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Haiti: Relief and Reconstruction

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New Tools for Assessing Progress in Haiti Reconstruction and Development Print

Last July, in a stirring and rare demonstration of bipartisanship, the U.S. House and the Senate passed a bill dedicated to increasing transparency and accountability around the billions of dollars of U.S. government funds allocated to assistance to Haiti since the January 2010 earthquake.  On August 8, President Obama signed the Assessing Progress in Haiti Act and the clock began ticking down for the State Department to produce the first of several comprehensive reports detailing the government’s assistance efforts, as mandated by the new law.

Assessing Progress instructed the State Department to complete a first report by the end of 2014.  While it’s not clear that that deadline was met, the Department’s Office of the Haiti Special Coordinator posted their report on their web page by the time the fifth anniversary of Haiti’s earthquake rolled around on January 12.

The reporting requirements outlined in Assessing Progress are far-reaching and fairly concrete.  It’s therefore not surprising that the report is truly massive in size, consisting of a general report on the results of U.S. assistance to Haiti and 17 attachments, many of which are PDFs of spreadsheets containing detailed quantitative and qualitative information about U.S. aid programs.

The question is: Is all of this information useful to those seeking an answer to the oft-repeated question, “Where did the money go?”  The answer is undoubtedly yes, but it doesn’t take more than a rapid survey of the report to see that the information provided is, in many cases, incomplete.  Furthermore, there are instances where State’s reporting may formally comply with the letter of the law, but not with its clear intent of providing lawmakers and the public with a better idea of the concrete results of U.S. Haiti assistance.

We’re not going to attempt a thorough analysis of this report at this time.  A rigorous and complete assessment requires considerable input from stakeholders, in particular those on the ground in Haiti.  For now we’ll share a few general observations regarding the report’s contents, highlighting what we see as the good, the bad and the murky.

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Security Council Arrives in Haiti as New Electoral Commission is Announced Print

A United Nations Security Council delegation is set to arrive in Haiti beginning a three-day visit to discuss the ongoing political crisis in the country. Thousands of protesters, who have taken to the streets of the capital to call for the president’s resignation, planned to go to the airport to greet the visiting members.  On Monday, Haiti’s Foreign Minister, Duly Brutus addressed the Security Council in New York, asking for “the Security Council as well as all of our partners in the international community to continue to back the government” of President Martelly.

But the international community’s overt support for Martelly has already had a negative impact on the political crisis, as Jacqueline Charles of the Miami Herald reported earlier this week:  

The U.S. had hoped a last-minute deal brokered between Martelly and several opposition political parties would have allowed for lawmakers’ terms to be extended for up to four months, and an electoral law to be passed. But parliament dissolved before either measures could be voted after pro and anti-Martelly senators failed to show up to provide the necessary 16 member quorum.

Biden commended Martelly’s “efforts to reach a negotiated agreement,” while recognizing that he had “made several important concessions in order to reach consensus, and expressed disappointment that Haiti’s Parliament did not pass an electoral law before lapsing on January 12,” said the statement from the White House.

Hours before the signing of the deal, the U.S. Embassy issued a press release stating U.S. support for Martelly should he have to rule by decree. Many believed that statement, and later U.S. Ambassador Pamela White’s appearance in the parliament chambers on the night of the aborted vote, were deal changers that helped encourage senators not to show up. Both were widely condemned as un-welcomed interference in Haitian domestic politics.

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It’s Been Five Years, and All the Money Raised is Gone: What did the Red Cross Accomplish in Haiti? Print

(Updated January 20, 2015, 12:10 p.m. to include a response from the American Red Cross - see below.)

Two years ago, we noted that the American Red Cross’ (ARC) annual update on its response to the Haiti earthquake raised a number of questions, and seemed to provide less detailed information than earlier updates that the ARC had released. This year is little different: The ARC’s five-year update [PDF] is big on saying how many people have been “helped,” “reached” or are “benefiting” due to ARC activities, but few details are offered to explain exactly what this means. Since the ARC is far and away the top U.S. recipient [PDF] of funds for disaster response, and notably served as the go-to organization for millions of Americans who wanted to donate in the aftermath of the earthquake, transparency from the Red Cross is especially warranted.

The Red Cross’ update is overwhelmingly glowing and positive, and certainly the organization has had an impact through helping to build or repair hospitals and waste-water treatment facilities, among other concrete examples. While it may not be surprising for an organization to tout its achievements while downplaying (or ignoring) its shortcomings, considering past questions about its spending and documented problems with some of the ARC’s post-earthquake work in Haiti, an acknowledgment, at least, of “lessons learned” might not be out of place. Yet the ARC response to past criticism of its Haiti response has often been strongly defensive.

In her introductory note, ARC President and CEO Gail McGovern writes that the organization has or is now spending all of the donations it has received for the Haiti earthquake response: “We have spent or made commitments to spend all $488 million of these donations for the Haiti earthquake for projects and programs impacting more than 4.5 million Haitians.” What should be the final breakdown, then, of the ARC’s original earthquake response spending is only slightly different than the percentages the ARC reported two years ago [PDF]: 35 percent for shelter, 15 percent for health (excluding cholera), 14 percent for emergency relief, 11 percent for disaster preparedness, 10 percent for livelihoods, and 5 percent for cholera (which, as we have noted, continues to be a major health emergency in Haiti, killing hundreds of people last year). Yet how exactly these funds have been used, and how effective they have been, is unclear from the update. “4.2 million people benefiting from hygiene promotion activities,” and “3.5 million people benefiting from cholera prevention and outbreak response services” are just two examples of big numbers that the ARC mentions in the report, but “benefiting” is undefined. Further, there is little information provided as to whether these millions of people continue to benefit, whether the ARC’s investments are sustainable, and how the Haitian beneficiaries of joint projects the ARC has engaged in with other groups are counted (and whether each organization working in collaboration on such projects also counts each “beneficiary” its respective impact assessments).

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Haiti by the Numbers, Five Years Later Print

En français

 

(Note: A number of the links below are for PDF or Excel files.)

Number of people killed in the earthquake in 2010: over 217,300

Minimum number of Haitians killed by the U.N.–caused cholera epidemic: 8,774

Number of years it took after the introduction of cholera for the international community to hold a donor conference to raise funds for the cholera response: 4

Amount pledged for cholera eradication: $50 million

Amount needed: $2.2 billion

Number of years it would take to fully fund the cholera-eradication plan at current disbursement rate: 40

Number of Haitians who died from cholera through the first 8 months of 2014: 55

Number who have died since, coinciding with the start of the rainy season: 188

Number of new cholera cases in 2014, through August: 9,700

Projected number of cholera cases for all of 2014, after the United Nations reduced their estimate in September 2014: 15,000

Minimum number of new cholera cases since that announcement: 14,000 (through December 8)

Number of U.N. lawyers who were present during oral arguments in a federal court in New York to argue in favor of the U.N.’s immunity: 0

Number of members of the U.S. Congress who wrote to Secretary General Ban Ki-moon last month urging the U.N. to respond justly to cholera claims: 77

Humanitarian funding appeal for 2014, by the United Nations: $157 million

Percent of appeal covered, as of December 30, 2014: 54 percent

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John Conyers and 76 Other Members of Congress Urge UN to Provide Settlement Mechanism for Cholera Victims and their Families Print

On October 23 Haiti’s cholera victims finally had their first court hearing regarding their suit against the UN.  However, no one from the UN showed up.  Since 2011, representatives of the victims have sought to obtain reparations from the UN given the overwhelming evidence that troops from the United Nations’ Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) were responsible for bringing cholera to the island.  As the UN has refused to receive the victims’ claims, human rights lawyers at the Haiti-based Bureau des Avocats Internationaux and U.S.-based Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti, filed a lawsuit in U.S. courts.  After months of deliberations, the Southern Federal District Court of New York held a hearing on the question of whether the UN could enjoy immunity from prosecution when it had violated its treaty obligations to submit to alternative dispute resolution mechanisms.  While the victims’ legal representatives argued against UN immunity vis-à-vis the cholera claims, no UN representative appeared before the court and, instead, the U.S. Attorney General’s office presented arguments in defense of the UN.  The court’s decision on the immunity question is still pending.

Now, 77 members of the U.S. House of Representatives, led by senior Democrat John Conyers, have weighed in with a letter urging UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon “to create a fair process to adjudicate the claims made by cholera victims that allows for the remediation of the affected communities.”

As the letter points out, thousands of Haitians have died since the cholera epidemic began in October 2010 – at least 8,774 [PDF] according to Haiti’s health ministry – and over 700,000 Haitians have become infected, putting a terrible burden on a country with no clean water infrastructure to speak of and few health professionals to help prevent and abate the epidemic. 

The letter lays out the reasons why the UN should be legally obliged to provide a settlement mechanism for the victims:

The Convention on the Privileges and Immunities of the United Nations (CPIUN) mandates that the UN “provide for appropriate modes of settlement” of private law claims. The Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) the UN signed with the Government of Haiti expands on this obligation by specifying that claims are to be heard and settled by a standing commission. The UN has formally recognized the importance of access to justice in its own Basic Principles and Guidelines on the Right to a Remedy for Victims of Violations of International Human Rights Law and Serious Violations of International Humanitarian Law.

This isn’t the first time that Conyers and other members of Congress have publicly pressed the UN to do much more to address Haiti’s deadly cholera epidemic.  In July of 2012, Conyers and 103 other House representatives signed a letter calling for the UN to “act decisively” to control the epidemic.  This and other international pressure no doubt contributed to Ban Ki-moon eventually launching, with much fanfare, a “new initiative” to help fund a $2.2 billion cholera elimination plan for Haiti, involving the development of extensive drinking water and sanitation systems.  At the time, the Secretary-General proudly announced that $215 million of existing international donations had been earmarked for the plan but also noted that $500 million would be needed over the following two years to keep the plan advancing according to schedule.

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