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Haiti: Relief and Reconstruction

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Three Years Later: Three Answers to Haiti's Predicament Print
Saturday, 12 January 2013 18:14

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.”



Three Years Later: A Round-up of News and Commentary Print
Friday, 11 January 2013 18:19

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. 



Pressure Builds on UN to Take Responsibility as Cholera Still Far From “Under Control” Print
Friday, 11 January 2013 13:10

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.



Haiti by the Numbers, Three Years Later Print
Wednesday, 09 January 2013 16:12

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



Red Cross Progress Report Raises Some Questions Print
Monday, 07 January 2013 16:27

The American Red Cross has issued a new progress report on its work in Haiti since the earthquake, describing how it has used the $486 million USD that it has raised. The report, while brief, and still vague in some places, seems to be intended in part as a response to recent criticism the organization has received over the pace and efficacy of its spending. ARC President and CEO Gail McGovern writes:

At this point, virtually all of the money donated to the American Red Cross has been spent, committed or allocated for planned housing and neighborhood recovery, health, clean water and sanitation and disaster preparedness projects. A relatively small amount of unallocated money—or 4 percent of all donations received—is held in reserve for unanticipated or emerging needs. That’s because even as we focus on long-term recovery, we must at the same time respond to cholera outbreaks and disasters in Haiti such as Tropical Storm Isaac and Hurricane Sandy.

By “virtually all,” McGovern means 85 percent, or $415 million, 33 percent of which it says it has “spent and committed” to “housing and neighborhood recovery”; 16 percent each to emergency relief and health, respectively; 12 percent to water and sanitation; 11 percent to disaster preparedness and risk reduction; 8 percent to “livelihoods” (undefined in the report, but previously described as including “grants, jobs and other help”); and 4 percent to cholera.

The report contains several anecdotal stories, but also some additional useful information. For example, the ARC says “We provided more than 72 percent of the funds needed for the distribution of a cholera vaccine, which more than 90,000 Haitians received this year.” It also notes that “we helped fund the construction of Mirebalais Teaching Hospital and partnered with the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) to rebuild a prosthetics and physical rehabilitation center.” Less useful is the statement “the American Red Cross has also spent more than $50 million on projects that have improved access to clean water and sanitation for 545,000 people,” where “improved access” is not further defined.

The ARC notes that “we have helped build, upgrade or repair more than 14,000 transitional and permanent homes for more than 70,000 people, and have helped more than 20,000 people transition out of camps by subsidizing rents,” but does not differentiate between the “transitional” and “permanent” dwellings, nor does it provide additional information on what people who have “transition[ed] out of camps” have done after leaving, how they live and whether their new situations are sustainable and will allow them to have a dignified, safe and healthy quality of life – even in the near term. The lumping together of “transitional” and “permanent” dwellings is especially problematic since, as so many residents and observers have noted, in many cases “transitional” shelters have become de facto “permanent.”



Haiti’s Increasingly Hidden Displacement Disaster Print
Monday, 07 January 2013 07:10

Over the next month, Haiti Relief and Reconstruction Watch blogger and CEPR International Research Associate, Jake Johnston will be in Haiti following up, on the ground, many of the issues this blog has covered since the earthquake nearly three years ago.

– In the last thirteen months, the “official” total of displaced persons in Haiti has decreased by 35 percent and over 300 camps have been closed. One could be forgiven for thinking the decrease was even larger. The sprawling tent camp near the airport, for everyone entering Haiti to see, as well as the Champ de Mars camp, are no longer. With their closure, some of the most visible signs of the stalled reconstruction effort have been erased.  As the three-year commemoration of the earthquake approaches, the reduction in the IDP population will undoubtedly be touted as one of the great successes of the relief and reconstruction effort. And yet an estimated 360,000 Haitians remain in official tent camps.

Those who remain may not be as visible; many are tucked behind high walls and off main streets but their situation remains just as dire and continues to deteriorate. The most recent OCHA Humanitarian Bulletin notes that those who remain in the camps “face worsening living conditions, as humanitarian partners pull out as a result of lack of funding.” It is estimated that at least 230,000 will still be in the camps at this time next year.

For those that have left the camps, little is known about their current status. According to OCHA, over 250,000 have left the camps due to resettlement programs, yet there has been no systematic tracking of what has happened to them. The government’s flagship relocation program, “16/6”, began over a year ago, meaning the one-year rental subsidies offered to camp residents have already run out, or will in the next few months. One former resident of the Champ de Mars camp said that his subsidy will run out next month, and with no steady employment, he expects to be back on the street soon. If so, he, and others in similar situations, would likely fall outside of the “official” camp population.



Taking Stock Three Years Later: A Prelude Print
Thursday, 03 January 2013 16:08

January 1 was the anniversary of Haiti’s independence, and another marker – the third year since the earthquake – is coming up at the end of next week. Media outlets are examining what has been achieved - and what hasn’t - over the past three years.

The New York Times’ Deborah Sontag had a major, must-read feature article based on her investigative look at the shortcomings of the aid and reconstruction efforts, examining the Interim Haiti Recovery Commission, the agency and NGO coordination “clusters” and the Caracol industrial park, among other aspects. She also reports on contractors such as Chemonics, one that has been scrutinized by this blog repeatedly:

One American taxpayer-financed program, scrutinized by the Agency for International Development’s inspector general, was intended to provide short-term jobs for Haitians and to remove significant rubble. But the program, and in particular the work carried out by two Beltway-based firms, was less than successful on both fronts, the inspector general said: It generated only a third of the jobs anticipated and it appeared to demonstrate that using manual labor to clear debris was so inefficient as to slow the rebuilding effort.

One of the firms, Chemonics International, which was awarded $150 million in post-earthquake contracts, built a $1.9 million temporary home for the Haitian Parliament. The American ambassador presented it as a gift to Haitian democracy, but many legislators were more irked than thankful because the building was delivered devoid of interior walls and furnishings, as The Global Post reported, and it took almost half a year to scrounge together the money to finish it.

The New York Times editorial board weighed in yesterday with a lengthy editorial decrying the failures of the reconstruction process, and also highlighting the ongoing cholera epidemic caused by the UN, concluding:

A recently announced 10-year and $2.2 billion effort to rid Haiti and the Dominican Republic of cholera by improving water and sanitation will require close coordination among the Haitian government, the United Nations, United States and other partners. Senator John Kerry, who has paid astute attention to Haitian issues in the Senate, will be well placed to do so if he becomes the next secretary of state. As long as the miseries continue, the need for the world to get this right remains.



UN Gives Journalism Prize to Investigation Exposing UN Responsibility for Cholera – And Still Won’t Accept Responsibility Print
Wednesday, 19 December 2012 18:00

Tonight, in a ceremony presided over by U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, BBC correspondent Mark Doyle and producer Piers Scholfield will be presented with an award from the U.N. Correspondents Association (UNCA). The award, one of many to be handed out, is described by the UNCA as being for “the best coverage of the United Nations and its agencies.” Certainly by “best” they do not mean the most flattering. The BBC radio documentary that earned Scholfield and Doyle the prize was an investigation into the source of the cholera outbreak in Haiti, which over the past two years has killed over 7,800 and sickened over 625,000. A host of scientific evidence, as well as on the ground reporting, including by Doyle and Scholfield, has pinpointed a U.N. military base as the source of the outbreak.

Just last week, Ban Ki-moon announced that the U.N. would be starting a new initiative to secure funds for a 10-year, $2.2 billion plan, set to be formally announced in January, that aims to provide Haiti and the Dominican Republic with the clean water and sanitation infrastructure needed to eradicate the disease.  Yet despite the U.N.’s pledge to support this plan, the U.N. has failed to ever accept responsibility for the epidemic. Despite a legal complaint filed with the U.N. on behalf of over 5,000 victims of cholera by the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti and Bureau des Avocats Internationaux, U.N. officials continue to avoid their own role in its introduction.

Writing in Foreign Policy on the U.N. announcement last week, Jonathan Katz and Tom Murphy note:

One of the primary means by which the U.N. has deflected blame since the beginning has been to insist that efforts to find the source of the epidemic would detract from fighting it. By relaunching an existing Haitian-Dominican effort under the guise of a U.N. initiative, the world body can once again claim to be too busy saving Haitian lives to comment on how those lives were put in danger in the first place. It took no time for this to happen. When an AP reporter asked on Dec. 11 whether humanitarian coordinator Nigel Fisher thought the U.N. caused the cholera epidemic, he refused to comment, saying: "My focus is on today."

In announcing this new initiative the U.N. pledged just $23.5 million of their own funds, less than four percent of what they are spending on keeping MINUSTAH troops in the country this year; the same troops that introduced the disease in the first place. As Mark Doyle commented after last week’s announcement, “The United Nations is good at launching appeals for aid. It is less good at admitting its own faults.”



Will New Cholera Initiative Treat the Epidemic as an Emergency? Print
Wednesday, 12 December 2012 14:52

As expected, the U.N. launched a new cholera eradication initiative yesterday at a press event in the late afternoon featuring U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and other speakers. The Miami Herald’s Jacqueline Charles leads off her article on the announcement by noting the U.N.’s own relatively small contribution toward funding the $2.2 billion plan (which also calls for an additional $70 million for the Dominican Republic):

The United Nations will provide support and $23.5 million in funding to help Haiti and the neighboring Dominican Republic eliminate a deadly cholera epidemic that has sickened more than 600,000 and killed more than 7,700, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said Tuesday.

In addition to the U.N.’s contribution, Ban said donors will provide $215 million. But the money still falls short of the $600 million Haitian Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe said is needed to implement the plan over the next two years focusing on improving water and sanitation services.

AP’s Alexandra Olson reports:

Ban promised to "use every opportunity" in the next months to advocate for more funding for the plan.

"We know the elimination of cholera is possible. Science tells us it can be done," Ban said. "It can and will happen in Haiti."

Ban also announced he was enlisting Partners in Health founder Paul Farmer as a “Special Advisor” who will help raise funds for the initiative, including from “governments, multilateral organizations, the private sector and individual philanthropists.”

Ban did not refer to the cause of the epidemic – U.N. troops from Nepal, according to several scientific studies.



On Human Rights Day, Forced Evictions Underscore How Hundreds of Thousands in Haiti Are Denied Their Right to Decent Housing Print
Monday, 10 December 2012 16:34

Dozens of Haitian and international organizations have marked UN Human Rights Day today by calling for an end to forced evictions, which, as Oxfam notes, “infringe on other rights in addition to the right to adequate housing” due to “the inter-relationship and interdependence of all human rights.” In a statement calling “on the international community to act against the human rights abuses taking place in Haiti in the form of arbitrary and illegal forced evictions,” groups gathered under the Under Tents campaign note that “Haiti’s displaced face not only the challenges inherent to living in tent camps, but one in five are currently at risk of forced eviction.”

A briefing note [PDF] released by Oxfam today notes that “the right to decent housing” is enshrined in both Haitian and international law:

The right to private property is acknowledged and guaranteed by the Haitian constitution of 1987, but the constitution, as well as many international legal instruments, also recognizes the right to decent housing. These include the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, whose ratification by the Haitian parliament on 31 January 2012 was hailed as an important step in broadening the scope of human-rights protection in the country.

But it also notes that “By the end of October 2012, the displaced population was estimated at 358,000 people, living in 496 camps and informal sites.” Oxfam presents some of the scale of those whose rights have been violated in forced evictions and precarious IDP camp situations so far:

Up to August 2012, around 61,000 people had been evicted from 152 camps. Another 78,000 people housed in 121 camps are currently threatened with eviction. Of the 121 camps currently under threat of forced evictions, around 96 per cent of these camps are located on private property. According to Oxfam’s latest survey, 86 per cent of the people in the camps lack the financial resources to leave, and the majority do not have jobs in the formal economy. The internally displaced persons (IDPs) who remain in camps live in extreme poverty, with 60 percent reporting that they ate one meal or fewer per day.

The Under Tents statement also notes the failings of the Haitian government and private landowners to protect these rights:

The level of violence involved and the disregard for the rights of the displaced demonstrated during these evictions are a scandal. The Inter-American Commission of Human Rights recommended in November 2010 that the Government of Haiti issue a moratorium on all evictions from IDP (Internally Displaced People’s) camps. The Commission’s precautionary principles recommend that those who have been unlawfully evicted be transferred to places with a minimum of sanitary and security conditions, and have effective recourse before tribunals and other competent authorities. The Haitian government has not complied with the Commission’s binding recommendations to date.



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Days Since Cholera Was Introduced in Haiti Without an Apology From the U.N.


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