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Haiti: Relief and Reconstruction

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In Response to Protests, MINUSTAH Disregards Legitimate Grievances Print
Tuesday, 16 November 2010 15:10
Protests against the UN and MINUSTAH in Cap-Haitien and elsewhere throughout the country yesterday resulted in at least two civilian deaths and numerous injuries. Yet the response from MINUSTAH completely ignores the legitimate concerns of the citizens about the source of the Cholera outbreak and the role of MINUSTAH in Haiti. The UN News Center reports:
“The way the events unfolded suggests that these incidents were politically motivated, aimed at creating a climate of insecurity on the eve of elections,” the mission, known as MINUSTAH, said in a statement.

“MINUSTAH calls the people to remain vigilant and not be manipulated by enemies of stability and democracy in the country,” the mission added.
The protesters, according to news reports, largely held MINUSTAH responsible for bringing cholera (with a death toll now over 1000) into Haiti, where it had not been seen for decades. Despite calls from public health experts like Paul Farmer to pin point the cause of the epidemic, and the popular anger directed at MINUSTAH, officials have shied away from such an investigation. As reported by the Associated Press, a World Health Organization official said today that "at some time we will do further investigation but it's not a priority right now."
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Despite Everything, Haitian Government Continues to Move Ahead With Flawed Elections Print
Tuesday, 16 November 2010 11:27
Despite the outbreak of cholera which has already claimed over 900 lives and spread to all 10 of Haiti’s provinces, despite new protests against authorities including the UN for possibly starting the outbreak (something which the UN continues to deny, while defensively claiming that the protests are “politically motivated”, “aimed at creating a climate of insecurity on the eve of the elections”), and despite public concerns from various Haitian politicians and parties, 45 members of the U.S. Congress, Senator Lugar, newspapers, and numerous NGO’s, the Haitian government still seems prepared to move ahead with November 28’s elections as scheduled.

As readers of numerous press reports and past blog posts know, controversy around the elections centers around the Provisional Electoral Council’s banning of some 14 political parties from the ballot, including the most popular, Fanmi Lavalas. Many Haitians and observers are also concerned about voter access in the wake of the January quake that displaced over a million people.

Now a new constituency of people with experience and knowledge of Haiti are weighing to voice opposition to what they see as rigged elections: returned Peace Corps volunteers (RPCV’s). As TruthOut describes:
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U.S., WHO Preparing for Cholera Epidemic in Haiti “For Years to Come” Print
Friday, 12 November 2010 18:09
Media reports say over 800 people have now died from cholera in Haiti, including at least 10 so far in Port-au-Prince, where some 278 cases have been detected. To deal with the worsening crisis, the UN is requesting some $164 million. The urgency of the situation was made clear by Elisabeth Byrs, a spokeswoman for the U.N. humanitarian office, who "told reporters in Geneva that the funds need to be provided quickly 'otherwise all our efforts can be outrun by the epidemic.'"

Yet, international agencies, and the U.S. government, already seem to be preparing for “an epidemic” that could last for years, killing thousands of people. As AP reported today:
The World Health Organization said Friday that the epidemic isn't likely to end soon.

"The projections of 200,000 cases over the next six to twelve months shows the amplitude of what could be expected," said WHO spokesman Gregory Hartl. He noted that the current fatality rate of 6.5 percent is far higher than it should be.

"Cholera, now that it is in Haiti, probably the bacteria will be there for a number of years to come," he added. "It will not go away."
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As Tomas Bears Down on Haiti, Authorities Hide “Usable Shelters” From Tent Camp Residents Print
Friday, 05 November 2010 16:57
As Hurricane Tomas approached Haiti, authorities sent mixed messages regarding disaster preparedness efforts, and displaced Haitians in camps were told to evacuate from what had previously been held up as a “model” camp. While U.S. State Department Spokesperson P. J. Crowley told reporters at a briefing yesterday that
In and around Port-au-Prince, obviously where the earthquake damage last January was most significant, there are 400 shelters available in and around Port-au-Prince and these shelters can accommodate close to 1 million people, and we’ve been encouraging the people of Haiti to move to those shelters if they’re able in anticipation of the storm. If there is a silver lining here, it’s a very small one.
AP reported that
Officials in Haiti maintain a list of thousands of usable shelters in the capital -- often schools and churches -- but it is not being released to the public, despite pressure from international aid groups who say the information could save lives.

“We don't want people to know where these buildings are because people are going to invade and we won't have enough places for the people who really need them," [Nadia Lochard, Haiti civil protection departmental coordinator for the area that includes Port-au-Prince] said.
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Haiti's Cholera Outbreak Whodunit Print
Friday, 05 November 2010 14:51
MINUSTAH is under increasing scrutiny as investigators consider whether Haiti’s cholera outbreak may have begun at a base in Mirebalais, on a tributary of the Artibonite River, used by a Nepalese MINUSTAH contingent. “The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that the strain of cholera that has killed at least 442 people the past three weeks matches strains found in South Asia,” AP reported Wednesday. Other experts are certain that the disease – which has not been experienced in Haiti for many decades – must have had a foreign origin:
Laurie Garrett, senior fellow for global health at the Council on Foreign Relations, said it is clear that the disease was imported to Haiti but that it is still not clear by whom or how. She said the epidemic will contain lessons for humanitarian relief work and disaster relief around the world.

"It has to be either peacekeepers or humanitarian relief workers, that's the bottom line," she said.
Some experts, such as Partners in Health founder, U.N. deputy special envoy, and award-winning doctor and humanitarian, Paul Farmer, urged continued investigation into the cause, despite UN reluctance. Farmer added that the decision not to investigate the diseases origins, “sounds like politics to me, not science.” AP also reports that
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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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