Recent Feature Articles

Shelters That Don’t Shelter the Needy

A new study by Haiti Grassroots Watch

By Milo Milfort, Enel Beaulière, Francy Innocent / Haiti Grassroots Watch, Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Hills above Léogâne, HAITI – Almost half of the emergency shelters distributed by the British organization Tearfund in the mountains above Léogâne remain uninhabited six months after they were built. A two-month investigation by the Haiti Grassroots

Watch (HGW) investigative journalism partnership in the hamlets of Fonds d’Oies and Cormiers, the tenth and twelfth sections of Léogâne, found that 34 of the 84 families who received temporary houses didn’t live in them, and that 11 families got two houses from two different humanitarian organizations.

If these 34 houses – built for $3,000 each, according to Tearfund – are sitting empty or, worse, are up for rent, that means at least $102,000 was wasted while tens of neighboring families are still living in tents or make-shift huts.

“The emergency shelters distributed around here weren’t passed out fairly,” Rosemie Durandisse seethed. The 50-year-old farmer, her husband and six children used to live in a four-room concrete home that was destroyed during the earthquake, whose epicenter lies about 25 kilometers away. Now she and her family cram into a shack made of wood, cloth and plastic.

“Life is not too rosy for me… I need to find a home because [when it rains], the torrents make our lives miserable,” she added.

The Christian organization Tearfund (The Evangelical Alliance Relief Fund), which works in about 50 countries around the world, arrived in these mountain hamlets between Léogâne and Jacmel after the earthquake. In addition to other work, Tearfund built 249 “…

Reconstruction money flushed away?

A compilation of studies on the state of sanitation services and protection of groundwater aquifers in the earthquake zone
Published on Haiti Grassroots Watch, March 8, 2012

Introduction:
Millions spent by the international community to empty over 11,000 "port-a-potties" has now dried up, leaving a half-million internally displaced people with no place to "go," literally. Online, it looks like two U.S.-based charities are making good on their promise to build 10,000 homes, and the money flows in… but not to build 10,000 houses - journalists could only find a few dozen. Earthquake refugees dump the ecological free toilets supplied by an Irish aid agency and instead dig to install familiar flush toilets

which are now polluting one of the capital's main water supplies.

These are just a few of the investigative reports produced this month by young Haitian journalists, with support from the new Fund For Investigative Journalism in Haiti.

Chosen by a jury made up of media directors from Groupe Medialternatif, the National Association of Haitian Media (ANMH) and the Association of Independent Haitian Media (AMIH), a dozen young men and women scoured the streets and hillsides of Haiti's earthquake zone for two months, discovering a lack of coordination, buck-passing, waste and corruption. Haiti Grassroots Watch is proud to have sponsored four of the investigations. Here are two, one from Haiti Grassroots Watch and one from Le Nouvelliste.


Temporary Toilets Threaten Permanent Damage

By Lafontaine Orvild, Haiti Grassroots Watch

Tabarre, HAITI, March 8 - Complete with gallery and garden, the 534 wood and…

Haiti: The Aftershocks of History, Laurent Dubois, Metropolitan Books, 2012, 418 pp.
Reviewed by Roger Annis
(This review was originally published in the International Socialist Review, March 2012, under the title 'Haiti from independence to occupation'.)

The Haitian people have been at the forefront of many of the events that shaped the modern world. They staged the first and only successful revolution against slavery, intersected with a profound agrarian reform. They faced down the barbarity of the U.S. military occupation of 1915-34 and ultimately drove the occupiers out.

The worker/student/peasant uprising of 1946 against President Élie Lescot was the first successful overthrow of a U.S.-backed regime in the Americas. The popular mobilization of 1986-90 that culminated in Jean-Bertrand Aristide's first election to the presidency in September, 1990 was the first to frustrate the strategy of U.S. imperialism in the 1980s of promoting ‘democracy’ in the form of sham elections while dangling the bait of foreign aid.

Haitians have suffered mightily for repeatedly defying and defeating the imperial order. As if that were not enough, they suffered a new and unbelievable tragedy with the earthquake of January 12, 2010.

Author and historian Laurent Dubois reviews this rebellious and often tragic history in his fascinating and engaging new book, Haiti: The Aftershocks of History. He seeks to illuminate and explain Haiti's coup-scarred history, and in particular shed more light on the origins of what another author, Michel-Rolph Trouillot, has termed its ‘predatory state.’

The evident weakness of the Haitian state that so troubled many in the world in the days and weeks following the earthquake is largely a consequence of the incessant interventions of the world's big powers. Dubois describes this in much detail. Born into a world dominated by slavery, Haiti was shunned by all the wealthy countries…

Haiti protest signals political tension for future
 
Article by Trenton Daniel, The Associated Press, Wed. Feb. 29, 2012
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AP) — Several thousand supporters of two-time President Jean-Bertrand Aristide filled the streets of Haiti's capital Wednesday on the eighth anniversary of his ouster, accusing the country's current leader of not doing enough to improve their lives. It was the largest demonstration against President Michel Martelly since he took office in May, and pointed to mounting political strife between the president and his critics as the country struggles to rebuild from the 2010 earthquake.
 
The size of the crowd also hinted at the level of support for Aristide, a former slum priest turned politician who still wields influence since returning to Haiti last year after seven years of exile in South Africa. "Martelly said he would bring change; instead he's bringing division," protester Rene Augustin said with Haiti's red-and-blue flag wrapped around his head.
 
The demonstrators also called for the departure of Haiti's U.N. peacekeeping mission.
 
The protest came at a time when the mood in the country feels precarious and abounds with tension. Last Friday, Prime Minister Garry Conille suddenly resigned from his post after just four months on the job because of infighting with Martelly. Conille, who previously worked as an aide to former U.S. President Bill Clinton in his role as the U.N. special envoy to Haiti, is staying on as the country's No. 2 government official until legislators ratify a successor, a process that could take weeks and could prove tricky with an opposition-controlled Parliament.
 
Conille…

Canada-funded shelter assistance looks like shantytown clearance, not the vast house-building plan desperately needed

By Roger Annis

The following article was first published on the Haiti blog of the Rabble.ca news website, February 23, 2012.

A centerpiece of Canada's aid pronouncements for Haiti on the second anniversary of the earthquake is a $20 million project by the Canadian International Development Agency to resettle residents of the most visible camp of internally displaced people in Port au Prince, that of Champ de Mars, an historic public square located a stone's throw from the destroyed national palace.

The camp is a visual testament of the slow pace of housing and shelter construction since the earthquake. A recent Washington Post article said the Haitian government (and presumably its international backers) consider the camp an "embarrassment". Hence the priority on closing it down.

The announcement of the resettlement project by Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs Bev Oda on January 11 said that 5,000 families would be relocated, two Port au Prince neighbourhoods (unnamed) would be rebuilt, workers would be trained for the building work, and those operating artisanal businesses in the camp would receive additional funding to relocate. 1

The true measure of aid pronouncements in Haiti since January 12, 2010 is only revealed in often hard-to-obtain detail. In this case, what looks on paper like a shelter plan reveals itself upon examination as more like shantytown clearance.

Few new houses built in two years

For one, the program will build next to no new houses. It is centered on a rent subsidy scheme, $500 for one…

By Kevin Edmonds
Part one, published on the author’s blog on NACLA, The Other Side of Paradise, NACLA, February 16, 2012
The weekend of February 4 and 5, 2012 saw the Bolivarian Alternative of the Americas (ALBA) convene its 11th summit in Caracas, Venezuela. ALBA began as an alternative vision to the reckless neoliberal agenda promoted by Washington throughout Latin America and the Caribbean. In 2004, Venezuela and Cuba sought to establish a regional alliance which would be committed to an agenda of poverty eradication, sustainable development and social justice founded upon the values of co-operation, equality, and solidarity. The regional integration promoted by ALBA importantly stresses policy flexibility, fair trade, and recognition of the unique circumstances faced by the small Caribbean economies.

As many expected, the weekend summit contained the standard denunciations of American imperialism and the need for deeper economic integration but surprisingly ended with St. Lucia and Suriname expressing their desire for full membership in the organization and Haiti joining ranks as a permanent observer.

While St. Lucia and Suriname cannot fully join the organization without following the necessary political processes in their respective countries, the two nations were admitted to the meeting as “special guest members”— a prior step to their full entry. St. Lucia, Suriname and Haiti would join their CARICOM neighbours Dominica, who joined the regional organization in 2008, and St. Vincent and Antigua, who became members in 2009.

Professor Norman Girvan of the University of the West Indies, a leading scholar in Caribbean political economy, sees the recent regional shift towards ALBA as the result of the organization…

The following article is one of the very few recent articles to provide a comprehensive and accurate overview of the scope of the housing and shelter crisis in Haiti. It also provides some detail of the $20 million that the Canadian government has provided to clear out the camp in the Champ de Mars square in central Port au Prince.

Of note is the fact that the article appears in a U.S., not Canadian, newspaper. No media outlet in Canada has written anything approaching an article of such detail on the shelter crisis, notwithstanding the aforementioned $20 million program. As to the effectiveness or not of what amounts to a camp clearance program financed by Canada, well, read the article and make up your own mind.

See also The Race to Zero, by Mark Snyder. The article examines how international agencies are pressing to close idp camps so that the statistics can show 'progress' being made but without necessarily providing the housing so desperately needed by many Haitian people.
--Website editors

By William Booth, Washington Post, February 19, 2012 (Go to link to see a photo gallery)
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — International aid worker Emmett Fitzgerald has to get 20,000 very poor people squatting in front of the National Palace to pack up their tarps and tin, their plastic buckets and soiled mats — to empty the most notorious camp in Haiti and go home. The hard part: What home?

There is not enough money, there is not enough time to build the cities of tomorrow in Haiti today. So the 4,641 families that have been living for the past two years in the…

Inside Story Americas on Al Jazeera on Feb 2, 2012 features a 30-minute panel discussion on the decision of a Haitian judge on January 30, 2012 that Jean Claude Duvalier should not face charges of crimes against humanity. The panel features Lawyer Brian Concannon of the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti, Washington DC radio host Jean-Yves Point du Jour and Haiti Liberté editor Kim Ives. Listen or watch here.

The following article is the most thorough and informative article written on the second anniversary of the earthquake in Haiti. Another excellent article in the same issue of New Internationalist examines earthquake aid funding to Haiti, Where did all the money go?--CHAN editors.

By Phillip Wearne, New Internationalist, January/February 2012

The earthquake in Haiti on 12 January 2010 proved so devastating partly because the country’s development model had failed so completely. Now those funding the reconstruction of the country are pursuing the same disastrous path, as Phillip Wearne explains.

‘This is my house,’ says Wilson Sylvie almost proudly, as he stops to glance at the patchwork of cardboard, salvaged wood, and rice sack walls before pushing aside the torn bed sheet door. ‘Ten people sleep here,’ he says, inside the three-metre-square shack.

How? Wilson pulls down various pieces of odd shaped plywood and cardboard to demonstrate how his family bed down for the night. Two years on from one of the world’s most deadly natural disasters, the earthquake of 12 January 2010, this is life for nearly 550,000 Haitians, those known as internally displaced people (IDPs).

According to the UN agency tracking the IDPs, in the past two years nearly one million have left the camps that sprang up on every available square metre of space in Port-au-Prince following the earthquake, which killed an estimated 220,000 people.1

No-one keeps track of where they have gone the aim here is to show ‘results’ in closing down camps, not the consequences of such a strategy. Many have returned to badly damaged, unsafe structures; some are housed in the transitional T-shelters springing up where rubble has been cleared, and…

The Haitian earthquake prompted an outpouring of generosity – international donations totalled more than $10 billion. But, two years on, have those funds been well spent? Nick Harvey investigates.
 
The thousands of Haitians who took to the streets in December, waving banners and chanting the unequivocal message ‘UN, go home!’ could be accused of biting the hand that feeds them. After all, Haiti currently relies on the UN and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to provide 80 per cent of its basic services. But the outpouring of anger, though partly in response to the cholera epidemic that was likely brought into Haiti by UN troops from Nepal, was also a result of wider frustrations with the painfully slow relief effort and the general state of the country. For despite billions having been pledged in aid since the 2010 earthquake, the lives of the majority of Haitians remain woefully threadbare.
 
‘Two years on and you have nearly half a million people still in tents or tarps, some 7,000 dead from cholera and hundreds of thousands more infected,’ says Ben Smilowitz, head of the Disaster Accountability Project, a non-partisan aid organization watchdog. ‘They’ve had to live through two hurricane seasons like this, which is simply unacceptable given the amount of money that was donated.’
 
Immediately after the quake, NGO fundraisers got to work and the money surged in. Ordinary people around the world dug deep and, along with pledges from foreign governments and other international donors, around $10 billion was raised. The thousands of NGOs already embedded in the country – more per capita than anywhere else in the world – began a massive relief effort, loosely co-ordinated by the UN. It was a daunting task, due both to the…