place. Yet the ARC response to past criticism of its Haiti response has often been strongly defensive.

In her introductory note, ARC President and CEO Gail McGovern writes that the organization has or is now spending all of the donations it has received for the Haiti earthquake response: “We have spent or made commitments to spend all $488 million of these donations for the Haiti earthquake for projects and programs impacting more than 4.5 million Haitians.” What should be the final breakdown, then, of the ARC’s original earthquake response spending is only slightly different than the percentages the ARC reported two years ago [PDF]: 35 percent for shelter, 15 percent for health (excluding cholera), 14 percent for emergency relief, 11 percent for disaster preparedness, 10 percent for livelihoods, and 5 percent for cholera (which, as we have noted, continues to be a major health emergency in Haiti, killing hundreds of people last year). Yet how exactly these funds have been used, and how effective they have been, is unclear from the update. “4.2 million people benefiting from hygiene promotion activities,” and “3.5 million people benefiting from cholera prevention and outbreak response services” are just two examples of big numbers that the ARC mentions in the report, but “benefiting” is undefined. Further, there is little information provided as to whether these millions of people continue to benefit, whether the ARC’s investments are sustainable, and how the Haitian beneficiaries of joint projects the ARC has engaged in with other groups are counted (and whether each organization working in collaboration on such projects also counts each “beneficiary” its respective impact assessments).

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Haiti by the Numbers, Five Years Later Print
Thursday, 08 January 2015 13:46

En français

 

(Note: A number of the links below are for PDF or Excel files.)

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

Minimum number of Haitians killed by the U.N.–caused cholera epidemic: 8,774

Number of years it took after the introduction of cholera for the international community to hold a donor conference to raise funds for the cholera response: 4

Amount pledged for cholera eradication: $50 million

Amount needed: $2.2 billion

Number of years it would take to fully fund the cholera-eradication plan at current disbursement rate: 40

Number of Haitians who died from cholera through the first 8 months of 2014: 55

Number who have died since, coinciding with the start of the rainy season: 188

Number of new cholera cases in 2014, through August: 9,700

Projected number of cholera cases for all of 2014, after the United Nations reduced their estimate in September 2014: 15,000

Minimum number of new cholera cases since that announcement: 14,000 (through December 8)

Number of U.N. lawyers who were present during oral arguments in a federal court in New York to argue in favor of the U.N.’s immunity: 0

Number of members of the U.S. Congress who wrote to Secretary General Ban Ki-moon last month urging the U.N. to respond justly to cholera claims: 77

Humanitarian funding appeal for 2014, by the United Nations: $157 million

Percent of appeal covered, as of December 30, 2014: 54 percent

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John Conyers and 76 Other Members of Congress Urge UN to Provide Settlement Mechanism for Cholera Victims and their Families Print
Tuesday, 23 December 2014 15:23

On October 23 Haiti’s cholera victims finally had their first court hearing regarding their suit against the UN.  However, no one from the UN showed up.  Since 2011, representatives of the victims have sought to obtain reparations from the UN given the overwhelming evidence that troops from the United Nations’ Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) were responsible for bringing cholera to the island.  As the UN has refused to receive the victims’ claims, human rights lawyers at the Haiti-based Bureau des Avocats Internationaux and U.S.-based Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti, filed a lawsuit in U.S. courts.  After months of deliberations, the Southern Federal District Court of New York held a hearing on the question of whether the UN could enjoy immunity from prosecution when it had violated its treaty obligations to submit to alternative dispute resolution mechanisms.  While the victims’ legal representatives argued against UN immunity vis-à-vis the cholera claims, no UN representative appeared before the court and, instead, the U.S. Attorney General’s office presented arguments in defense of the UN.  The court’s decision on the immunity question is still pending.

Now, 77 members of the U.S. House of Representatives, led by senior Democrat John Conyers, have weighed in with a letter urging UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon “to create a fair process to adjudicate the claims made by cholera victims that allows for the remediation of the affected communities.”

As the letter points out, thousands of Haitians have died since the cholera epidemic began in October 2010 – at least 8,774 [PDF] according to Haiti’s health ministry – and over 700,000 Haitians have become infected, putting a terrible burden on a country with no clean water infrastructure to speak of and few health professionals to help prevent and abate the epidemic. 

The letter lays out the reasons why the UN should be legally obliged to provide a settlement mechanism for the victims:

The Convention on the Privileges and Immunities of the United Nations (CPIUN) mandates that the UN “provide for appropriate modes of settlement” of private law claims. The Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) the UN signed with the Government of Haiti expands on this obligation by specifying that claims are to be heard and settled by a standing commission. The UN has formally recognized the importance of access to justice in its own Basic Principles and Guidelines on the Right to a Remedy for Victims of Violations of International Human Rights Law and Serious Violations of International Humanitarian Law.

This isn’t the first time that Conyers and other members of Congress have publicly pressed the UN to do much more to address Haiti’s deadly cholera epidemic.  In July of 2012, Conyers and 103 other House representatives signed a letter calling for the UN to “act decisively” to control the epidemic.  This and other international pressure no doubt contributed to Ban Ki-moon eventually launching, with much fanfare, a “new initiative” to help fund a $2.2 billion cholera elimination plan for Haiti, involving the development of extensive drinking water and sanitation systems.  At the time, the Secretary-General proudly announced that $215 million of existing international donations had been earmarked for the plan but also noted that $500 million would be needed over the following two years to keep the plan advancing according to schedule.

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UN Troops Use Live Ammunition on Haitian Protesters, Pledge Investigation Print
Monday, 15 December 2014 18:16

“The freedom to demonstrate and freedom of expression are rights guaranteed by international conventions, enshrined in the Haitian constitution and supported by the law,” Sandra Honoré, the head of the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH), said last month following a week of protests across the country, which resulted in a number of reported deaths. Honoré added that the Haitian government must ensure that “offenders are prosecuted.” But Honoré may have an opportunity to lead by example after videos from Haitian media surfaced over the weekend showing a U.N. soldier firing a handgun in the direction of protesters. The video shows him discharge his weapon multiple times, then aggressively try to prevent a cameraman from filming him.

In a statement today, Amnesty International condemns this episode as well as injuries suffered the day before by protesters allegedly at the hands of the Haitian National Police. Protests calling for the resignation of both the president and prime minister have been occurring nationwide over the last month in response to the government’s failure to hold elections — now more than three years overdue. In an attempt to quell the unrest, Haitian Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe resigned Saturday night, after President Martelly signaled Friday that he would accept the recommendations of a presidential advisory committee, which had called for Lamothe’s ouster. U.S. State Department officials Thomas Shannon and Tom Adams were in Haiti last week, apparently helping pave the way for the resignation.

“The political climate in Haiti is getting tenser and tenser. It is imperative that the Haitian National Police and the MINUSTAH are able to cope with the situation in a way that ensure protection of human rights. People must be allowed to exercise their right to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly, without fear of being shot at,” said Chiara Liguori, Caribbean researcher at Amnesty International.

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Presidential Commission Recommends Removing Prime Minister as Pressure Mounts to Resolve Electoral Crisis Print
Wednesday, 10 December 2014 18:04

At a ceremony yesterday afternoon, an advisory committee handed their report over to Haitian President Michel Martelly, requesting the removal of Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe among other actions aimed at resolving Haiti’s electoral crisis. Jacqueline Charles reports for the Miami Herald:

The 10-page report, penned by an 11-member presidential commission, sets a timetable for Lamothe’s resignation. It also recommends replacing the head of the country’s Supreme Court and members of the body charged with organizing long-delayed elections. Dozens who have been arbitrarily arrested and deemed by human rights groups to be political prisoners should be released, the report said.

The Herald released a copy of the report they had received, which is available here (PDF). The Haitian government and international community, mainly the United States and United Nations, have long blamed the electoral delay on opposition from the so-called “Group of Six” senators. With parliamentary terms set to expire January 12 and no solution to the electoral crisis, it appears as though the positions of both the government and international community are softening; however it might not be enough.

The advisory commission was created by President Martelly following a week of increasingly large demonstrations throughout Haiti, calling on the president and prime minister to resign and for the holding of elections. Martelly is expected to make a decision on the recommendations by the end of the week. The moves come as the U.S. has taken on an even more visible role in trying to break the electoral impasse.  

Just months after the U.S. ambassador to the U.N., Samantha Power, had laid the blame squarely on Haiti’s opposition for the delays, current U.S. Ambassador to Haiti Pamela White met with some opposition political parties on December 2 (although reportedly not Famni Lavalas, a party that has consistently won all of the elections that it's been allowed to participate in).  In a statement after the meeting, the U.S. embassy said that White was “extremely impressed with their analysis of the current political situation, dedication to Haiti's future and willingness to truly negotiate for the betterment of their country.” An opposition leader, Jean André Victor, told the press after the meeting with White: “We told Mrs White in no uncertain terms that the current crisis is one of Haiti's making, and it is up to Haiti to find a solution.”

But U.S. diplomatic efforts continue. Haitian newspaper Le Nouvelliste reported last night that Thomas Shannon, an advisor to Secretary of State John Kerry, arrived in Haiti yesterday and will be holding meetings with various political players in the country. A visit from Kerry himself has yet to be confirmed but has been widely expected in the coming days.

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Cholera on the Uptick in Haiti as Donor Response Falters Print
Tuesday, 25 November 2014 16:21

From January through August of 2014, 69 Haitians died from cholera and some 8,628 fell ill, a 76 percent drop from the previous year, the United Nations reported. In October, at a high-level donor conference convened to raise money to help fight cholera, World Bank director Jim Kim told the assembled diplomats that the reduction in cases was “an achievement of which Haiti and its development partners can be proud.” The U.N. decreased their projections for the number of new cases in 2014 to 15,000 from 45,000 and proudly stated that the “case fatality rate is below the 1 per cent target rate set by the World Health Organization.”

But the last few months have shown the optimism to be premature, at best. As heavy rains have hit Haiti, so too has a resurgence of cholera. With data through November 21, 2014 [PDF], the number of cases in 2014 has already shot past the 15,000 estimate to over 20,000. More worryingly, since the beginning of September, 135 Haitians have died from cholera, nearly twice as many as had died over the first 8 months of the year. Further, the much-watched case fatality rate stands at 1.3 percent over that time period, above the 1 percent target.

Yesterday, Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF), which has treated nearly 30 percent of those sickened by cholera in Haiti, warned that the response capacities inside Haiti were severely limited and unable to cope with the recent increase. “We have tried to refer patients to other cholera treatment centers, but we soon realized there were not enough beds,” explained Olivia Gayraud, MSF medical coordinator in Haiti. “The Martissant center was quickly overwhelmed by the number of patients, as national health structures are poorly prepared to react to cholera outbreaks, despite them being predictable during the rainy season,” she added.

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USAID Houses Found to be of Poor Quality, Will Cost Millions to Repair Print
Thursday, 20 November 2014 16:42

According to documents from USAID, 750 houses built by USAID near the new Caracol industrial park, were found to be of poor quality and will take millions of dollars to repair.  The houses are part of USAID’s “New Settlement Program,” which was the subject of a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report in October 2013 as well as a USAID Inspector General (IG) audit in April 2014.

The GAO report found that USAID had initially planned on building 15,000 houses but that the number had been reduced to just 2,600. At the same time costs skyrocketed, from $53 million to over $90 million. At the time of the report, just 900 houses had been built across Haiti. (For more on the housing project, and how these estimates changed, see “Outsourcing Haiti” from earlier this year in Boston Review.)

Speaking before the House Foreign Affairs Committee in October 2013, Beth Hogan, an Assistant Administrator at USAID, explained how those cost increases occurred:

Again, it's because of the requirements that we put into our solicitation document that it meet international building codes, that it comply with federal building standards, that these materials would be disaster- and hurricane-proof.

Hogan went on to say that she was “very happy with the quality” with which the contractors were building the houses. David Gootnick, the author of the GAO report and the Director of International Affairs and Trade at the agency, echoed Hogan’s remarks, telling Congress that, “they are excellent homes that are built to a very high standard.”

However, last month, USAID quietly awarded a contract worth up to $4.5 million to an American-based firm, Tetra Tech, to provide a remediation plan for the Caracol houses. The seriousness of the deficiencies was great enough for USAID to bypass normal contracting procedures and award the contract without receiving other bids. The justification document, required when normal procedures are not followed, explains that an independent assessment was performed in August 2014, which “revealed numerous deficiencies” including “missing roof fasteners, sub-specification roof materials and concrete reinforcement, and other structural and drainage issues.”

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Haiti Cholera Victims Get First Hearing in Court Print
Thursday, 23 October 2014 17:03

“Haitian people are all too familiar with the court expressing sympathy to their plight but closing doors to them,” concluded Muneer Ahmad, Clinical Professor of Law at Yale Law School, at today’s federal District Court hearing concerning the U.N.’s immunity for introducing cholera to Haiti. “That need not be the case here,” said Ahmad.

For one day, at least, the Southern District federal court in New York did open their doors, as Judge Oetken heard oral arguments in the case George et al. V. United Nations et al. The question before the court today was whether or not the U.N. and its officers should have immunity from claims arising from the introduction of cholera into Haiti by U.N. troops in October 2010.  

“It is not seriously disputed that the U.N. is responsible for causing this devastating epidemic,” stated Beatrice Lindstrom, a staff attorney at the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti and counsel for the thousands of Haitian cholera victims represented in the suit.  The U.N. did not appear in court but rather it was U.S. government attorney Ellen Blain who spoke in defense of U.N. immunity, citing the U.S.’s obligation as host nation to the U.N.

Lindstrom argued that the U.N.’s immunity, as called for in Section 2 of the Convention on the Privileges and Immunities of the United Nations [doc] (CPIUN) did not need to be expressly waived by the U.N., because it had failed to provide an alternative dispute mechanism, as called for in Section 29 of the CPIUN.  Lindstrom stated that these two sections were “two-sides of the came coin” and that the convention must be interpreted “in whole.”  By failing to live up to its obligations under Section 29, the U.N. would not be able to then claim immunity under Section 2. U.S. attorneys argued that there was no link between the two sections and pointed to previous cases where U.S. courts have upheld immunity.

However, in those previous cases, the plaintiffs argued, the U.N. had provided an alternative dispute mechanism, and the question was over its adequacy. This was the first case before U.S. courts where the U.N. had failed entirely to live up to its obligations under Section 29, according to the plaintiffs as well as international law scholars, who filed amicus curiae with the court.

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