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Haiti: Relief and Reconstruction

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USAID Takes Step Toward Increased Transparency but Limits Remain Print

Earlier this week, USAID posted financial information to the U.S. Foreign Assistance Dashboard “in more detail than ever before,” according to the Agency. USAID posted data on 53,000 “transactions” from across the world, and as USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah commented, it “is just the latest in a series of important changes we have made to advance President Obama’s unparalleled commitment to transparency and our own USAID Forward reform agenda.”

USAID’s Forward reform agenda calls for a remaking of the way USAID does business, from an increasing focus on monitoring and evaluation to changing the procurement policies which favor large American companies over local organizations.

The move was widely praised by individuals and groups advocating for greater transparency in foreign aid. Tom Murphy, writing in Humanosphere, called the data drop a “significant forward step for transparency at USAID,” while the D.C.-based Center for Global Development also cheered the move. David Hall-Matthews, the director of Publish What You Fund, told Devex, “This is a great step towards financial transparency … [the] next step is to link this information to performance and project data.”

The new data released by USAID is certainly a positive step, yet in the case of Haiti there is still a long way to go, both in terms of evaluating the effectiveness of U.S. aid as well as in measuring progress toward USAID Forward. The release also comes up far short of what the U.S. Congress is asking the State Department and USAID to provide regarding their work in Haiti.

In September of 2012, Shah stated that prior to the earthquake, less than 9 percent of aid was going to Haitian organizations, but that “we’re over the pre-earthquake level now.” The Miami Herald noted that Shah “was not more specific.” Increasing the use of local partners is a hallmark of the reform agenda, with the goal being to channel 30 percent of aid directly through local partners. However the data released this week paints a starkly different picture, with just over 2 percent of the $150 million in obligations going directly to Haitian groups. This is consistent with previous data analysis, which has shown the vast majority of aid going to groups located in the so-called Beltway around Washington D.C.

Though the new data does reveal the names of certain local organizations which weren’t publically available previously; it still shows USAID is far short of its goal of increasing direct partnerships in Haiti. On the positive side, as USAID intends to continually update the Foreign Assistance Dashboard with this transaction data, it will become significantly easier to track the changes in USAID’s procurement policies over time.

A key piece of the puzzle, which is still missing, is any information on subcontractors. In “Breaking Open the Black Box: Increasing Transparency and Accountability in Haiti,” we noted that only about 1 percent of contracts have reported subaward information, despite legislation requiring them to do so having already come into effect. This new data doesn’t afford any clarity on where the funds given to USAID’s implementing partners end up, key information for determining the local impact.

As Hall-Matthews points out, the critical next step is putting this transaction data in the context of specific projects, including expected benchmarks and actual results. Fortunately, at least in regards to Haiti, this is what the U.S. Congress is beginning to ask for.

Following a recent GAO report which noted significant delays, cost overruns and other problems with USAID’s work in Haiti, Rep. Eliot Engel (D-NY), the ranking Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee stated, “the Haitian people, as well as the US taxpayer, deserve better answers about our assistance than we have received to date.” The increased calls for further transparency come after Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA) recently reintroduced the Assessing Progress in Haiti Act, which, among other things, calls for the type of transactional data released by USAID, but also including the subprime level. The bill goes further, requiring a description of “goals and quantitative and qualitative indicators to evaluate the progress, or lack of achievement of such goals.” Recent language attached to the Senate Foreign Appropriations Bill includes similar requirements.

While the release of data by USAID is a welcome step toward transparency, it’s also a reminder of how much further there is to go. 

 
UN’s Own Independent Experts Now Say MINUSTAH Troops “Most Likely” Caused Cholera Epidemic Print

The number of experts casting doubt on the likelihood of the U.N. having been the source of Haiti’s deadly cholera epidemic is getting increasingly smaller. In what Foreign Policy’s Turtle Bay blogger Colum Lynch calls a “dramatic retreat,” a panel of independent U.N. experts who earlier had reported that the outbreak’s cause "was not the fault" of any "group or individual" and cited environmental factors – most notably Haiti’s lack of adequate sanitation – as being partly at fault, have now determined that U.N. troops from Nepal "most likely” were the cause.

Lynch goes on to write:

the four scientists -- Alejandro Cravioto, Daniele Lantagne, G. Balakrish Nair, Claudio F. Lanata -- who wrote the original report say that new evidence that has come to light in the past two years. While not conclusive, that evidence has strengthened the case against the United Nations.

The experts -- who no longer work for the United Nations -- also defended their initial findings, saying the "majority of evidence" at the time was "circumstantial." They added, that the "current strain Nepal strain of cholera was not available for molecular analysis" at the time.

The team's new report tracks the arrival in October 2010 of a contingent of Nepalese peacekeepers from Kathmandu to a U.N. encampment in the Haitian village of Mirebalais, which sits on the banks of the Artibonite River.

Lynch writes that

The report stated that the peacekeepers had constructed a series a "haphazard "system of pipes from the U.N. camps showers and toilets to the six fiberglass tanks. The "black water waste," which included human feces, was then transferred to an open, unfenced, septic pit, where children and animals frequently roamed. The system provided "significant potential" for contamination.

Read more...

 

 
One Thousand Days of Cholera : Almost 8,200 Killed and Still No UN Apology Print

A sad milestone has passed: it has now been 1,000 days since Haiti’s cholera outbreak began. Even though U.N. troops from Nepal have been linked to the outbreak through study after study, and even though U.N. Special Envoy for Haiti Bill Clinton admitted the troops were the “proximate cause” of the epidemic, the U.N. has yet to apologize. And its cholera eradication plan remains woefully underfunded, as we noted last week.

The Economist writes today of the U.N.’s continuance in dodging responsibility:

In a letter to members of the United States Congress who had urged the UN to take responsibility for the cholera outbreak, Ban Ki Moon, the UN's secretary-general, reiterated that the UN’s legal office has decided the claims are “not receivable” because of the UN’s privileges and immunities. The UN has offered little insight into its reasoning, except that consideration of the claims would involve a review of “political and policy matters”. That statement has only raised more questions, including whether “dumping disease-laden waste water in rivers is UN policy,” as a reporter asked at a press briefing last week.

Critics argue that the UN’s stance is tantamount to claiming impunity—that the UN, an organisation whose mission involves promoting the rule of law, is putting itself above it. The Haitians’ lawyers now plan to sue the UN in Haitian and United States courts. If a court decides to hear the claims, the case could have far-reaching implications for peacekeeping practices around the world.

The bacterium, meanwhile, has killed nearly 8,200 Haitians and made unwell close to 665,000, about 7% of the population. Waterborne diseases spread fast in Haiti because the country lacks proper sewerage. The rainy season is especially problematic, and although Tropical Storm Chantal did not make a direct hit on Haiti last week, the additional rain will probably cause cholera cases to spike.

Read more...

 

 
Groups Call UN Secretary General’s Response to Cholera Victims and Congress an “Outrage” Print

In a press release yesterday, lawyers from the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti (IJDH) and Bureau des Avocats Internationaux (BAI) called U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon’s response to 19 members of congress and victims of cholera “outrageous.”

In May, Rep. Maxine Waters and 18 of her colleagues sent a letter to Ban urging the U.N. to “take responsibility” for the introduction of cholera and to commit enough resources to eradicate the epidemic which has already killed over 8,200 Haitians. The letter followed the U.N.’s rejection of compensation claims from over 5,000 victims of cholera, represented by IJDH and BAI.

In responding to the 19 members of congress, Ban expresses his "concern about the devastating impact of the epidemic,” but fails to mention the U.N.’s responsibility for its introduction, as more and more scientific studies continue to show. Ban touts the U.N.’s work in responding to the epidemic, but also notes that funding is “far from sufficient” and that “the austere fiscal climate” could put financing for the $2.2 billion 10-year cholera elimination plan in jeopardy. The U.N. has chipped in just $23.5 million of its own funds for the plan, which continues to face a massive funding shortfall

In a separate letter from the Sectary General’s legal department to IJDH and BAI, the U.N. reiterates that the claims are “not receivable,” declining even to meet to discuss the matter further.

Yesterday, IJDH and BAI responded to the letters:

July 8, 2013, Port-au-Prince, Boston — Lawyers for victims of the cholera epidemic introduced to Haiti by poor United Nations (UN) sanitation practices in 2010 call two July 5 letters from the UN — one to members of the U.S. Congress from Secretary- General Ban Ki-Moon, the other from his legal department to the victims’ lawyers — “outrageous.” The letter to Congresswoman Maxine Waters and eighteen colleagues in the House of Representatives delivers an off-hand dismissal of serious legal questions raised by a letter from the Members, and provides a deeply disingenuous response to the Congressional concerns regarding a lack of progress by the UN in responding to its cholera epidemic. The letter to the lawyers states that the UN will not even consider the cholera victims’ claims — which are based on the UN allowing its waste disposal system to deteriorate to the extent that raw sewage was discharged directly into the top of Haiti’s largest river system — because doing so would include a “review of political and policy matters.” The UN provided no legal justification for such an extraordinary claim.

“The hypocrisy of the UN’s position is clear to the victims of UN cholera and everyone else in Haiti,” according to Attorney Mario Joseph of the Bureau des Avocats Internationaux, who is lead counsel for the 5000 victims and families who filed claims against the UN in November 2011. “The UN claims a mission of promoting the rule of law, and regularly lectures Haitian citizens and officials about the need to submit to the law. Yet the UN will not even explain why it is not subject to its own laws.”

Secretary-General Ban’s letter to Congress contains three claims of progress in fighting cholera that do not withstand scrutiny. First, the letter touts that a May 31 conference brought pledges in support of its Cholera Initiative to US$207.4 million, which is $31.1 million dollars less than the total pledge amount the Secretary-General announced for the initiative on December 11, 2012, and there are few details on how the plan will be fully- funded. Second, the letter points to the UN’s construction of wastewater treatment plants in Croix-des-Bouquets and Morne-à-Cabrit, but both plants have been repeatedly closed — Morne-à-Cabrit is currently closed — due to lack of international funding. Third, the letter claims that “the majority of [the] recommendations” made by a UN panel of experts to avoid future epidemics “have been adopted and are being implemented by the United Nations system” when a May 3 Report Card from Physicians for Haiti found that five of the seven recommendations were partially or completely unimplemented two years after the report’s release.

To read the entire release, click here.

 

 
USAID’s Lack of Expertise, Reliance on Contractors Puts Sustainability of Caracol in Doubt Print

Despite having “not constructed a port anywhere in the world since the 1970s”, USAID allocated $72 million dollars to build one, according to a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report released last week.  The port is meant to help support the Caracol Industrial Park (CIP) which was constructed with funding from the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) and $170 million in funding from the U.S. for related infrastructure.  The CIP has been held up as the flagship reconstruction project undertaken by the international community in Haiti. Even after putting aside criticisms of the location, types of jobs and the environmental impact of the CIP, the “success” of the entire project hinges on the new port. A prior study found that, “the CIP will only succeed if expanded, efficient port facilities are developed nearby.”

Despite a lack of experience in building ports, USAID decided to take on this critical project. However, over two years since it began the project is delayed, is over budget and its sustainability has been thrown into doubt. The GAO found that USAID “lacks staff with technical expertise in planning, construction, and oversight of a port,” and a ports engineer and advisor position has been empty for over two years. Additionally, the feasibility study for the port, contracted out by USAID, was delayed and “did not require the contractor to obtain all the information necessary to help select a port site.” As a result, while construction was set to begin in the spring of 2013, USAID “has no current projection for when construction of the port may begin or how long it will take because more studies are needed before the port site can be selected and the port designed,” reports the GAO.

Without any in-house expertise in port construction at USAID, the mission turned to private contractors. HRRW reported in January 2012 that MWH Americas was awarded a “$2.8 million contract to conduct a feasibility study for port infrastructure in northern Haiti.” The expected completion date was May 2012. MWH Americas had previously been criticized for their work in New Orleans, with the Times-Picayune reporting that MWH had “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.”

In Haiti, MWH quickly subcontracted out much of the work on the feasibility study. As HRRW reported in February, “[w]ithin two weeks of receiving the $2.8 million contract, MWH Americas turned around and gave out $1.45 million in subcontracts to four different firms, all headquartered in Washington DC or Virginia.” USAID staff told the GAO that the study was completed as required in May 2012, but that “multiple environmental issues not adequately addressed in the initial study needed additional examination.” MWH was awarded another $1 million and the completion date was extended.  Overall, the GAO reports that “the feasibility study was amended six times and extended by 9 months.”

The study was finally completed in February of 2013, after USAID consulted with other government agencies with experience in port construction. In the end, the amount awarded to MWH increased by $1.5 million. Yet even after all of this, the GAO found that “other studies strongly recommended” by other agencies “still need to be performed.” Without any expertise to oversee the contractors, the work done was inadequate, expensive and took far longer than anticipated, revealing the pitfalls of being “more of a contracting agency than an operational agency with the ability to deliver,” as Hillary Clinton described USAID during her Senate confirmation hearing in 2009. 

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