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Haiti: Relief and Reconstruction

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Bill Clinton Says MINUSTAH Soldier Introduced Cholera to Haiti Print

While the UN has long denied responsibility for introducing cholera to Haiti, the UN Special Envoy to Haiti Bill Clinton acknowledged today that a MINUSTAH soldier introduced the deadly bacteria that has killed over 7,000 and sickened more than half a million. The statement by Clinton is the first by a UN official to acknowledge UN responsibility.

Independent journalist Ansel Herz reported via Twitter this afternoon that at a press conference in Mirebalais, Haiti, Bill Clinton acknowledged “that a UN peacekeeping soldier brought cholera to Haiti by accident.” Herz has just posted the audio recording of Clinton’s comments, during which he responds to a question from Herz by stating:

I don’t know that the person who introduced cholera into Haiti, the UN peacekeeping soldier from South Asia was aware that he was carrying the virus. [Ed. Note: cholera is not a virus, but bacteria].

It was the proximate cause of cholera, that is, he was carrying the cholera strain; it came from his waste stream into the waterways of Haiti and into the bodies of Haitians.

Clinton goes on to repeat the line from the UN investigation, which shifts blame off the UN and onto Haiti for not having adequate water and sanitation infrastructure. Clinton states that, “what really caused it is that you don’t have a sanitation system, you don’t have a comprehensive water system…”

This explanation, however neglects to account for the fact that as the UN’s own investigation found, “sanitation conditions at the Mirebalais MINUSTAH camp were not sufficient to prevent fecal contamination of the Meye Tributary System of the Artibonite River.” Had the UN adequately disposed of their waste, the outbreak would never have begun. Additionally, the UN failed to screen troops prior to their deployment from a cholera endemic region.

Since the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti (IJDH)  and Bureau des Avocats Internationaux (BAI) filed a claim on behalf of 5,000 cholera victims in November, the UN has not responded and repeatedly denied their responsibility. The statement today marks an important shift from these repeated denials.

This acknowledgement of responsibility comes on the heels of statements made by U.S. Permanent Representative to the UN Susan Rice, which IJDH and BAI applauded in a press release earlier this week:

In a statement to the United Nations (UN) Security Council last week, U.S. Permanent Representative Susan Rice stressed the importance of UN accountability for its role in bringing cholera to Haiti, calling on the UN to “redouble its efforts to prevent any further incidents of this kind and to ensure that those responsible are held accountable.”

 

With Bill Clinton’s comments today, perhaps the UN will finally begin taking responsibility for the deadly epidemic and heed calls for financial compensation to victims and investment in critical life-saving infrastructure.
 
Evaluation of Donor Response to Haiti Earthquake Shows "Building Back Better" Nothing But a Slogan Print

For the previous five years an independent organization, DARA, has been publishing the Humanitarian Response Index (HRI). The DARA website explains the HRI as “the world’s only independent tool for measuring the individual performance and commitment of government donors to apply the principles of Good Humanitarian Donorship which they agreed to in 2003.” (To learn more about the HRI, see the DARA website).

Unlike other independent evaluations which have focused as much on NGO behavior as donors, the 2011 HRI Haiti report focuses almost exclusively on the donor side of the equation. The report finds a host of missed opportunities, skewed priorities, a lack of coordination and perhaps most importantly, a shortage of communication with both the Haitian government and Haitian people. The result, as the report concludes, is that:

The international community cannot claim that it has helped Haiti build back better, and missed an opportunity to redress years of neglect and inattention to the issue of building capacity, resilience and strengthening preparedness for future crises.

Coordination and Local Input

While the HRI report found that coordination among international actors was relatively good, this “came at the price of better engagement and ownership of local actors.” A problem that has been mentioned numerous times before was the holding of meetings at the UN Logistics base, which the report notes “excluded local NGOs: there was no mechanism by which the large number of Haitian NGOs could be identified or contacted, and their participation was physically limited by making their entry difficult to the logistics base and by convening cluster meetings in English.”

One interviewee told the report’s authors:

“Donors having meetings in a military base in a humanitarian crisis makes no sense and the fact that they still do it one year and a half later is even worse. It hampers participation. Haitians are totally excluded. Many people can’t enter because there are strict controls at the entrance. As Haitians it’s harder for them to get through.”

The report suggests that rather than housing UN operations on a military base, “UN agencies and clusters should have been physically based within government ministries, to expedite their re-building and support their efforts.”

Many organizations also criticized donors for being “inflexible in allowing Haitian NGOs to be subgrantees.” One exception to this was Spain, which required that NGOs partner with local organizations. Canada also set some money aside specifically to build capacity of local NGOs. The U.S. government on the other hand was “criticized…for being confusing, non-transparent and inward-looking, despite their large presence."

As an interviewee explained:

USAID has had a complete bunker mentality. It’s impossible to have any continuity in conversations with them. OFDA had platoons of consultants rotating in and out.
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As Relocation of Champ de Mars Begins, Criticism Over Lack of Adequate Housing Plan Mounts Print

An important article this week from William Booth of the Washington Post took an in-depth look at the government and international community’s efforts to clear some of most high profile of the remaining 707 IDP camps in and around Port-au-Prince. The article focused on the Champ de Mars, home to some 17,000 people, one of the largest remaining IDP camps, and also the most visible – situated just a block from the presidential palace downtown. In a program coordinated by the International Organization for Migration (IOM), families in the camp will be given $500 rental subsidies for one year. Booth continues:

“We’re not talking about a house. We’re talking about renting a room, space on the floor, with a roof, access to water, a communal kitchen, maybe a toilet,” Fitzgerald said. As program coordinator for the International Organization for Migration, he is working alongside the Haitian government to clear the Champ de Mars camp, with a $20 million grant from the Canadian government.

Booth also notes that the program, even if successful, will only address a small part of the problem:

But the darker reality is this: The Haitian government is spending $30 million to empty six camps. There are 701 more. The Champ de Mars project will cost $20 million for 20,000 people. There would still be close to half a million displaced persons in camps. No country, no group of donor nations, no NGO is considering donating $500 million to Haiti to empty the camps.

The math does not work.

Anastasia Maloney, reporting for AlertNet, explains the details of how the beneficiaries are chosen, noting that each day long lines form to get on buses provided by the IOM to take camp residents into neighborhoods looking for accommodations:

The office can only handle around 50 cases a day, and tensions are simmering. Several people vent their frustrations at IOM officials.

“I’ve been coming here every day, every day, for weeks and I haven’t got anywhere,” said one man, clutching his paperwork.

Missed appointments with landlords can mean more weeks of waiting. Often camp residents find accommodation but it turns out to be unsafe, for example, houses built in areas at risk from flooding and landslides.

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Did the Interim Haiti Recovery Commission Put Public Education on the Shelf? Print

A new report from Haiti Grassroots Watch examines the State University of Haiti (UEH), more than a year after the university first came to the Interim Haiti Recovery Commission (IHRC) with a proposal for rebuilding following the January 2010 earthquake. The report describes how the IHRC’s mandate ended before it ever got around to doing anything for the university – one of Haiti’s most important institutions of public education, concluding:

The fact that the Haitian government and its “friends” have not financed the reconstruction – and a sufficient operating budget – of the oldest and most important institution of higher learning in then country represents more than a “peril” to Haiti’s future.

The university’s 11 “units of teaching and research” are spread throughout Port-au-Prince, a spatial decentralization that, in a city where traffic is as notoriously difficult as it is in Haiti’s capital presents a significant logistical challenge to communication and organization by students and faculty across schools. Following the earthquake, in which many university buildings were destroyed and others damaged, and 50 faculty and 380 students killed or disappeared, centralization became a key component of the University’s reconstruction plan, which it brought to the IHRC.

The report details how

Over one year ago, the Rectorate submitted a proposal to the Interim Haiti Recovery Commission (IHRC), the institution charged with approving and coordinating all reconstruction projects.

“Right in its first extraordinary meeting, on Feb. 5, 2010, the University Council decided to face the reconstruction problem… and we voted a resolution asking the Executive Council to take all measures deemed necessary to assure all the University faculties could be rehoused together,” according to the project, which HGW obtained.

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New Survey Shows that Residents of Port-au-Prince Want MINUSTAH to Leave and Compensate Victims of Cholera Print

On February 13, a high-level delegation from the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) arrived in Haiti to review UN activities there, in particular the work carried out by the Stabilization Mission in Haiti, or MINUSTAH.   The UN Secretary General, the U.S. government and other international actors have consistently sought to paint the military mission in a positive light, praising, in the words of U.S. Ambassador to the UN Susan Rice, its “critical role in improving stability and governance in Haiti and in creating the conditions for security, reconstruction and development.” 

But this position has become increasingly untenable, as an increasing number of reports of alleged abuses by UN troops, including various incidents of rape and violent attacks against unarmed Haitians, have come to light.  UN soldiers are also widely considered to be responsible for introducing cholera to Haiti, an epidemic that has killed over 7000 people and infected over half a million, according to conservative estimates. 

A newly published survey on popular perceptions of MINUSTAH in Port-au-Prince confirms that MINUSTAH is viewed negatively by residents of the nation’s capital.  The survey team, under the leadership of CUNY anthropologist Dr. Mark Schuller, interviewed members of 800 households in various neighborhoods of the city, from both low and mixed income areas.  

Only 24.2% of respondents considered that MINUSTAH’s presence was “a good thing” and a majority indicated that, for the most part, they didn’t feel more secure when in close proximity to a U.N. soldier.  To the question “when should MINUSTAH leave the country?”, 72.2% of those who expressed an opinion thought that MINUSTAH should leave either now, within six months or within a year.  Only 5.9% stated that they thought MINUSTAH should not leave.

Another question in the survey asked whether respondents believed that MINUSTAH owes some form of restitution to cholera victims.  (As we’ve discussed before, numerous independent scientific studies have shown that MINUSTAH troops from Nepal are very likely responsible for introducing a devastating cholera epidemic to Haiti in October of 2010.) An overwhelming 74.5% of those surveyed considered that MINUSTAH should offer compensation, while only 4.9% opposed the idea (the rest of those surveyed said they didn’t know).  As Schuller noted in the report:

This survey question and the responses that it generated raise the larger issue of MINUSTAH’s accountability before the law and the people of Haiti. Haitians and human rights organizations have expressed their concern over the fact that MINUSTAH operates in Haiti with very little legal accountability for their criminal conduct.  Under a Status of Forces Agreement (or SOFA) that the Haitian government signed with the UN, MINUSTAH troops enjoy an almost blanket waiver of liability in Haitian courts for any crimes they commit in Haiti. Both military and civil members enjoy immunity for all acts performed in their official capacity.  MINUSTAH military members who commit a crime outside of “their official capacity” are only subject to their home country’s jurisdiction. Civilian members can only be prosecuted if the UN agrees. Haitians may not seek damages for civil liability in a Haitian court unless the UN certifies that the charges are unrelated to the member’s official duties.
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