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Home Publications Blogs Haiti: Relief and Reconstruction Watch Members of Congress Want Answers on Lack of Results from U.S. Assistance Effort

Members of Congress Want Answers on Lack of Results from U.S. Assistance Effort

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Wednesday, 11 May 2011 15:44

An editorial in the New York Times today describes the findings of a UN report that shows the cholera outbreak “may have originated” at a MINUSTAH camp, and says “The fact that the disease is still spreading is a reminder of how much more help Haiti needs and the consequences of continued neglect.”

The editorial concludes:

Even as relief agencies are winding down their presence in Haiti, about 680,000 people are still living in camps and waiting for permanent shelter. Life in this setting is precarious, without adequate access to latrines and safe drinking water.

The United Nations’ overall appeal to respond to the epidemic, for $175 million, is 48 percent financed. Haiti’s continuing health emergency may have been overlooked in a crush of world events, but while the sick and dying are waiting for the world to respond, the disease is not.

The editorial was, unfortunately, all too well-timed, as the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) and the Pan-American Health Organization issued a new warning today of expected "(fresh) outbreaks of cholera in the West, including Port-au-Prince, South and Southeast Departments" accompanying heavy rains and possible flooding.

As we have recently noted, the ongoing cholera epidemic – which now seems to be entering a deadly resurgence, and could kill as many as 11,000 people this year, is closely linked to inadequate sanitation in the IDP camps. This is a theme also addressed in OCHA's warning today: "More water means more cholera and the sanitation in the country is still very weak," Reuters reported OCHA spokesperson Emmanuelle Schneider as saying.

Poor sanitation, a lack of suitable transitional housing, and the poorly funded cholera appeal are all markers of the international community’s failings to come through for the people of Haiti. Now, members of the U.S. Congress are demanding answers. Yesterday, the House passed, by voice vote, bill HR 1016, which, the Miami Herald reports, requires the Obama administration to send to Congress

a report to assess the overall progress of relief, recovery, and reconstruction of Haiti and requires the president to assess within six months the effectiveness of U.S. assistance to Haiti.

…according to the Rep. Frederica Wilson (D – FL), who added an amendment to the bill regarding deportees.

Also covering the bill’s passage, AP's Jim Abrams reported that:

The House on Tuesday asked the Obama administration to come up with an accounting of how humanitarian and reconstruction aid is being spent in Haiti, which has been slow to recover from the devastating earthquake of more than a year ago despite an outpouring of U.S. and international assistance.

"The unprecedented relief effort has given way to a sluggish, at best, reconstruction effort," said Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif., sponsor of the legislation calling on President Barack Obama to prepare a report within six months of the bill's enactment on the status of the aid campaign in Haiti, including the fight to combat an outbreak of cholera.

Some of the blame for the slow progress in Haiti has been put on the lack of coordination among foreign and Haiti relief groups, a destroyed infrastructure, absence of a viable Haitian government and corruption. But another factor, Lee said, is "the lack of urgency on the international community's part."

She said that at an international donors' conference in March 2010, 58 donors pledged $5.5 billion to support Haiti's recovery efforts but as of March this year, only 37% of these funds have been disbursed. "This is unacceptable."

Rep Maxine Waters (D – CA), a co-sponsor of the bill, highlighted the cholera epidemic in her statement on the bill’s passage:

Yet more than one year later, little if any of the money has reached the people of Haiti.  According to the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), 680,000 displaced people are still living in tent camps.  I visited some of these camps, and the conditions were appalling.  There is a critical need for food, clean water and sanitation facilities.  A deadly outbreak of cholera has already killed more than 4,800 people and infected more than 280,000 people.  The effects of the epidemic were exacerbated by the lack of clean water and sanitation infrastructure.

One thing the media coverage of HR 1016 failed to mention, however, is that some efforts for accountability have already been undertaken. The USAID Inspector General released an audit of USAID efforts to provide housing in Haiti nearly three weeks ago, finding significant problems. The audit, which we reported on last week, has yet to be mentioned in the press.

The Clinton-Bush Haiti Fund, meanwhile, announced that it is spending $2 million – to finish the construction of a luxury hotel. A press release states that the Oasis Hotel – perhaps a reference to the hotel’s intended function as an “oasis” from the poverty, rubble, and IDP camps that still characterize much of Port-au-Prince almost a year-and-a-half after the earthquake –

symbolizes Haiti ‘building back better,’ and sends a message to the world that Haiti is open for business,” Clinton Bush Haiti Fund’s Vice President of Programs and Investments, Paul Altidor said. “For Haiti’s recovery to be sustainable, it must attract investors, businesses and donors all of whom will need a business-class, seismically-safe hotel.”

The press release goes on to say that “in addition to sleeping rooms,” the Oasis – which is also being funded by the World Bank – “will have significant meeting space and other business amenities.” In November 2010, independent journalist Ansel Herz, writing in the New York Daily News, pointed out that the Clinton-Bush Haiti Fund had been soliciting donations directly for relief efforts. Herz wrote:

For example, the Clinton-Bush Haiti fund, inaugurated by President Obama with both former Presidents at his side, is still running Web advertisements that say "100% of donations go directly to relief efforts."

According to the Chronicle of Philanthropy, one year after the earthquake the Clinton-Bush Haiti Fund had spent just over 30 percent of the money raised.

Tags: aid distribution | disease | rainy season | sanitation | shelter | UN | usaid

 

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