Fifty-three Members of Congress Urge Obama Administration to Address “Appalling Conditions” in Haiti’s IDP Camps

Children eating, photo Swoan Parker.jpg

Wednesday, 20 April 2011. (Article by CEPR)

Today, fifty-three Democratic members of Congress sent a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton underscoring the gross inadequacy of relief efforts of USAID, International Organization of Migration (IOM) and other aid organizations in Haiti’s camps for the internally displaced (IDPs).

Co-sponsored by Representatives Yvette Clarke (NY), Donald Payne (NJ) and Frederica Wilson (FL), the letter urges the administration to focus its attention on the deteriorating situation in the camps, in particular the lack of water, sanitation and other basic services; the increase in gender-based violence; and the frequent occurrence of forced evictions of camp residents.

The letter comes in the wake of the latest Humanitarian Bulletin ( published by the United Nation’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), which provides an alarming overview of the IDP situation. According to the report, only 19% of the US$175 million funding requirement for basic water and sanitation needs of “transitional shelter and spontaneous camp residents” have been met by donors. This situation, the bulletin states, will have “direct consequences on the health situation of vulnerable populations” and puts individuals in densely populated urban areas at “heightened risk of cholera and water-borne disease contamination,” particularly with the imminent onset of Haiti’s rainy season.

The congressional letter also notes the “strong chance” of a new “spike in cholera” if nothing is done to improve IDP camp conditions quickly. It recommends that greater “accountability and transparency be brought to the task of IDP assistance”, in particular with regard to the efforts of USAID and IOM. It also calls on the Obama Administration to require contracting NGOs to provide complete coverage of IDP camps (presently a majority of camps are not covered) and to consult and coordinate directly with IDP communities.

Signers include a number of House leaders: James Clyburn (SC), Assistant Minority Leader of the House; Jan Schakowsky (IL), Democratic Deputy Whip; Elijah Cummings (MD), ranking member on the Oversight Committee; John Conyers (MI), ranking member on the Judiciary Committee; Bennie Thompson (MS), ranking member of the Committee on Homeland Security; Eliot Engel (NY), ranking member on the Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere; Emanuel Cleaver (MO), chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus; and Raul Grijalva (AZ) and Keith Ellison (MN), co-chairs of the Progressive Caucus.

To see the full text of the letter:

Press Release:
Congresswoman Yvette D. Clarke (New York 11th District) and Colleagues call on U.S. Administration to Address “Appalling Conditions” in Haiti’s IDP Camps

Washington, April 20, 2011

Washington, DC – Today, Congresswoman Yvette D. Clarke (D-NY) along with 52 other members of Congress sent a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton calling on the U.S. Administration to “dedicate significant attention to the critical and urgent task of improving the appalling conditions in IDP (Internally Displaced Persons) camps.”

“We cannot forget our brothers and sisters in Haiti who continue to live in the deplorable conditions in IDP camps as a result of the January 2010 earthquake. As a representative of the 2nd largest population of first and second generation Haitian immigrants, I understand how the United States is directly interconnected with this nation. It is important that we continue to help our neighbors and allies in the Caribbean,” stated Congresswoman Yvette D. Clarke.

The letter, co-sponsored by Rep. Frederica S. Wilson (D-FL) and Rep. Donald M. Payne (D-NJ), chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus Task Force on Foreign Policy, notes that over a year after Haiti’s catastrophic earthquake, hundreds of thousands of internally displaced persons (or IDPs) remain in makeshift tent camps, with inadequate shelter that is “progressively deteriorating” and with limited or no access to basic services like water and sanitation.

The letter addresses concerns regarding the lack of security measures in IDP communities and a dramatic increase in rape and other forms of gender-based violence in camps, as according to Amnesty International.

“It is important that we continue to provide the proper security measures so that the most vulnerable populations which include, women, the elderly, and children are protected,” added U.S. Rep. Clarke.

The letter asks the “U.S. Administration to act decisively to respond to this intolerable situation” and makes concrete policy recommendations. The signers urge that “accountability and transparency [be] brought to the task of IDP assistance” -- in particular the efforts undertaken by organizations such as the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and the United States Agency for International Assistance and Development (USAID). Other measures recommended in the letter include improved consultation and coordination with Haitians receiving assistance, and pushing for Non-Governmental Organizations contracting with USAID to “enforce complete coverage of IDP communities” and ensure “genuine local participation.”

“It is important that the international community continues to stay involved and work closely with the Haitian Diaspora as Haiti presses forward to a full and holistic recovery,” concluded Congresswoman Yvette D. Clarke.

The letter highlights the great urgency of assisting people in the camps, given the imminent onset of Haiti’s rainy season, and the attendant threat of a spike in cholera cases and other water-borne diseases. Click here to access the letter.