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Haiti: Relief and Reconstruction

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UN Human Rights Expert: Haiti and International Community Should “Throw Light” on Cause of Cholera Outbreak Print

According to reports on Twitter yesterday, the United Nations independent expert on the human rights situation in Haiti, Michel Forst has resigned for “personal reasons,” even though his mandate was supposed to continue for another year. In one of his last acts, Forst’s report for the U.N. Human Rights Council was presented yesterday, recommending to Haiti and the international community that they “throw light” on the cause of the cholera outbreak and “respond to any compensation requests”. The cholera outbreak has killed at least 8,050 and sickened over 650,000 more.

In his report Forst notes that the “question of what caused the outbreak of the epidemic in Haiti remains a burning issue that has attracted significant public controversy.” Over the last few years, a number of scientific reports have identified U.N. troops as the source of cholera’s introduction. Forst’s report, which was issued before the U.N.’s denial of victims’ compensation claims, notes “that silence is the worst response.”

The U.N. broke their “silence” on the issue by rejecting the victims’ claims, yet they have continued to stonewall on the issue of responsibility. While Forst “deplores” the exploitation of the issue by “certain organizations…for political ends,” he recognizes the “need that victims or their families have expressed to know the truth and perhaps even to be given compensation.”

In addition to recommending shedding light on the cause of the outbreak, Forst also calls on the international community and Haitian government to, “Secure international assistance to combat the spread of the cholera epidemic.” The claim against the U.N., in addition to seeking damages, also asks for the U.N. to fund the needed infrastructure to eradicate cholera from Haiti. A 10 year, $2.2 billion eradication plan has been announced, but thus far the funding for it remains in doubt. The plan for the first two years notes that “The total cost for implementation of the Action Plan for 2013–2015 is estimated to be US$443,723,100.” So far, little more than half of that - $238 million - has been secured, most of it from existing funds.

On Sunday, the New York Times editorial board added their voice to those critical of the U.N.’s immunity claim, noting that the U.N.’s “handling of cholera is looking like a fiasco.” The Times adds:

While it insists that it has no legal liability for cholera victims, it must not duck its moral obligations. That means mobilizing doctors and money to save lives now, and making sure the eradication plan gets all the money and support it needs.

Its record so far is dubious. A U.N. appeal last year for $24 million for cholera programs ended the year only 32 percent financed, and in December, the U.N. said it would contribute $23.5 million to the new 10-year plan — about 1 percent of what is needed.
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Is USAID Mainly Serving U.S. Interests? Print

An op-ed in Bloomberg Businessweek yesterday lays out the case for USAID reform, highlighting the case of contractors in Haiti (and citing this blog) as an example. The piece, by Charles Kenny of the Center for Global Development, also examines the politicized nature of USAID practices. Kenny writes:

When it comes to buying friends at the United Nations, or buying crops in the Midwest, or creating jobs around the Capital Beltway, the U.S. foreign aid system is a paragon of effectiveness. Take the goal of buying friends. Eric Werker, a Harvard Business School associate professor, and Ilyana Kuziemko, now a Columbia Business School associate professor and Harvard Ph.D., estimated in a 2006 Harvard paper that countries rotating onto the UN Security Council were likely to see their U.S. aid increase by 59 percent. The aid then fell as the countries finished their terms. In a 1999 study, Illinois State University’s T.Y. Wang found that U.S. aid successfully affects UN voting patterns on issues vital to America’s national interests.

It is notable that the fifth largest USAID vendor is the government of Pakistan, currently a U.N. Security Council member. (The top four vendors – as September 30, 2012 – were the World Bank, the U.N. World Food Program, Chemonics (whose work in Haiti we have examined on this blog), and John Snow, Inc.)

Kenny also describes problems with USAID’s food assistance to developing nations:

The U.S. food aid program, for instance, purchases about $1 billion worth of American crops a year. It spends roughly an additional $1 billion transporting the crops overseas, in most cases using U.S.-flagged ships.

Economics professors Nathan Nunn of Harvard and Nancy Qian of Yale demonstrated in a 2010 paper that what determines the size of U.S. food aid shipments isn’t recipient need, but the size of the U.S. crop. And about half the funding is used on shipping. That same money could buy supplies in local markets and help farmers in developing countries.

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U.N. Agency Cites “Grave Concern” Following Recent Arsons and Forced Evictions at IDP Camps Print

The U.N. Office of the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) issued a press statement at the end of last week “express[ing] the grave concern of the humanitarian community in country regarding the recent incidents of forced evictions of internally displaced persons (IDPs) from camps in Port-au-Prince.”

The OCHA release follows a visit to the Acra 2 IDP camp in Port-au-Prince which “followed evictions of about 1,000 displaced families in camps Acra 1 and 2 (Petionville) and Gaston Margron (Carrefour) in metropolitan Port-au-Prince on 17 February 2013.”

The OCHA press statement notes:

Today, a little less than 350,000 displaced people live in 450 camps, most of them unable to find a return solution and without access to appropriate services. The humanitarian community estimates that more than 66,000 internally displaced persons (in 150 camps) have been victims of forced evictions since July 2010. More than 73,000 people living in 87 camps (20 per cent of the total displaced population) are facing threats of eviction in 2013. A forced eviction is the permanent or temporary removal against their will of individuals, families or communities from the homes or land they occupy, without the provision of access to appropriate forms of legal or other protection.

The statement was an improvement over past OCHA mischaracterizations of some forced eviction cases as “voluntary returns.”

According to the release, the United Nations Humanitarian Coordinator Ross Mountain “met with the Minister of Human Rights and the Fight against Extreme Poverty, Mrs. Rose Anne Auguste to discuss the issue of forced evictions in IDP camps.” Ms. Auguste

stated that a judicial inquiry was ongoing and security presence was being strengthened around camps at risk. She pointed out that President Martelly had on several occasions condemned forced evictions and that the Government-designed 16/6 programme for camp closure remains the way forward. The 16/6 project supports the return and resettlement of displaced persons living in camps, as well as the rehabilitation of the neighborhoods affected by displacement.

But as we have previously noted, the Martelly administration’s “16/6” program has failed to assist the majority of Haiti’s IDP’s. We noted in October that after one year, only some 44,000 people had been resettled through the program, significantly less than had been forcibly evicted, and just 60 of the remaining IDP sites were planned to benefit from return programs similar to 16/6. As we have also noted, there has been no systematic tracking of what has happened to people leaving the camps, and there is a need to examine what will happen to former camp residents once the rental subsidies they receive under the 16/6 program end.

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Chávez in Haiti, a Clear Alternative to the “International Community” Print

Last week, after the passing of Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez, Haiti declared three days of national mourning. President Martelly stated that Chávez was a “great friend of Haiti who never missed an opportunity to express his solidarity with the Haitian people in their most difficult times.” It’s not the first time Martelly had such kind words for the Venezuelan president. Last year, Martelly told the press that it was Venezuelan aid that was “the most important in Haiti right now in terms of impact, direct impact." In February, Martelly attended the 11th summit of the Bolivarian Alliance for the People of Our Americas, a regional political organization spearheaded by Venezuela, and announced that Haiti was debating joining the group as a full member. While most of the coverage around Chávez’s legacy in Haiti and the greater Caribbean has focused on the Petrocaribe initiative, which provides subsidized fuel to the region, Chávez developed close ties to the Haitian people well before Petrocaribe. Following the earthquake of 2010, Chávez, in cancelling Haiti’s debt to Venezuela, declared, “Haiti has no debt with Venezuela -- on the contrary, it is Venezuela that has a historic debt with Haiti." As Chávez was quick to point out, it was Haiti that provided a vital safe-haven for Latin American independence hero Símon Bolívar before he went on to liberate much of South America from Spanish rule.

Opposition to 2004 Coup

In 2004, following the U.S.-backed coup against Jean-Bertrand Aristide, Chávez was one of only a few voices in the region condemning what had taken place and refusing to recognize the coup government. Chávez told the Organization of American States that, “The President of Haiti is called Jean-Bertrand Aristide, and he was elected by the people." He formally extended an offer of asylum to Aristide in March of 2004. Perhaps the solidarity was in part due to the fact that just two years previously Chávez had been temporarily ousted in a coup, and similar actors were involved in both the Venezuelan and Haitian coups. As detailed in a 2004 investigation by Mother Jones, the International Republican Institute was active in both organizing and training those involved in the 2004 coup in Haiti as well as opposition factions before the 2002 coup in Venezuela, and its point man in Haiti at the time – Stanley Lucas, now an advisor to Martelly – had been in Venezuela some seven times prior to the coup.  Senior Bush administration officials Roger Noriega and Otto Reich also actively supported both the Venezuelan and Haitian coups.

One with the People

In 2007, President Chávez traveled to Haiti; Brian Concannon and Mario Joseph described the scene at the time:

Venezuela’s President Hugo Chávez found a hero’s welcome when he visited Haiti on March 12. People from Port-au-Prince’s poor neighborhoods lined the streets of the capitol to cheer, to chant, to dance and sing, with the infectious enthusiasm of Haitian celebrations. President Chávez returned the affection. He jumped from his motorcade and joined the party, marching, even running with the crowd. At the National Palace, Mr. Chávez climbed up on the perimeter fence to shake and slap hands, like he had just scored a World Cup goal. He publicly thanked the Haitian people for their hospitality and enthusiasm, and for their historic support for liberty in the world.

President Chávez and the Haitian people hit it off so well for reasons of principle and of practice. Haitians consider Chávez a leader in the global fight against the global power inequalities that keep people in Haiti, Venezuela and the rest of Latin America poor, hungry and uneducated. They see him standing up to the most powerful leader in today’s world- President Bush (whose name was frequently invoked that day, not charitably) – and to the World Bank and other powerbrokers. Even better, unlike their President Aristide (whose name was frequently, and charitably, invoked), Chávez keeps getting away with standing up to the powerful.

Petrocaribe

Of course, while the solidarity between Chávez and the Haitian people has long existed, the more recent direct impact of this solidarity has been through the Petrocaribe initiative. The agreement, which was nearly blocked by the U.S. government and major oil companies, has provided Haiti with 23.6 million barrels of oil since 2008. Through the agreement Venezuela finances part of Haiti’s fuel import bill, allowing for a portion to be paid up front and the remainder to be used as a loan with a long maturity and low rates. Since the program’s inception, Venezuela has provided oil worth nearly $2.5 billion. Haiti has paid back over $1 billion of that and although Venezuela cancelled nearly $400 million in debt after the earthquake, Haiti retains a debt of roughly $950 million to Venezuela.  Most of this will be paid back over a period of 25 years at a 1 percent interest rate. In the meantime, there is a two-year grace period. The IMF estimated fiscal year 2012/2013 external debt payments to be 0.1 percent of GDP, or less than 0.5 percent of government expenditure. 

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As Cholera Continues to Spread, Some Turn to Composting to Help Fight it Print

As of March 4, 2013, cholera has killed 8,057 Haitians and infected nearly 650,000 more. Despite some claims of progress, the epidemic, which was introduced by United Nations troops, has been significantly worse in 2013 than during the same period the year before. From January 1, 145 cholera victims have officially been reported dead, compared to just 22 last year. Worse, this occurred during the dry season, when cases generally taper off. The latest bulletin from the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) noted that compared to February 2012, this year “the Centre department has seen an increase of 67 per cent during this period, while the Artibonite and Ouest departments have seen increases of 38 per cent and 35 per cent respectively.”

Three weeks ago the U.N., after 15 months of dodging and evading, formally rejected a claim brought on behalf of over 6,000 cholera victims for damages. The claimants had also demanded the U.N. provide funding for the new infrastructure needed for the clean water and sanitation that would eradicate the epidemic. A new, 10-year, cholera eradication plan was announced less than a week later. The ambitious plan, if carried out, would provide lifesaving infrastructure, which previously had been blocked due to political pressure from the United States. Yet, while the plan was welcomed as a positive step forward, there is little funding available for its implementation. The U.N., for its part, committed just $23 million, a far cry from the $2.2 billion needed.

While the infrastructure which is needed may be a long way off, some groups are already looking at new solutions to combatting the cholera epidemic and creating a more sustainable country in the process. Isabeau Doucet reports for The Guardian:

"If we can take all the poop that's making people sick right now," said Dr Sasha Kramer as she stuck a thermometer into a large mound of faecal waste in the middle of Troutier, Port-au-Prince's city dump, "and turn it into this really valuable resource that could be used for reforestation or for increased agricultural production, then you really take a problem and turn it into a solution."

Every week, Soil (Sustainable Organic Integrated Livelihoods) collects the human waste from 56 dry toilets built in camps for displaced earthquake victims, and mixes it with chips of sugar cane bagasse, a byproduct of local rum production.

And it’s not just NGOs which are taking part:

The Haitian government recently built several sewage treatment plants that process traditional pit latrine waste in open-air stabilisation ponds. It and sewage treatment companies such as Jedco are experimenting with the alchemy of transforming a potentially deadly substance into a rich and much-needed fertiliser.

In order to treat human waste safely and kill pathogens, the waste must sit for at least seven days at 50C, according to the World Health Organisation. After six to nine months, the potentially toxic waste is transformed, with low carbon emissions, into fertile soil, simultaneously helping to fight cholera and deforestation, and revive food production.

The government has opened two sewage treatment plants on the outskirts of Port-au-Prince and there are a number planned for other major cities in the coming years. The plants are the first ever in Haiti’s history. SOIL is exploring ways to transform their composting process to be able to handle waste from pit latrines, which are currently emptied at the government sewage plants, and not just the dry toilets that they distribute.

In addition to composting, the sewage treatment plants hope to be able to use the water they are treating for irrigation. Together, the reuse of waste could have a large impact on sustainability. Doucet continues:

In Haiti's northern region of Cap Haïtien, where Soil built its first toilets in 2006, there is now a farm and the compost is used to grow peanuts and fight malnutrition. Collaborating with farmers and Scouts, Soil aims to fight Haiti's extreme deforestation – it has only 2% forest cover – by planting 10,000 mango, cashew, orange, lemon and other indigenous fruit trees.

Please see below for a series of pictures from the SOIL composting site in Port-au-Prince and from the Haitian government’s two new sewage treatment plants.

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