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Haiti: Relief and Reconstruction

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Ten Things Cheryl Mills May Prefer You Not Know About Haiti Today Print

In the weeks prior to the 2nd anniversary of Haiti’s January 12, 2010 earthquake, an unprecedented U.S. State Department public relations offensive has unfolded. On December 28 the U.S. State Department released 11 fact sheets, celebrating the achievements of the U.S. humanitarian and development assistance in Haiti in areas ranging from shelter to food security.  To make sure the message got through to journalists, on January 6th the U.S. government partnered up with UN entities and held a joint press teleconference on Haiti to discuss the “amazing” work done removing rubble and providing clean water and shelter to those made homeless by the quake.

The effort continued with an op-ed by Cheryl Mills, Counselor and Chief of Staff to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton that appeared on January 9thin the Huffington Post.  The piece was then sent out widely by the State Department public affairs office. Finally, on the day of the anniversary, additional op-eds were published by Rajiv Shah, the head of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and Mark Feierstein, Assistant Administrator, Bureau for Latin America and the Caribbean at USAID.  Shah and Feierstein appeared to have received the same memo: their talking points were strikingly similar and the two articles had nearly the same titles “Haiti Is on the Move” and “Haiti ‘a country undeniably on the move’”.

Clearly, there is heightened concern – within the U.S. foreign policy machine – about the perception of U.S. efforts in Haiti, given the increased press scrutiny generated by the 2nd quake anniversary commemorations.  A lot of money has been spent - $2.2 billion by the US alone according to their fact sheet on funding - and it’s important to show some results after two years.  And, apparently, there are plenty of results on display, as Cheryl Mills has emphasized in her piece, which rolls out ten impressive-sounding achievements.  But are these achievements real, and – if they are – do they really represent significant steps forward?   Let’s try to go beyond the hype by taking a closer look at Cheryl Mills’ article “Haiti – Two Years Post-Earthquake: What You May Not Know,” and providing the reader with a few additional facts that Mills and the U.S. State Department may prefer you not know: 

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Two Years Later: Media Assess the State of Reconstruction in Haiti Print

There have been a host of assessments in the media over the past week examining the state of recovery in Haiti two years after the earthquake. All of these present a mixed review, usually noting early on, as this one from Reuters’ Kevin Gray and Joseph Guyler Delva does, that “More than a half a million people still live in a critical situation in crowded tent camps, many without running water or electricity.” Gray and Guyler Delva also mention that “throngs of Haitians line the streets every day in a jarring reminder that 70 percent of the population is either unemployed or underemployed.”

Reuters goes on:

"It's been two years and I'm still here in the camps," said Jerome Mezil, a 28-year-old who lives in the Sainte-Therese tent camp in the capital's Petionville district.

Some tent camp dwellers say they fear life outside the camps will be even tougher.

Indeed, this echoes what respondents told the International Organization for Migration last year regarding their decision to leave camps: "Poor conditions in the IDP site", "eviction", "high incidence of crime/insecurity in the IDP site", and "rain/hurricane" were cited by 77.9 percent of respondents. These answers contradict claims by the Washington Post that “most were pulled away [from tent cities] by programs that gave them rent subsidies or assistance to repair a home.”

While some headlines seemed to present an almost rosy view of things two years later, the Miami Herald’s assessment begins

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Hospital in Mirebalais, Set to Open in 2012, Stands as Example of Aid Done Right Print

As the two year mark approaches, many are justifiably asking, where did the money go? With billions pledged by donors, and billions more in private donations, it is a natural question. As important as the level of disbursement is the question of where that money has gone and whether it has been spent appropriately.  Independent evaluations have shown that many NGOs were responding more to their donors than to those whom they are supposedly in Haiti to help. Last year, the United Nations Special Envoy to Haiti (OSE) released a report, “Has Aid Changed? Channeling Assistance to Haiti Before and After the Earthquake,” which analyzed whether donors “have changed the way they provide their assistance in accordance with the principle of accompaniment” which “is specifically focused on guiding international partners to transfer more resources and assets directly to Haitian public and private institutions as part of their support.”

Yet the vast majority of aid projects and donor support bypassed the Haitian government. In fact, there was less direct budget support in 2011 than there was in 2009 before the earthquake. Additionally, many aid projects were undertaken outside the purview of the government. Rather than reinforcing the government’s capabilities, these types of projects have historically undermined them.  Despite this, there are examples of aid done right; the construction of a new teaching hospital in Mirebalais by Partners in Health is one such example.

Partners in Health/Zanmi Lasante (PIH) had been in Haiti for 25 years before the earthquake and has a history of working closely with the government. Dr. Paul Farmer of PIH, writing in the introduction of the OSE report referenced earlier, stresses the importance of working with, not around Haitian institutions:

We know from our shared experiences in Haiti and elsewhere that the way aid is channelled matters a great deal, and determines its impact on the lives of the Haitian people. For example, with over 99 percent of relief funding circumventing Haitian public institutions, the already challenging task of moving from relief to recovery—which requires government leadership, above all—becomes almost impossible.

We have heard from the Haitian people time and again that creating jobs and supporting the government to ensure access to basic services are essential to restoring dignity. And we have learned that in order to make progress in these two areas we need to directly invest in Haitian people and their public and private institutions. The Haitian proverb sak vide pa kanpe—“an empty sack cannot stand”—applies here. To revitalize Haitian institutions, we must channel money through them.

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Beyond the Headlines: Is the Reduction of the IDP Population a Sign of Success? Print

As media coverage intensifies around the two-year anniversary of the earthquake in Haiti, there appears to be a serious effort on the part of the largest donors and aid organizations to present the relief and recovery in Haiti as an unmitigated success. One notable exception is Oxfam, which released a two-year report critical of the reconstruction effort.  The State Department, on the other hand, issued 11 separate fact sheets on the U.S. response in Haiti; none of them suggested that the U.S. had learned from its mistakes, or indeed that any mistakes had been made at all. One of the key statistics that is most frequently touted to suggest that big advances have been made is the decline in the number of internally displaced persons (IDPs) living in camps.  In a State Department blog post (also published on the Huffington Post) Cheryl Mills, chief of staff to Hillary Clinton, points to the reduction of IDP numbers as a clear sign of progress:

Almost two-thirds of the estimated 1.5 million Haitians living in tent shelters after the January 2010 earthquake have left camps, many returning to houses that have undergone structural improvements or moving into temporary shelters and permanent homes.

Of course, a reduction in people living in IDP camps seems like an entirely positive development. Yet a closer look at this development reveals significant problems with both the relief and reconstruction effort and a much more tepid success story.

In March, the International Organization for Migration (IOM), which tracks the IDP camp population, found that there were 680,000 people living in the camps. So by March the majority of the decrease Mills cites had already taken place. Yet what the IOM found was that many people were leaving the camps for even more precarious living situations, not for new homes or T-shelters. The IOM study shows that only seven percent indicated that an "assistance package was provided" (2.0%), "my home was repaired" (4.7%) or "transitional shelter was provided" (0.3%) as reasons for leaving IDP sites. On the other hand, "Poor conditions in the IDP site", "eviction", "high incidence of crime/insecurity in the IDP site", and "rain/hurricane" were cited by 77.9 percent of respondents. Between June 2010 and March 2011, some 230,000 people were evicted from IDP camps and more than 100,000 still face the constant threat of eviction.

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Contractor Accused of Waste in Katrina Reconstruction Lands USAID Contract in Haiti Print

In March 2010, the New Orleans inspector general found that a major contractor for the city’s recovery efforts, MWH Americas, had been overcharging the city. The Times-Picayune reported at the time:

The controversial engineering firm hired to manage New Orleans' massive rebuilding effort has been operating for more than two years under a dubiously awarded contract that has allowed it to overbill the city repeatedly even as the bricks-and-mortar recovery work it oversees has lagged, according to a draft report by the city's inspector general.

Now this same company accused of wrongdoing in New Orleans has landed a USAID contract for work in Haiti. And it's not the first time this has happened. MWH announced on December 21 that it had received a $2.8 million contract to conduct a feasibility study for port infrastructure in northern Haiti (the contract was signed on September 23). The company’s release goes on:

The $2.8 million contract will include a market demand and project finance structure study, economic feasibility analysis, and the preparation of a detailed technical study including geotechnical, environmental assessment, operational performance, water supply system, emergency response, access roads and institutional and regulatory assessment. The project is expected to be complete in May 2012.

The awarding of the contract to Colorado-based MWH, despite a record of waste and abuse, is consistent with other contracts awarded by USAID in the aftermath of the January 2010 earthquake. Overall, USAID has awarded over $300 million in contracts, with only 0.02 percent going directly to Haitian firms. The largest contractor is Chemonics, a company with a long record of waste and abuse in Afghanistan and which was criticized by the USAID inspector general last year for its work in Haiti. MWH Global, the parent company of MWH Americas, spent over $675,000 dollars on lobbying expenses in 2011, according to OpenSecrets.org, although it was below the $1.2 million spent in 2010.

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