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Haiti: Relief and Reconstruction

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Relief Efforts' Failure to Provide Shelter Has Haiti Reeling as Tomas Approaches Print
Thursday, 04 November 2010 12:46
Nearly 10 months since the earthquake, the lack of adequate shelter has again been thrown into the spotlight as Haiti is under red alert in the face of tropical storm Tomas, which could still strengthen to a hurricane by the time it reaches Haiti. For months aid groups and advocates have argued for the need for hurricane preparedness, specifically the need for better shelter, yet as Tomas approaches, "Aid workers are scrambling to prepare but are badly short of supplies including shelter material," reports Jonathan Katz of the Associated Press.

With over 1.3 million Haitians still living in makeshift camps, with nothing but frayed tarps and tents, is is clear the relief effort has failed to provide adequate shelter. Only 18,872 transitional shelters have been built (PDF), out of a planned 125 thousand. Meanwhile, as Stephen Kurczy of the Christian Science Monitor reports, efforts have not yet begun to repair the 120,000 or so houses that could "easily be repaired with only days worth of work." A structural engineer who has been assessing the city notes that the repairs will not start until sometime next year and "That's assuming the money actually comes through from international donors who pledged billions of dollars but seem reluctant to actually open their wallets, he says." And that is a big assumption as rich countries continue to neglect their aid pledges, and NGOs continue to sit on emergency relief donations.
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A Clarification (of sorts) from the Miami Herald on Haiti’s Elections Print
Wednesday, 03 November 2010 15:46
A few weeks ago, the Miami Herald’s Jacqueline Charles wrote:
there are at least six Lavalas candidates in the presidential race, including former Aristide Prime Minister Yvon Neptune and Minister of Haitians Living Abroad Leslie Voltaire, and Yves Cristallin, Fanmi Lavalas co-founder and former Préval minister of Social Affairs.
For anyone who’s been following the controversy around the Provisional Electoral Council’s (CEP’s) arbitrary exclusion of political parties from this month’s ballot – perhaps most notably Fanmi Lavalas -- this statement may have come as a surprise. When we prodded Charles for a clarification, she stated that she stood by what she wrote, as she never wrote that any candidates were running under Fanmi Lavalas, and that Lavalas was a movement long before the Fanmi Lavalas party was founded.

These are both true statements, and an important clarification to make, as the Herald probably should not presume that most of its readers already know this history and will naturally differentiate between “Lavalas candidates” as candidates at one time associated with the Lavalas social movement that pushed out dictator Jean-Claude Duvalier, and candidates affiliated with the Fanmi Lavalas political party. Unfortunately, it seems that this blog is the only place you are likely to see such a clarification made, as weeks later, the Herald has yet to append one to its article, or to make the distinction in any follow-up story.
 
'Focusing on Long-term Development' in Times of Cholera and Crisis Print
Tuesday, 02 November 2010 10:31
Independent journalist Ansel Herz, who has been reporting from the ground in Haiti since the earthquake, writes in the New York Daily News today on the media's treatment of the cholera outbreak as well as the lack of spending by aid organizations. Herz begins his op-ed with a quote from Peter James Hudson of Vanderbilt University:
"Breaking: North American news outlets "excited" by Haiti cholera outbreak. They say for them, "without a crisis, Haiti doesn't exist."
Herz continues:
Now, CNN crews are back in Haiti, covering a deadly cholera epidemic that has killed at least 330 people and infected nearly 5,000, according to officials. The bacteria incubate in bodies before causing symptoms or passing into the environment. What most media reports ignore is that the epidemic has been years in the making.

The George W. Bush administration blocked millions of dollars in loans from the Inter-American Development Bank for public water infrastructure in Haiti's central region. In the previous decade, President Bill Clinton pressured the Haitian government into slashing tariffs on imported American rice, devastating the rice farming economy of the area.

Families are so poor they have no choice but to drink, bathe and cook with water from the muddy Artibonite River, where the cholera outbreak began. Yet UN officials said this epidemic was unexpected, attempting to excuse their slow response and failure to quarantine the zone where cholera broke out - even as they took credit in preceding months for preventing a postearthquake outbreak of infectious disease.
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Disease Outbreak in Haiti, Possibly Just Beginning, as Money Goes Unspent and Shelters Remain Unbuilt Print
Thursday, 21 October 2010 12:26
In the aftermath of the earthquake many warned that with well over a million people living in makeshift IDP camps a second wave of the disaster was possible because of the  potential for deaths caused by flooding or disease outbreaks. Fortunately, widespread disease outbreaks haven't materialized and Haiti has been spared a direct hit during the current Hurricane season. However, some 10 months after the quake, there are signs that the second wave may be coming.

On Tuesday officials reported that at least 10 people had been killed in flooding over the previous three days due to heavy rain and today the AP, AFP and BBC are reporting on an outbreak of disease. Although the outbreak is outside of Port-au-Prince, AFP reports that at least 50 have died after suffering what the BBC reports as "acute fever, vomiting and diarrhoea."  The Associated Press adds that most of the deaths are "reportedly children." The AP continues:
Hundreds of patients reporting those symptoms have overwhelmed a hospital in the seaside town of St. Marc, some 45 miles (about 70 kilometres) north of the capital of Port-au-Prince, Catherine Huck, country deputy for the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, told The Associated Press.

It remains unclear if the cases are linked. U.N. and Haitian health care workers are running tests for cholera, typhoid and other diseases, with results possible on Thursday, said OCHA-Haiti spokeswoman Jessica DuPlessis.
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MINUSTAH: Securing Stability and Democracy from Journalists, Children, and Other Threats Print
Monday, 18 October 2010 16:44

As we noted on Saturday, MINUSTAH, whose mandate is “to protect civilians under imminent threat of physical violence,” and “support …Haitian human rights institutions and groups in their efforts to promote and protect human rights; and to monitor and report on the human rights situation in the country,” among other responsibilities, attacked a group of peaceful demonstrators Friday who were criticizing the UN’s decision to renew MINUSTAH’s mandate for another year. Following the decision, “a coalition of grassroots and political opposition groups took to the streets to call for the end of what they say is an occupying force costing millions but doing little to ensure the security of the general population,” independent reporter Isabeau Doucet writes.

Among the threats MINUSTAH soldiers engaged with at the protest were foreign journalists, as “A reckless UN vehicle pushed a hand full of journalists, including myself and Al Jazeera’s correspondent, into a trash-filled ditch,” Doucet states. Another independent journalist, Ansel Herz, was threatened at gunpoint (click the link to see a photo).

Herz reports that “The protesters were peaceful, except for one bottle thrown at the end.” Nevertheless, as Other Worlds Program Coordinator Beverly Bell describes:

On October 15, according to video footage and to witness Melinda Miles of Let Haiti Live, about 200 people were marching in front of the U.N. logistics base when MINUSTAH forces fired two bullets in the air and leveled their guns at demonstrators. A MINUSTAH vehicle and a second UN car pushed three foreign journalists and at least two Haitian demonstrators into a ditch. Haitian police then began striking demonstrators and journalists, including foreigners Sebastien Davis-VanGelder and Federico Matias, with the butts of their rifles. A policeman bashed his rifle into the mouth of a demonstrator from the Kanarin camp, knocking out his front teeth.
          
“There was no provocation at all. The Haitian police and the private UN security guards were so aggressive. They were just looking to do violence,” said Miles.

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MINUSTAH Breaks Up Anti-MINUSTAH Protest Print
Saturday, 16 October 2010 18:21

The Associated Press and Al-Jazeera both reported yesterday on a protest at the "main U.N. logistics base" following the UN Security Council's decision to extend MINUSTAH's mandate. The protest, which involved around 100 people was broken up by MINUSTAH forces. AP correspondents, who were on the ground, reported that:

U.N. security personnel then emerged from the base. A plainclothes guard struck a protester before a Jordanian soldier with the mission fired a warning shot. AP journalists also saw a Haitian policeman hit protesters with his rifle and a U.N. vehicle push through the crowd, knocking over protesters and journalists.
While Sebastian Walker of Al-Jazeera noted that, "Haitians feel that the presence of [UN] security personnel doesn't offer much in terms of ordinary Haitians living in camps."  
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State Department Dumbfounded by Congressional Concerns Over Haiti's Selection Elections Print
Thursday, 14 October 2010 15:02
The arbitrary exclusion of 14 political parties from Haiti’s November 28 elections is a growing scandal, with a letter from 45 members of Congress sent to Secretary of State Clinton last week stating that the U.S. should not provide funding for elections that do not “include all eligible political parties and ready access to voting for all Haitians, including the displaced.” This in turn has led to increased scrutiny and coverage of the issue from the BBC, Reuters, Agence France Presse, Spanish newswire EFE, and national and local radio broadcasts.

The congressional letter follows a similar statement from over 20 NGO’s last month, not to mention periodic press reports, so the State Department’s lack of a position on the issue is troubling. When pressed on the question last week, State Department spokesperson Mark Toner’s response was even more of a non-answer than P.J. Crowley’s had been when he was asked in September, and, even worse, Toner referred to the party exclusions as “allegations”:
obviously, we want free, fair, democratic, transparent elections to take place in Haiti as well. And we’ll look into these allegations and the letter and comment later. We just -- I’m sure we’ll review it and respond appropriately.
The reporter asking the question pointed out that indeed, this wasn’t the first time the issue had come up:
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Impatient to Profit from Disaster Print
Thursday, 14 October 2010 10:11
Months ago we reported on disaster capitalists that were setting themselves up to profit from the relief and reconstruction in Haiti, among them were many of the same contractors who found themselves surrounded in controversy after Hurricane Katrina. Yesterday The Hill reported on the use of lobbyists by many of these same companies:
A number of construction and disaster-response firms have hired Washington lobbyists to help navigate the contracting process for rebuilding Haiti.
The article reports on the companies' eagerness for U.S. reconstruction funds to be disbursed, not, apparently, out of any humanitarian concern (as no such sentiments are voiced in the article), but because the contractors are eager to make a profit.
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Congress Takes Action for Free and Fair Elections in Haiti Print
Tuesday, 05 October 2010 15:34

Robert Naiman writes today at Huffington Post:

There are many legitimate criticisms to be made of the electoral system in the United States as we know it. But it could be much worse. We could be confronted with the electoral system that Haitians are currently facing in elections scheduled for November 28.

In Haiti, as things are currently run, political parties are completely excluded from participation if the people currently in power don't like them, including Haiti's largest political party, the Fanmi Lavalas party of deposed and exiled former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide.

It is a telling fact of our political-media culture that while American newspapers regularly carry articles, op-eds and editorials raising the alarm about democracy and human rights in countries where the U.S. has little influence, the major U.S. media are virtually silent about extreme violations of democratic rights in Haiti, a country where the U.S. has tremendous influence. (Two rare, praiseworthy exceptions have been the Miami Herald, which last month published this op-ed by Ira Kurzban, and the reporting of the AP's Jonathan Katz.)
Naiman then goes on to point out that part of the U.S. influence comes from the U.S. funding for the elections, already underway, despite these political party exclusions.
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Haitian Elections: Less Parties Allowed, Less Voters Expected Print
Friday, 01 October 2010 10:47
An Inter Press Service article this week reports on widespread discontent with the planned November 28 elections. Surveying people in Port-au-Prince from a variety of socio-economic backgrounds, journalist Judith Scherr reports that
Residents of a number of camps recently told IPS they are neither ready nor willing to participate in the Nov. 28 elections, for which the international community is paying two-thirds of the $29 million cost.
and that
Only the more middle-class people interviewed said they planned to go to the polls.
Scherr describes some IDP’s sentiments, exemplified by a recent demonstration slogan "We are not going to the election in tents. We want housing before elections”, and noting that
In Camp Noailles, just outside Port-au-Prince, no one IPS spoke with planned to vote. A new president should come with plans to bring schools and jobs, "but most people come with a plan that doesn't work," one resident said.
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