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Haiti: Relief and Reconstruction

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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.”

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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.

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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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Haitian Groups Protest UN on Human Rights Day for Introducing Cholera Print
Monday, 10 December 2012 15:17

The cholera epidemic, brought to Haiti by UN troops over two years ago, continues to spread throughout the country claiming lives and sickening thousands. Since the passage of Hurricane Sandy in late October, over 175 Haitians have died and nearly 20,000 have fallen ill. In November, an average of 4 Haitians died each day due to the disease. Since the introduction of cholera, nearly 7,800 have died and over 625,000 have been sickened.

Today, in observance of Human Rights Day, Haitian grassroots groups Fan Rezo BAI (Women’s Network of BAI), MOLEGHAF (Movement for Liberty and Equality by Haitians for Fraternity) and KONAMAVID (National Coordination of Direct Victims) are protesting outside the UN Logistics Base in Port-au-Prince. The groups are calling on the UN to take responsibility for the epidemic and to provide reparations to the hundreds of thousands of victims across the country. (For updates, pictures and video from the protest, see @BuddhistLawyer, @melindayiti, @gaetantguevara, and @BriKouriAyiti on Twitter.)

Francois Moise of KONAMAVID comments:

“You always have human rights, they die with you. No one gives them to you, we demand justice to victims of cholera. We see people in the streets that we can’t help. We ask the UN to take responsibility for cholera that its troops sent to Haiti.”

For his part, David Oxygene of MOLEGHAF, who recently spent over two months in prison after being arrested during a previous protest, accused the UN of “violating Haitian’s human right to health and water,” adding, “the laws are violated here, the right to housing, health, education, to work, which are protected in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. We don’t have any of the rights we are supposed to.”

The calls from Haitians grassroots groups build on an international campaign to hold the UN accountable. The award-winning filmmaker and director Oliver Stone created an online petition on Avaaz last week calling on the UN “to help Haitians stamp out killer cholera for good.” The petition has so far received nearly 6,000 signatures from all over the world.

In part because of the pressure from both within Haiti and internationally, the UN, together with the Haitian government and other international agencies are expected to announce tomorrow a $2.2 billion, ten-year plan to eradicate cholera from both Haiti and the Dominican Republic. The plan, while a step in the right direction, comes over two years since the UN introduced cholera and numerous questions remain as to the plan’s implementation, not least of which is where the $2.2 billion will come from. The AP reported in November that the only confirmed funding was $15 million from the World Bank.

For photos from today's protest, click read more.

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New Report Finds Economic Insecurity Increasingly Puts Haitian Girls at Risk of Violence Print
Thursday, 06 December 2012 15:30

A new report [PDF] on gender-based violence (GBV) in Haiti “suggests that adolescent girls are  disproportionately suffering social and violent aftershocks of the earthquake,” including “unwanted and early pregnancies, illegal abortions, and child abandonment” which have increased, while “reports link cases to sexual violence and increased ‘survival sex’ in teenage girls.”

The report, “BEYOND SHOCK - Charting the landscape of sexual violence in post-quake Haiti: Progress, Challenges & Emerging Trends 2010-2012,” was released by the organizations Poto Fanm-Fi (Women and Girls Pillar) and Poto Fi, and is based on information from over 60 agencies, field providers and additional groups and "perspectives from international groups with Haiti initiatives." It includes findings from a field research survey of some 2000 pregnant adolescents and family members.

Whereas much media attention has focused on particular forms of GBV – most notably rape, and often rape committed by strangers (the vulnerability of women and girls in IDP camps has been frequently stressed as well) -- the report presents a broader picture of GBV, noting, for example, that “Overall, domestic violence cases make up 90% of all GBV reported cases since 2010, dwarfing rape‐only cases by a broad ratio of 3:1. This was similar to the ratio before 2010, and calls for greater national action to prevent domestic violence.”

The report stresses the vulnerability of minors:

Adolescents and younger girls make up over 60% of reported rape cases since 2010 – the majority. As one Haitian advocates put it, “The adults get beaten; the younger ones get raped.” Both victims and perpetrators have gotten younger, say advocates. Reports of incest have increased; a possible sign families are more confident reporting crimes against children.

Regarding rapes, the report finds that “Contrary to early media reports, data suggest the majority of rapes since 2010 were committed by persons known to the victims  ‐‐neighbors and acquaintances‐‐ not escaped criminals.”

The report also confirms a “boom” in pregnancies resulting from rapes and “survival sex” following the quake: “64% of 981 adolescents reported they got pregnant from rape.” Perhaps not surprisingly, the report finds that many adolescents and girls do not receive treatment or services following attacks, or once they are pregnant, but the numbers are staggering:

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Haiti, D.R. to Present $2 Billion Plan to Improve Health and Sanitation Infrastructure to Fight Cholera Print
Thursday, 29 November 2012 16:46

In the coming weeks, Haiti, together with international partners, will call on donors to fund a $2.2 billion 10-year plan to upgrade the water, sanitation and health infrastructure in Haiti and the Dominican Republic. As Jonathan Watts of The Guardian reports, the plan “will be unveiled with the backing of foreign aid groups and the UN, which is accused of one of the greatest failures in the history of international intervention.” That failure, of course, is the introduction of cholera to Haiti, which a number of scientific studies have linked to the sanitation facilities at a MINUSTAH base located on a tributary of the country’s main water supply. The epidemic has thus far killed over 7,730 people in Haiti and sickened some 620,000 more, 6 percent of the entire population. While fatality levels are down from their peaks, over 125 people have died in just the last month.

As the AP’s Martha Mendoza and Trenton Daniel report, the plan – which is set to be released under the auspices of the Haitian and Dominican governments, the Pan American Health Organization, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and UNICEF -- includes “building water supply systems, sewer systems and wastewater treatment plants, as well as improving access to latrines, especially in schools.” It also aims to provide significant capacity building support to the Haitian government, to ensure proper oversight and maintenance of the new facilities. The plan aims to provide 85 percent of Haitians with improved drinking water and 90 percent with improved sanitation facilities by 2022. In 2008, just 17 percent of Haitians had access to adequate sanitation facilities and 63 percent to adequate drinking water. The goal, as Dr. Jordan Tappero of the CDC tells the AP, is “to eliminate transmission of cholera.”

Yet the $2.2 billion plan is almost completely un-funded, with just $5 million promised by the World Bank so far. Watts reports that, “The government will ask for more than $500m (£315m) for the next two years in a short-term emergency response to the epidemic. Another $1.5bn or so will be requested for the following eight years to eliminate the disease.”

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Cholera Continues to Spread After Hurricane Sandy Print
Tuesday, 20 November 2012 18:15

Hurricane Sandy dumped up to 20 inches of rain of parts of Haiti last month and, in addition to the immediate devastation on crops, people, roads and homes, it has led to an increase in the number of cholera cases throughout the country. On November 16, the International Organization for Migration confirmed that 3,593 new cholera cases had been counted since the hurricane. These numbers, however, lag far behind what the Haitian Ministry of Health (MSPP) has recorded since Sandy. There are now three weeks of data post hurricane, and as can be seen in Table 1, there have been over 9,000 new cases recorded by the MSPP.

Table I.
alt

As can be seen, the increase has been dramatic; both in terms of the number of cases recorded (a 46 percent increase) as well the number of deaths (an 85 percent increase). In fact, since the passage of Hurricane Sandy, the death rate has increased as well, from 0.7 percent to 1 percent. While still much lower than the death rate in the immediate aftermath of the outbreak of cholera, this is nevertheless a worrying sign. As Dr. Juan Carlos Gustavo Alonso of the Pan American Health Organization noted after Sandy, the west department, which includes most of the remaining 370,000 IDPs, has seen the greatest increase in cases. In fact, according to MSPP data, since Sandy, over 37 percent of all cases were in Port-au-Prince, which includes Carrefour, Cité Soleil, Delmas, Kenscoff, Petion Ville, Port-au-Prince, and Tabarre. Given the declining humanitarian services in the camps, and the fact that funding for cholera is now running out, the increase in the capital is especially worrisome. Additionally, Sandy crippled the cholera response infrastructure in the country, destroying 61 cholera treatment units.

Since its introduction into Haiti by UN troops in October 2010, cholera has now killed at least 7,699 people and sickened over 615,000 more. Last year, Haiti recorded more cholera cases than the rest of the world combined. As has been pointed out previously, these are likely underestimates, as the MSPP cholera data is often lacking reports from many areas.

In recent weeks, a number of op-eds and editorials have been written calling on the UN to take responsibility for the introduction of the disease. Last week CEPR Co-Director Mark Weisbrot wrote in The Guardian:

If Haiti were any other country in this hemisphere, a human-created disaster of this proportion would be a big international scandal and everyone would know about it. Not to mention the institution responsible for inflicting this damage – in this case, the UN – would be held accountable. At the very least, they would have to get rid of the epidemic.

In this case, getting rid of the epidemic could be easily accomplished. Cholera is transmitted mainly through drinking water that is contaminated by the deadly bacteria. To get rid of it, you need to create an infrastructure where people have clean drinking water and adequate sanitation. The Pan American Health Organization estimates that this would cost about $1bn for Haiti. In fact, that is close to what the UN has been spending in just one year to keep its 10,000 troops in the country.


The UN is still denying its responsibility, despite studies published by the New England Journal of Medicine, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and even by the UN itself (pdf) tracking the origin of Haiti's cholera bacteria to UN soldiers. A study by a team of 15 scientists last year produced even more conclusive evidence, using whole genome sequence typing and two other methods that matched the cholera strain in Haiti to a sample from Nepal that was taken at the time that the Nepalese UN troops arrived in the country.

In short, there is proof beyond reasonable doubt that the UN mission is responsible for bringing this disease to Haiti.

Adding their voices to the growing chorus calling for the UN to take responsibility was the Boston Globe editorial board and the Director of the International Human Rights Clinic at Western New England University School of Law, Lauren Carasik.

 

 
Who is Really Leading Reconstruction Efforts in Haiti? Print
Monday, 19 November 2012 16:20

After decades of bypassing the Haitian government in the provision of aid, after the 2010 earthquake there was an acknowledgement by international NGOs and donors that this time had to be different. The sentiment was summed up well by Nigel Fisher, the deputy special representative for MINUSTAH in Haiti when he told The Nation:

Tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands of people are here delivering aid, but they are doing functions that should be done by the Haitians…You cannot complain about failures of the Haitian state if you don’t support it to grow stronger. For decades, we have not invested in that very much.

And yet, as HRRW and other have documented time and time again, just as in the past, the Haitian government, civil society and businesses were largely bypassed again. Less than one percent (PDF) of humanitarian aid went to the Haitian government or Haitian organizations in the 18 months after the earthquake. Just over one percent of the $450 million or so in USAID contracts have gone to Haitian firms. Furthermore, there have been consistent complaints from government officials that they are not consulted by international partners. Nevertheless, donors continue to tout the “Haitian-led” reconstruction effort. Another quote from Kathie Klarreich and Linda Polman’s recent Nation article makes it clear this is nothing more than rhetoric:

A spokesman for one of the largest UN organizations in the country offered a stunningly blunt portrait of this dynamic. Asked whether the government of Haiti has ever told him what to spend donor money on, the spokesman, who insisted on remaining anonymous, said: “Never. They are not in the position, because they are financially dependent. Recently, there was a government press conference. There was nothing ‘government’ about it; we organized it and told them what to say.” He chuckled, then added: “Very sad, really.”

As for the aid community’s claim that it has been playing a supporting role and letting the Haitian government lead the reconstruction effort, he said, “It’s a lie. It’s tragic, but it’s a lie.”

 

 

 

 
Cholera as a Human Rights Issue Print
Tuesday, 13 November 2012 13:27

A new human rights report reaffirms the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti’s (MINUSTAH) responsibility for causing the cholera epidemic that has now killed over 7,600 and infected over 600,000. The Paris-based International Federation of Human Rights (FIDH) “Call[s] on MINUSTAH to acknowledge its responsibility with respect to the outbreak of the cholera epidemic and establish a permanent claims commission,” and “Request[s] the office of the UN Secretary-General to take measures to award individual or communal reparations, such as financial investment in water and sanitation infrastructure in Haiti.” These recommendations echo the petition filed by the Bureau des Avocats Internationaux (BAI) and the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti on behalf of over 5,000 cholera victims, the demands of an international grassroots campaign, editorials in the New York Times, the New York Daily News and other major newspapers, and op-eds such as this one in The Guardian yesterday by CEPR Co-Director Mark Weisbrot. The Boston Globe is the latest major paper to call for the U.N. to act with “a massive investment in clean water and sanitation infrastructure. Such an effort would not just wipe out cholera, but also a host of other water-borne illnesses. Rather than merely get Haiti back to where it was before the outbreak, this effort would push the country ahead.”

The report, “Haiti: Human Security in Danger” was co-written and researched with the Haiti-based National Human Rights Defense Network and the Ecumenical Center for Human Rights and is one of the few such human rights reports on Haiti to be released in the years since the earthquake, despite the renewed international attention on Haiti that followed. In addition to a section on human rights abuses committed by MINUSTAH, including its culpability for the cholera epidemic, the report focuses on the conditions faced by IDPs, whom it describes as having been “Abandoned and left to fend for themselves,” lacking adequate housing and sanitation, safe drinking water, and cholera treatment, and subject to forced eviction and the threat of forced eviction, rape and gender-based violence, and general insecurity. Conditions in Haiti’s prisons are the focus of another section, in which the report notes that an estimated 70 percent of those in prison are in pre-trial detention (this percentage is 92 in the National Prison in Port-au-Prince) and where safe drinking water is also lacking, leading to at least 275 cholera deaths in the prisons since the outbreak began.

The report also examines Haiti’s flawed justice system, and the Haitian National Police (HNP), which it finds lacking in size, competence, and accountability. Still, the report is the latest to recommend a transition from MINUSTAH to the HNP for the purpose of maintaining national security and cut down on crime, saying, “Haiti needs an effective criminal justice system (including sufficient and competent police personnel) to combat organized crime – not a military presence,” but notes – as have previous reports such as this one from the International Crisis Group earlier this year – that plans to bolster and transform the HNP have fallen far behind stated goals, leading to a prolonged mandate for MINUSTAH.

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Will the International Response to Hurricane Sandy Be Any Better than the Response to Haiti’s Quake or Cholera Disasters? Print
Monday, 05 November 2012 14:53

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:

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