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Haiti: Relief and Reconstruction

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Members of Congress Want Answers on Lack of Results from U.S. Assistance Effort Print
Wednesday, 11 May 2011 15:44

An editorial in the New York Times today describes the findings of a UN report that shows the cholera outbreak “may have originated” at a MINUSTAH camp, and says “The fact that the disease is still spreading is a reminder of how much more help Haiti needs and the consequences of continued neglect.”

The editorial concludes:

Even as relief agencies are winding down their presence in Haiti, about 680,000 people are still living in camps and waiting for permanent shelter. Life in this setting is precarious, without adequate access to latrines and safe drinking water.

The United Nations’ overall appeal to respond to the epidemic, for $175 million, is 48 percent financed. Haiti’s continuing health emergency may have been overlooked in a crush of world events, but while the sick and dying are waiting for the world to respond, the disease is not.

The editorial was, unfortunately, all too well-timed, as the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) and the Pan-American Health Organization issued a new warning today of expected "(fresh) outbreaks of cholera in the West, including Port-au-Prince, South and Southeast Departments" accompanying heavy rains and possible flooding.

As we have recently noted, the ongoing cholera epidemic – which now seems to be entering a deadly resurgence, and could kill as many as 11,000 people this year, is closely linked to inadequate sanitation in the IDP camps. This is a theme also addressed in OCHA's warning today: "More water means more cholera and the sanitation in the country is still very weak," Reuters reported OCHA spokesperson Emmanuelle Schneider as saying.

Poor sanitation, a lack of suitable transitional housing, and the poorly funded cholera appeal are all markers of the international community’s failings to come through for the people of Haiti. Now, members of the U.S. Congress are demanding answers. Yesterday, the House passed, by voice vote, bill HR 1016, which, the Miami Herald reports, requires the Obama administration to send to Congress

a report to assess the overall progress of relief, recovery, and reconstruction of Haiti and requires the president to assess within six months the effectiveness of U.S. assistance to Haiti.

…according to the Rep. Frederica Wilson (D – FL), who added an amendment to the bill regarding deportees.

Also covering the bill’s passage, AP's Jim Abrams reported that:

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Killed by Bureaucracy: A Story of Neglect in a USAID/OFDA Supported Camp Print
Friday, 06 May 2011 15:55

Earlier we reported on an Inspector General report that is extremely critical of USAID/OFDA and their grantees’ efforts in providing housing to displaced Haitians. The audit, however, also raised a separate issue, based on the fact that “USAID/OFDA’s mandate is to save lives, alleviate suffering, and reduce the economic impact of the recent earthquake in Haiti.”

The audit reported that:

As part of the audit, the audit team visited a camp where USAID/OFDA was funding the construction of 800 shelters. There we met a resident who was dying of breast cancer. The woman’s entire right breast was an open wound, and she was suffering great pain. Concerned for the welfare of this person, the audit team alerted grantee officials that the woman needed immediate medical help. The audit team members asked whether the grantee could use their knowledge of local community resources to seek help. However, the auditors were told that many people were sick in Haiti and that helping one person would lead to others asking for help.

The audit team informed USAID/OFDA of the situation, but was told by a USAID/OFDA official in Haiti that USAID could not do anything and that the issue should be taken up with the grantee.

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Inspector General Slams USAID on Provision of Housing in Haiti Print
Friday, 06 May 2011 15:51

An audit by the USAID Office of the Inspector General (OIG) that looked at USAID efforts to provide transitional housing in Haiti was published a few weeks ago and has yet to receive any attention from the media. The report, however, is extremely damning in its assessment of US government efforts to provide housing and represents the first real attempt at accountability in the failure to adequately provide housing for those displaced by the earthquake.

The audit looks at progress on 16 grants, totaling $139 million that were awarded from January 2010 through June 2010. The biggest recipients of these funds were CHF International, Catholic Relief Services, World Vision and GOAL Ireland. The full list of grantees is available in the report.

The audit found that USAID/OFDA grantees completed just 6 percent of planned transitional shelters by the onset of last year's hurricane season (June 2010). By November 2010, just 22 percent of shelters had been completed. The audit notes that grantees will not be able to complete all the shelters they had planned due to “rising costs and unrealistic initial cost estimates.” There is also a 65 percent shortfall in the efforts to repair “14,375 homes minimally damaged in the earthquake.”

The inspector general made a series of recommendations to USAID, however they note that, “No management decisions have been reached on Recommendations 1, 3, 5, 6, and 7.” There are only seven recommendations.

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UN Panel Links Cholera to MINUSTAH Base; MINUSTAH Continues to Shift Blame Print
Thursday, 05 May 2011 15:16

Yesterday, the UN “independent panel” released their long awaited report (PDF) on the origin of cholera in Haiti. Although the ultimate conclusion of the panel was that “the Haiti cholera outbreak was caused by the confluence of circumstances…and was not the fault of, or deliberate action of, a group or individual,” the report is a serious indictment of MINUSTAH, specifically the base in Mirebalais. The report finds that the cholera outbreak began in a tributary near the MINUSTAH base and that the “sanitation conditions at the Mirebalais MINUSTAH camp were not sufficient to prevent fecal contamination of the Meye Tributary System of the Artibonite River.” (Check out the picture of the sewage pit on page 22 of the report).

The report does find that cholera “strains isolated in Haiti and Nepal during 2009 were a perfect match”. The MINUSTAH troops at the base were from Nepal. And the disease was introduced “as a result of human activity.” But, as Colum Lynch asked today:

In the end, the panel echoed the U.N.'s talking points throughout the cholera crisis: that the battle to end the scourge should take priority over determining how it got there. "The source of cholera in Haiti is no longer relevant to controlling the outbreak," he said. "What are needed at this time are measures to prevent the disease from becoming endemic," the report concluded.

Surely, no one would quibble with that sentiment. But wasn't the panel's primary mission to do just that?

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Sacrificing Food Sovereignty for Food Aid Print
Wednesday, 04 May 2011 09:53

The AP’s Trenton Daniel put a spotlight on rising food prices in Haiti over the weekend. Daniel writes:

Soaring food prices aren't new in Haiti, the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere and heavily dependent on imports. Now those prices are rising again, mirroring global trends, while the cost of gasoline has doubled to $5 a gallon. Haitians are paying more for basic staples than much of Latin America and the Caribbean, an Associated Press survey finds.

A number of factors have led to the most recent surge in prices. As we reported in early March:

The FAO warned that, “The low-income food deficit countries are on the front line of the current surge in world prices.” Haiti, which imports nearly 50 percent of its food, according to the WFP, could be especially vulnerable.

International factors have exacerbated the negative effects of the cholera epidemic and last year’s Hurricane Thomas, both of which greatly affected agricultural regions. All of this comes at a particularly bad time for Haiti, where the months of April and May are generally the least food secure months of the year. FEWS Net has warned “The size of the food insecure population will be larger than usual, peaking in April/May.”

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Will the International Community Stand Idly By While Over 11,000 Haitians Die from Cholera? Print
Tuesday, 26 April 2011 13:32

In the wake of last week’s letter by 53 members of the U.S. Congress urging prioritizing the needs of IDP’s, Georgianne Nienaber underscores the urgency of the situation in a new piece for Haiti Live News and other publications. Likening the looming disaster of an expected spike in cholera deaths with the sinking of the Titanic, Nienaber suggests that the current international response is akin to that of the SS Californian, which, although having been less than 10 miles away from the Titanic on April 15, 1912, made no attempt to rescue the doomed voyagers.

Nienaber writes that the number of cholera cases is already growing quickly with the onset of the rainy season:

The country-wide fatality rate is 1.7 percent, but rural Sud Est department stands at a disastrous 7.9 and Grande Anse is not far behind with a 5.4 percent death rate. The Ministere de la Sante Publique et de la Population (MSPP) provides statistics that usually lag behind real time, but you can find them on the webpage.

In a better assessment from the ground in Mirebalais, the epicenter of the outbreak, PBS reports that the Partners in Health cholera center saw 500 cases in the three weeks prior to the recent rains. They have seen 1,000 cases in the last two weeks.

While the UN has offered estimates of up to 400,000 total cases by October 2011, a new study in the British medical journal, The Lancet, predicts nearly 800,000 cases and over 11,000 deaths from the cholera outbreak.

While millions of dollars collect interest in the bank accounts of large NGO’s, and while pledges by various foreign governments go unfulfilled, treatment for cholera remains greatly underfunded. Nienaber notes that UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon spoke about the urgent, but still neglected needs earlier this month:

[T]he withdrawal of some humanitarian agencies from cholera treatment centres and camps risks creating a shortage in the provision of services. The Cholera Appeal is 45 per cent funded, and the overall Haiti Appeal received only 10 per cent of the requested funds.

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Haitian Election Shenanigans: Legislative Edition Print
Friday, 22 April 2011 16:49

Late Wednesday night the CEP announced the final results of the second round of Haiti’s elections, formalizing Michel Martelly’s ascension from kompa musician to the presidency. Yet although it was largely ignored yesterday, the story that is now receiving the most attention from the media, as a result of statements of “concern” from the U.S. Embassy in Haiti and the UN, has to do with the long-ignored legislative elections. In a controversial move, the CEP switched the winners of 17 out of 77 seats that were in the running in the Chamber of Deputies were changed from the preliminary results. 15 of these went from an opposition party to INITE, the governing party, while INITE lost the other two seats. Many of the changes appear far-fetched, as shown below. The net result was that INITE increased their plurality in the Chamber of Deputies, going from 33 to 46 of the 99 seats. Three of the 99 seats are still in play, with another round in May. The international community was quick to react, with the OAS issuing a strongly worded statement last night questioning the CEP:

the Joint Mission can only question whether the eighteen changes in position announced during the proclamation of the final results in fact express the will of the voters in those constituencies.

Anonymous diplomats, speaking with AFP, were even clearer in laying the blame on President Preval:

Matching diplomatic sources have told AFP that the Inité party of outgoing President René Préval have exerted significant pressure to modify the Haitian legislative elections in its favor and increase its representation in Parliament.

“It's clear as day, a great deal of pressure” was put on the CEP which unveiled, on the night of Wednesday to Thursday, the results of the presidential and legislative elections, according to a European source.

However this should come as little surprise to the foreign entities that have been most involved in the electoral process, namely the U.S., the European Union and Canada. In an effort to gain legitimacy for the presidential elections, these powers have largely ignored or papered over the serious flaws that had been present since the beginning of the electoral process. The International Foundation for Electoral Systems (funded by USAID), in a report over a year ago on organizing elections in Haiti, wrote that, “Giving the mandate of organizing the upcoming elections to the current CEP would mean that the electoral process would be considered flawed and questionable from the start.” While the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti warned that, “The CEP’s close relationship with President Rene Préval has raised doubts about its ability to be politically neutral.” Rather than addressing these problems, the three aforementioned international entities funded the elections to the tune of $30 million and then pressured Haiti to accept the results despite an unprecedented low turnout, a high level of fraud and other irregularities and a politically motivated electoral council.

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Mark Weisbrot - "Only in America: Former U.S. Official Sued Haiti Contractors for Kickbacks" Print
Friday, 22 April 2011 15:04

CEPR Co-Director Mark Weisbrot writes in The Guardian today:

Corruption takes many forms, and if the United States seems like it has less of it than many developing countries, this is partly because we have legalized so much of it. Election campaign contributions are only the most costly and debilitating form, a legalized bribery that, for example, gives the pharmaceutical and insurance companies a veto over health care policy and generally hollows out our limited form of democracy.

This legalization of corruption reached a new milestone last December when one Lewis Lucke, a long-time U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) official turned influence peddler, sued a consortium of firms operating in Haiti for $492,000, for breach of contract. As Lucke would have it (sorry!), he was promised $30,000 a month, plus incentives, to use his influence to secure contracts for these nice fellas. He got them $20 million dollars worth of contracts, but they cut him off after two months. The defendants in the case are Ashbritt, a U.S. contractor with a questionable track record, and the GB Group, one of the largest Haitian conglomerates. Together they formed the Haiti Recovery Group, which they incorporated in the Cayman Islands, to bid on reconstruction contracts.

Lucke was well positioned for the job, having formerly been in charge of the multi-billion dollar reconstruction effort in Haiti for the U.S. government. (He was also previously the USAID Iraq Mission Director – we know how that reconstruction turned out.) His lawsuit states that when he worked for USAID "He met with Haitian officials, former United States Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, the State Department, World Bank, and other participants . . .”. He was then hired by Ashbritt to, among other things, make “strategic introductions to key stakeholders, organizers, and brokers of Haitian recovery efforts…” Bill Clinton and George W. Bush established the Clinton-Bush Haiti Fund to help Haiti “build back better,” and Clinton is co-chair of the Interim Haiti Recovery Commission (IHRC), which has met about six times since the earthquake, and has been widely criticized for its lack of Haitian representation in decision-making.

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Fifty-three Members of Congress Urge Obama Administration to Address “Appalling Conditions” in Haiti’s IDP Camps Print
Wednesday, 20 April 2011 14:44

Today, fifty-three Democratic members of Congress sent a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton underscoring the gross inadequacy of relief efforts of USAID,  International Organization of Migration (IOM) and other aid organizations in Haiti’s camps for the internally displaced (IDPs).

Co-sponsored by Representatives Yvette Clarke (NY), Donald Payne (NJ) and Frederica Wilson (FL), the letter urges the administration to focus its attention on the deteriorating situation in the camps, in particular the lack of water, sanitation and other basic services; the increase in gender-based violence; and the frequent occurrence of forced evictions of camp residents.

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Haitian Companies Still Sidelined from Reconstruction Contracts Print
Tuesday, 19 April 2011 11:51

In December 2010, the AP conducted an analysis of Haitian earthquake contracts given out by the US government, finding that only $1.60 out of every $100 went to Haitian companies. In the story, USAID responded:

US AID says it is committed to increasing the amount of contracts going to Haitians.

“We already are engaging with Haitian communities to make them aware of how they can partner with us,” said Janice Laurente, a spokeperson for US AID.

Yet a new analysis from Haiti: Relief and Reconstruction Watch shows that since December 2010, not a single contract has been awarded to a Haitian firm, according to the Federal Procurement Data System  (FPDS).  As of April 14, 2011, 1490 contracts had been awarded, since the January 2010 earthquake, for a total of $194,458,912. Of those 1490 contracts, only 23 have gone to Haitian companies, totaling just $4,841,426, or roughly 2.5 percent of the total.

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