Haiti News and Views

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ON HAITI: Millions Spent and Still Nowhere to Go

By: Rebecca Hersher July 30, 2017 for Pulitzer Center 

After the 2010 earthquake, NGOs dumped hundreds of thousands of gallons of raw sewage at the end of the Port-au-Prince city landfill, which borders the sea and is not lined with an impermeable material. Image by Marie Arago/NPR. Haiti, 2017.

After the 2010 earthquake, NGOs dumped hundreds of thousands of gallons of raw sewage at the end of the Port-au-Prince city landfill, which borders the sea and is not lined with an impermeable material. Image by Marie Arago/NPR. Haiti, 2017.

The rain began on Good Friday. It fell into the roofless ruins of Port-au-Prince’s Catholic cathedral. It swirled through stalls in the market downtown. In the hills above Haiti’s capital, the rain ran off the clay roof tiles of upscale homes.

No matter where the rain fell, it was all destined for the same place: the system of concrete canals that cut through the city and down to the sea.

At the edge of the city next to the shore, the rain pounded on the zinc roof of Jean Claude Derlia’s single-story cinder block home. His neighborhood, Project Drouillard, is dense with families packed into homes like his. Most people who grew up in Project Drouillard have stayed, as he has. The community is close-knit, poor and socially isolated from downtown Port-au-Prince.

It is also extremely vulnerable to flooding from the canal full of trash and raw sewage that bordered it on one side. After a rainstorm a few years ago, Derlia had been swept away by a wave of sludge and nearly died before neighbors fished him out. He was sick for weeks after it happened, but he survived.

Now, over the sound of the rain, Derlia heard people shouting, “The water is coming!” There was nothing he could do but wait and pray that the water, or the things the water carried with it, wouldn’t kill him this time.

A City Without a System

Port-au-Prince, Haiti, is one of the largest cities in the world without a central sewage system. There are no sewers connecting sinks, showers and toilets to hulking wastewater treatment plants. Most of the more than 3 million people in the metro area use outhouses, and much of that waste ends up in canals, ditches and other unsanitary dumping grounds where it can contaminate drinking water and spread disease.

It’s a problem that has attracted international donors, some of whom have acted to do what the Haitian government cannot afford to: build a sewage treatment system. Since 2010, international groups have spent millions of dollars on a plan to build open-air sewage treatment plants across Haiti. In 2012, the first facility opened at a site called Morne a Cabrit, about an hour from downtown Port-au-Prince. At the time, a government official told NPR that funds were in place for facilities in seven other cities.

But five years later, that construction plan has stalled. Morne a Cabrit is still the only operational sewage treatment plant in the country, another $2.1 million facility is all but abandoned and the volume of sewage being disposed of safely in Port-au-Prince is actually decreasing.

At its core, the floundering sewage treatment strategy is about money and power. Haitian economist Kesner Pharel, who has advised both the Haitian government and international nongovernmental organizations on investment and development in the country, says the stalled plan reflects a fundamental flaw with how infrastructure projects are funded and implemented in Haiti.

Because the Haitian government is so dependent on outside money for infrastructure, “it is very easy for [international donors] to come in and say, ‘I’m going to do this, I’m going to do that,’ ” he explains. The result is that the country’s leaders become more responsive to funders than to Haitian voters. “Where is the accountability?” he says, “not to international donors, but to your people?”

In the past five years, the story of one failed sewage treatment plant project offers the clearest example of the good intentions, poor governance and bad luck that contributed to Haiti’s current sanitation crisis. It began with a young woman and a huge earthquake.

How Not to Build A Sewage Treatment Plant

Edwige Petit has been called Haiti’s “sanitation champion.” Trained as a civil engineer, Petit, the current director of sanitation at the Haitian water and sanitation agency DINEPA, has also been called less laudatory names because of her expertise. “Sewage wife, trash wife, lots of names,” she says, laughing.

Her first experience with sewage treatment came a few months after the 2010 earthquake that destroyed much of Port-au-Prince. Aid groups provided clean water and toilets to hundreds of thousands of people in displaced-person camps. The groups needed somewhere to dump the more than 10,000 gallons of human waste the camps generated each day. Initially, the government directed them to an unlined pit at the edge of the landfill.

Edwige Petit, the director of sanitation for Haiti's water and sanitation agency DINEPA, is in charge of planning and building internationally funded sewage treatment plants. Image by Marie Arago/NPR.

Edwige Petit, the director of DINEPA. Image by Marie Arago/NPR.

Edwige Petit, the director of sanitation for Haiti’s water and sanitation agency DINEPA, is in charge of planning and building internationally funded sewage treatment plants. Image by Marie Arago/NPR.

 Petit was an expert on the landfill and immediately knew dumping there was not a good solution. The pit was unlined and right next to the sea, so the sewage could easily contaminate fishing areas and sources of drinking water. But for months after the quake, with the economy in shambles and the city in ruins, large-scale sanitation projects were never a political priority. “People don’t have enough money. What can you say when people cannot even eat? You’re talking about waste?” she says, channeling her detractors. “They cannot eat, they cannot s***! So that’s the deal. Too much poverty.”

Then that fall, U.N. soldiers from Nepal brought cholera to Haiti. “Only the cholera could make us have [the first sewage treatment facility],” Petit says. “Only cholera. Because we were afraid, totally afraid of cholera. For this reason, everyone agreed.”

In October 2010, the government of then-President Rene Preval announced it had found a location for the country’s first sewage treatment plant, on land formerly leased by the Haitian American Sugar Company and left empty for years. The site was named for the nearby area of Titanyen, where thousands of people had been buried in mass graves after the earthquake.

The initial budget inscribed on a now-faded sign at the entrance was $1.9 million — it would later grow to $2.1 million — to be paid by the Spanish government, which would also fund a public education campaign about cholera prevention. Construction began immediately, but just three months later, it stopped.

Powerful people had leveraged their connections to the president, alleging that they owned the land under the sewage plant and demanding compensation under eminent domain before construction could go forward.

“For each [piece of] land, we had not one, but two or three people who said they were owners!” Petit remembers, still fuming more than six years later. “They went directly to president.”

At the city landfill, men look for metal near the edge of a pit that used to be full of raw sewage. Construction delays at the Titanyen sewage treatment plant meant that raw sewage continued to be dumped at the landfill for months after the cholera epidemic began in 2010. Image by Marie Arago/NPR. Haiti, 2017.

At the city landfill, men look for metal near the edge of a pit that used to be full of raw sewage. Construction delays at the Titanyen sewage treatment plant meant that raw sewage continued to be dumped at the landfill for months after the cholera epidemic began in 2010. Image by Marie Arago/NPR. Haiti, 2017.

For nine months, nothing was built at the Titanyen sewage treatment plant. In that time, disease surveillance data suggests more than 2,500 people died of cholera in Haiti. Without a safe dumping site open, DINEPA data suggests more than 100,000 cubic meters of raw sewage was dumped elsewhere in and around the city.

In the end, the Haitian government had little choice but to pay the alleged landowners, since the rest of the Spanish funds were unavailable as long as construction was stalled. In the meantime, funding the plant appeared to be a point of pride for the Spanish government. Queen Sofia of Spain even traveled to see it.

When the sewage treatment plant finally opened in May 2012, after the cholera epidemic had peaked, a press release from the Spanish aid agency AECID said nothing about the construction delay. It pointed to the project as an example of “strengthening of Haitian institutions” and said it would “contribute significantly to the health of the population and halt outbreaks of diseases such as cholera.”

The facility operated for just 18 months before a technical problem — huge bubbles in the lining of the second waste treatment pool — forced it to close. Since then, it has remained closed. DINEPA says the aid agency plans to spend an additional $617,000 to repair it beginning this fall.

Since 2013, the $2.1 million sewage treatment plant at Titanyen has been closed. The lining of one of the disinfecting basins developed massive bubbles due to an engineering defect. Image by Marie Arago/NPR. Haiti, 2017.

A spokesperson for AECID declined to comment on its sewage treatment plant projects in Haiti, citing turnover in its staff in the region.

Haiti’s sewage champion, Petit, still believes that sewage treatment plants are a good investment for Haiti. She is using the agency’s investment funds, 96 percent of which came from international sources last fiscal year, to build at least 30 waste treatment facilities across the country. Three, including the still-shuttered site at Titanyen, are under construction or repair.

“The government has a duty to build the plants we should need,” she says. “I can say I am doing my part.”

Meanwhile, the one sewage treatment plant that is already open is below capacity and struggling to cover its operating costs. International money covered its construction, but domestic funding and customer fees are insufficient to cover long-term maintenance and payroll. Inadvertently or otherwise, the availability of international money for infrastructure appears to have motivated the construction of sewage treatment plants in Haiti, whether or not there is local demand for the facilities.

The Easter Flood

Without a sewage system to divert waste out of clogged canals, the Good Friday rainstorm filled the streets and alleys of Project Drouillard with 3 feet of raw sewage. Seven people drowned in the canal. Jean Claude Derlia got an infection that still hasn’t gone away.

Project Drouillard resident Widline Charles, 21, fled her home during floods over Easter weekend this year. Months later, her street is still covered in a foot or more of mud, trash and sewage. Image by Marie Arago/NPR. Haiti, 2017.

Project Drouillard resident Widline Charles, 21, fled her home during floods over Easter weekend this year. Months later, her street is still covered in a foot or more of mud, trash and sewage. Image by Marie Arago/NPR. Haiti, 2017.

Residents blamed the flood on poorly excavated canals and on the waste dumped by rich people who live on higher ground. Both are undoubtedly true, but the waste clogging the canal also came from right there in Project Drouillard. Scattered throughout the neighborhood are sets of cinder block pit latrines, most of which are filled to the top with waste.

Two options for relieving oneself in Project Drouillard: a pit latrine and an open field bordering a canal filled with human waste. Image by Marie Arago/NPR. Haiti, 2017.

Two options for relieving oneself in Project Drouillard: a pit latrine and an open field bordering a canal filled with human waste. Image by Marie Arago/NPR. Haiti, 2017.

“We can’t use these,” says 27-year-old Bernard Paulemon, gesturing to a set of six stalls near the headquarters of his neighborhood group, Foundation Alovie. “The people here, they can’t pay.”

He is referring to the cost of maintenance. When a latrine fills up, residents see two options: They can padlock it and leave it, at which point some people resort to relieving themselves in an open field near the canal, or they can pool money to hire someone to clean out the pit.

Magdala Simeone lives a few houses away from a block of six pit latrines, each with a padlock on the door. Four of the six stalls are too full to use. Kids come and go with the keys for the other two. A few weeks ago, Simeone and her neighbors raised money to hire someone to clean one of them out.

Project Drouillard resident Magdala Simeone and her neighbors recently pooled $75 to get a shared pit latrine emptied. She never met the person or people who did the work and doesn't know where the human waste was dumped. Image by Marie Arago/NPR. Haiti, 2017.

Project Drouillard resident Magdala Simeone and her neighbors recently pooled $75 to get a shared pit latrine emptied. She never met the person or people who did the work and doesn’t know where the human waste was dumped. Image by Marie Arago/NPR. Haiti, 2017.

The total cost: $75. Her share: about $8. She never saw who cleaned out the latrine and doesn’t know where they dumped the contents. A trip across the waste-strewn field adjacent to the canal holds a hint — the canal is completely filled with muddy excrement.

She would prefer to have a company clean out the latrine. “The company will clean it better” than the informal latrine cleaners known as bayakou, she says, but “a private company will ask you for a lot of money.”

Sanitation companies in Port-au-Prince see the potential for big profits in neighborhoods like this one. “There are lots more people who could pay us, but they haven’t heard of the company. They don’t know what we do or why they should give us money,” says Marguerite Jean Louis, the CEO of the Port-au-Prince-based sanitation company Sanco.

Sanitation company Sanco sends pump trucks to empty septic tanks for high-end clients such as hotels and government offices. The trucks transport the waste to the sewage treatment plant at Morne a Cabrit. Image by Marie Arago/NPR. Haiti, 2017.

Sanitation company Sanco sends pump trucks to empty septic tanks for high-end clients such as hotels and government offices. The trucks transport the waste to the sewage treatment plant at Morne a Cabrit. Image by Marie Arago/NPR. Haiti, 2017.

She is banking her new company’s future growth on educating middle- and low-income Haitians about the importance of paying for sewage pickup and disposal.

This is the “market first” model of sanitation reform in Port-au-Prince. Simply put, it’s the belief that the limited cash available for sanitation should be invested in increasing the demand for sewage removal rather than in large-scale infrastructure projects like sewage treatment plants.

Flaure Dubois, the financial director at Jedco, the largest sanitation company in the country, says the government’s focus on sewage treatment plants is frustrating because there is so much public education work to be done around sanitation. She sees her company as more aligned with aid groups doing sanitation campaigns than with DINEPA and its construction plans.

“We need to change the culture,” says Polyanna Domond, Jedco’s marketing director, showing off a Jedco sign that explains in Creole how to use a portable toilet (Sit on it, don’t hover above it!). “We are investing in public education, so people know that waste can make them sick. The government should ask us for help.”

The Worst Job in the World

Everyone in the neighborhood could smell it; a heavy, earthy stench, like rotten eggs and feces.

In the back corner of a neat courtyard surrounded by single-story houses, four men were getting ready to empty out a pit latrine. The leader, a 35-year-old who said his name was Gabriel Toto, was standing over a 15-foot pit filled with human excrement, his pants rolled up to his knees, shirtless with yellow rubber gloves and a cigarette dangling from his lips.

Gabriel Toto, 35, has been working as a bayakou, or latrine cleaner, for a decade. On nights without a journalist watching, he generally works naked. Image by Marie Arago/NPR. Haiti, 2017.

Gabriel Toto, 35, has been working as a bayakou, or latrine cleaner, for a decade. On nights without a journalist watching, he generally works naked. Image by Marie Arago/NPR. Haiti, 2017.

He explained that Toto is a nickname he used when he discusses his job, to minimize the stigma and ostracization he and his family face because of his occupation.

For the same reason, he and his men work only at night.

“I am a working man,” he said, just trying to make a living without getting caught up in the organized crime that dominates the economy in his neighborhood near Project Drouillard. “I don’t want to do anything bad. So, whatever I need to do — whatever I have to do — I will do it. Anything.”

For the last decade, doing “anything” has meant working as a bayakou. The job is dangerous, disgusting and difficult. To watch Toto work is to see an expert perform his craft, moving confidently and carefully to remove about 400 gallons of human waste from an underground, candlelit hole in less than three hours, using only his gloved hands, a bucket and a rope.

Even for a pro, the work is risky. “I have had stitches on my legs, my feet,” Toto says. “I even lost one of my toenails one day when I was working.” Another bayakou, Derisma Merisier, says an infection is responsible for his red and puss-filled eyes. He has been living with it for years.

And the latrines are full of hidden dangers as well. People throw all sorts of things in the hole. Sticks, rocks, trash and razor blades are nightly hazards. On this night, an excrement-covered handgun shows up in one of the buckets.

Dangerous objects frequently make their way into pit latrines and can injure the men who clean the pits. This residential outhouse had sticks, razors and a handgun buried in about 15 feet of excrement. Image by Marie Arago/NPR. Haiti, 2017.

Dangerous objects frequently make their way into pit latrines and can injure the men who clean the pits. This residential outhouse had sticks, razors and a handgun buried in about 15 feet of excrement. Image by Marie Arago/NPR. Haiti, 2017.

The owner of the outhouse paid Jedco about $170 for the cleaning service. As subcontractors, Toto and his men will each take home about $3.90 for the night’s work. They make eight to ten times more working for themselves, but as the companies have moved into the market, many bayakou feel forced to work as contractors.

Working for a company could theoretically offer perks. On this night, Jedco provides five pairs of coveralls (in plastic packaging), rubber gloves, boots, goggles and even blue Jedco baseball caps (new with the tags still on). The men laugh wryly when they see the protective gear.

“They usually don’t give us these things,” says Toto. The clear implication was that the protective gear is related to the presence of journalists. Usually, the men work in little or no clothing. By the end of the night, the goggles are fogged up and useless, gloves are ripped and most of the men have discarded some or all of the gear.

As it is, Toto says he doesn’t make enough to support himself and his three children. After a night’s work, he spends the day looking for hourly labor jobs, although a lot of people won’t work with him or even touch him.

Bayakou are frequently wounded on the job. Men describe deep cuts, missing toenails and persistent infections from exposure to human waste. Image by Marie Arago/NPR. Haiti, 2017.

Bayakou are frequently wounded on the job. Men describe deep cuts, missing toenails and persistent infections from exposure to human waste. Image by Marie Arago/NPR. Haiti, 2017.

“You’ve seen what I have done,” he says, standing in the parking lot of the sewage treatment plant at 2:30 a.m., his hair still wet from a bucket bath. “Some people will never stand close to me, talking to me the way you are talking to me, as close as you are. They’ll stay away from me because they see what I’m doing with my own hands.”

The Haitian government and private sanitation companies talk about public education campaigns and sanitation market development and infrastructure. But as the person who does the work of bringing human waste from the city to the dumping site, Toto feels ignored and abused.

“The first people in the community who should give value to the work we’re doing are the companies,” he says. “When they sit behind a desk in the air conditioning, they don’t care. If they don’t give value to what we’re doing, who else will give value to that?”

Rebecca Hersher is a freelance journalist. Contact her @rhersher. This story was supported by the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting. Andre Paultre contributed reporting in Port-au-Prince.

Piles of human waste are left at the Morne a Cabrit sewage treatment plant. The latrine cleaners who dumped them work in the dark because of intense stigma associated with their profession. Image by Marie Arago/NPR. Haiti, 2017.

Piles of human waste are left at the Morne a Cabrit sewage treatment plant. The latrine cleaners who dumped them work in the dark because of intense stigma associated with their profession. Image by Marie Arago/NPR. Haiti, 2017.

TRANSCRIPT

DON GONYEA, HOST:

Port-au-Prince, Haiti is a city of more than 3 million people with no sewer system. International donors have spent millions of dollars on infrastructure meant to help the situation. But a multi-year plan to build sewage treatment plants all over the country has stalled. And residents say things are getting worse. Rebecca Hersher reports.

REBECCA HERSHER, BYLINE: Port-au-Prince’s low cinderblock housing projects are the frontline of the sewage problem in the city. Project Drouillard or Project D is hopping on a sunny Friday afternoon. Men are playing dominoes. Kids are shooting marbles in the narrow dirt alleyways.

(CROSSTALK)

HERSHER: The sound of dance practice spills out onto the street.

(SOUNDBITE OF AMBIENT NOISE)

HERSHER: The zinc-roofed buildings here are tightly packed along a canal where people throw trash and plastic bags full of human waste. There’s an outhouse for every 10 to 20 homes. Around the corner is about a foot of hardened mud inside a row of abandoned houses.

GABRIEL MONTREUIL: (Through interpreter) See the dirt, mud, trash? It’s because we had two floods in April – one on Good Friday and one on Easter. No house was spared.

HERSHER: Gabriel Montreuil (ph) has lived here his whole life. He says every time it rains, raw sewage floods his home. It’s scary. Among other dangers, there’s a cholera epidemic in Haiti. And the floods are getting worse.

MONTREUIL: (Through interpreter) The first time, it was 1-foot high. When it came back, it was 2 feet. And this time, it was 3 feet. As the adult, I needed to save the lives of my children.

HERSHER: The family slept on the street for a night and then came back to clean up. Montrieul blames the floods on sewage and trash clogging canals that run through Project D. You can smell them. One of Gabriel’s neighbors, who goes by Calypso, takes me over to see the nearest canal.

CALYPSO: (Through interpreter) Right here, the flood killed seven people in April.

HERSHER: Is there human waste in here?

CALYPSO: Everything. Everything.

HERSHER: Everything goes in the canal. The raw sewage should be trucked out to a sewage treatment plant. But there’s no government-run sewage disposal operation. And most of the formal waste removal is done by private companies. Most people can’t afford it. And international aid money isn’t available to help with that. As a result, the government estimates less than 10 percent of Port-au-Prince’s waste ever makes it to the treatment facility, which is called Goat Mountain. It’s pretty simple – just three basins that slowly use the sun and wind to disinfect raw sewage over the course of months. But the manager, Ricky Constant, says it’s not designed to handle such small volumes of waste.

RICKY CONSTANT: (Through interpreter) So now the basins are not working properly the way they are supposed to be working.

HERSHER: When the level gets too low, the water just sits there instead of flowing from one basin to the next. And there are other design flaws like a mountain of trash that’s accumulated next to where companies dump raw sewage.

CONSTANT: (Through interpreter) One of our issues is we shouldn’t have that much trash here.

HERSHER: Trash and sewage often travel together in Haiti. Remember, most people aren’t using toilets. They’re using pit latrines and throwing other stuff in there, too. But the treatment plant is only designed to handle human waste.

CONSTANT: (Through interpreter) This is a misunderstanding, a bad approach of the sanitation issue in Haiti.

HERSHER: Why do you think that happened?

CONSTANT: (Through interpreter) Haitian engineers made the conception of this site. But it’s a copycat from foreign countries. This is the first experience of Haitians dealing with that.

HERSHER: This kind of international influence is a big reason for the stalled sanitation infrastructure plan in Haiti. Since the 2010 earthquake here, the expertise and money for sewage plants have come from outside the country. Donors with good intentions nonetheless fund projects that are not always a good fit for what Port-au-Prince needs. Up the road, a second identical sewage treatment plant is overgrown with weeds.

I wonder when the last time this gate was open. Oh, it’s getting stuck in the trees.

The Spanish government paid $2.1 million to build this plant, starting in 2010. It’s been closed since 2013 because of engineering problems.

The pools are full of really green water. And the birds love it.

Even though it’s not working, funding the plant appears to be a point of pride for the Spanish government. Queen Sofia even visited it when it was under construction. And even with the demand for sewage treatment facilities falling, Spain is planning to spend another $617,000 to fix this facility. Construction begins in the fall. Back in Project D, Gabriel Montreuil feels abandoned.

MONTREUIL: (Through interpreter) In other countries, they take care of the population. Here, we rely on God. We cannot rely on the government.

HERSHER: He doesn’t see the sewage treatment plants or the international money. He just sees a Haitian government that doesn’t seem to listen to people like him. For NPR News, I’m Rebecca Hersher in Port-au-Prince

GONYEA: Their story was supported by a grant from Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting.

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ON HAITI: Haiti Still in Dire Straits, Number of Migrants Shows

Nadia Prophete, 12, collects food from a trash to sell to pig owners at the Cite Soleil area of Port-au-Prince, Haiti, June 12, 2017.

Nadia Prophete, 12, collects food from a trash to sell to pig owners at the Cite Soleil area of Port-au-Prince, Haiti, June 12, 2017.

By: Reuters for VOA NEWS , July 13, 2017 10:42 PM

U.S. authorities sent home about 100 Haitian immigrants discovered on a rickety boat this week, the most found at sea in more than a year and a sign of more people likely to flee the impoverished island, advocates said Thursday.

Haitians are struggling to survive a homeland devastated by natural disasters and disease, and the situation could worsen if U.S. officials return home more than 50,000 Haitians in the United States on temporary visas, they said.

Special immigration status

Under President Donald Trump, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security has cast uncertainty over whether to extend a special immigration status that has been granted to Haitians since a 2010 earthquake.

The Haitians in the United States send money, or remittances, home to families that rely on them heavily, said Steven Forester, a spokesman for the Boston-based Institute for Justice & Democracy in Haiti (IJDH).

“Haiti is in no condition to both deal with the overwhelming challenges of the disasters that have struck … much less to replace the remittances they send back to support hundreds of thousands of family members,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Street boys await vehicles to offer their cleaning jobs in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, June 12, 2017.

Street boys await vehicles to offer their cleaning jobs in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, June 12, 2017.

Haitians take to the sea

Haiti, the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, was hit hard in October by Hurricane Matthew. The storm left about 1.4 million people in need of assistance and resurrected a deadly cholera outbreak. The country also has faced huge problems trying to rebuild.

A growing number of Haitians are likely to be willing to undertake the dangerous journey by sea or land to flee, advocates say.

The U.S. Coast Guard intercepted 102 Haitian migrants crowded on a rickety sailboat about 20 miles (35 kms) south of Great Inagua, Bahamas and sent them home Wednesday.

The Coast Guard in a statement said it was the largest such interdiction in more than a year.

“The Caribbean and Florida Straits are dangerous and unforgiving for migrants on illegal and ill-advised voyages in overloaded vessels,” said Jason Ryan, chief of response for the Seventh Coast Guard District.

Always expect migration

U.S. immigration officials said in May that Haiti’s special status designation would be extended for six months rather than the usual 18 months.

While sending Haitians back could worsen conditions, residents of the island nation will try to leave as long as they have few economic opportunities at home, said Muzaffar Chishti, director of the Migration Policy Institute at New York University School of Law.

“We should always expect migration pressure from Haiti,” Chishti told the Foundation.

More than 9,000 Haitians have been found trying to enter the United States along its southwest border with Mexico so far in the current fiscal year, compared with about 300 in 2015, according to U.S. government statistics.

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ON HAITI: To really help Haiti’s children, stop the international funding of orphanages

In this 2013 photo, a boy stands in his room in the U.S.-based Church of Bible Understanding orphanage in Kenscoff, Haiti, a facility run by a Christian missionary group funded by an antique store in Manhattan.

In this 2013 photo, a boy stands in his room in the U.S.-based Church of Bible Understanding orphanage in Kenscoff, Haiti, a facility run by a Christian missionary group funded by an antique store in Manhattan. Dieu Nalio Chery AP

OP-ED JULY 03, 2017 10:10 PM, BY JAMIE VERNAELDE, @jmvernaelde

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HAITI: Poem – i want to talk about haiti.

Poetry Foundation

Poem of the Day:

quaking conversation

BY LENELLE MOÏSE
i want to talk about haiti.
how the earth had to break
the island’s spine to wake
the world up to her screaming.

 

how this post-earthquake crisis
is not natural
or supernatural.
i want to talk about disasters.

 

how men make them
with embargoes, exploitation,
stigma, sabotage, scalding
debt and cold shoulders.

 

talk centuries
of political corruption
so commonplace
it’s lukewarm, tap.

 

talk january 1, 1804
and how it shed life.
talk 1937
and how it bled death.

 

talk 1964.  1986.  1991.  2004.  2008.
how history is the word
that makes today
uneven, possible.

 

talk new orleans,
palestine, sri lanka,
the bronx and other points
or connection.

 

talk resilience and miracles.
how haitian elders sing in time
to their grumbling bellies
and stubborn hearts.

 

how after weeks under the rubble,
a baby is pulled out,
awake, dehydrated, adorable, telling
stories with old-soul eyes.

 

how many more are still
buried, breathing, praying and waiting?
intact despite the veil of fear and dust
coating their bruised faces?

 

i want to talk about our irreversible dead.
the artists, the activists, the spiritual leaders,
the family members, the friends, the merchants
the outcasts, the cons.

 

all of them, my newest ancestors,
all of them, hovering now,
watching our collective response,
keeping score, making bets.

 

i want to talk about money.
how one man’s recession might be
another man’s unachievable reality.
how unfair that is.

 

how i see a haitian woman’s face
every time i look down at a hot meal,
slip into my bed, take a sip of water,
show mercy to a mirror.

 

how if my parents had made different
decisions three decades ago,
it could have been my arm
sticking out of a mass grave

 

i want to talk about gratitude.
i want to talk about compassion.
i want to talk about respect.
how even the desperate deserve it.

 

how haitians sometimes greet each other
with the two words “honor”
and “respect.”
how we all should follow suit.

 

try every time you hear the word “victim,”
you think “honor.”
try every time you hear the tag “john doe,”
you shout “respect!”

 

because my people have names.
because my people have nerve.
because my people are
your people in disguise

 

i want to talk about haiti.
i always talk about haiti.
my mouth quaking with her love,
complexity, honor and respect.

 

come sit, come stand, come
cry with me. talk.
there’s much to say.
walk. much more to do.

 

Lenelle Moïse, “quaking conversation” from Haiti Glass. Copyright © 2014 by Lenelle Moïse.  Reprinted by permission of City Lights Books, www.citylights.com.

Source: Haiti Glass(City Lights Books, 2014)

LENELLE MOÏSE

Biography
More poems by this author

 

Source: Poetry Foundation – Poem of the Day Newsletter

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HAITI, ON DEVELOPMENT: How This Social Entrepreneur Is Moving Haiti Away From Aid Toward Trade

Haitian social entrepreneur and impact investor, Daniel Jean-Louis, is working on multiple fronts to reduce Haiti’s reliance on aid and increase employment in the country where 70 percent of adults lack a proper job.

Source: How This Social Entrepreneur Is Moving Haiti Away From Aid Toward Trade

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HAITI: The Case for Haitian Reparations | Jacobin

Haitians are asking the French government to return some of what was stolen.

For a brief moment recently, Haiti dominated the news cycle. As always, this American media attention only came in a moment of crisis.

According to the Washington Post, local Haitian officials reported that Hurricane Matthew, the region’s most dangerous Category 4 storm in nearly a decade, killed at least 900 people, destroyed livestock, and wreaked havoc on farmers’ crops. The storm flooded rivers, leveled bridges, and in some towns, 80 to 90 percent of homes were destroyed. In the hurricane-ravaged south, 500,000 people were stranded and 30,000 homes have been destroyed. UN officials reported some 800,000 people are facing food insecurity, including 315,000 children.

As unavoidable as a natural disaster seems, Hurricane Matthew was also a human-made catastrophe, the cumulative effect of five hundred years of environmental degradation before and after French colonialism. Haitians know — even if the rest of the world forgets — that every rainy season brings a potential humanitarian crisis.

And yet, the global response has been the same as usual: rather than examine how the complex intersections of history, politics, economics, and ecology conspire to make Haiti susceptible to natural disasters and epidemics, journalists, pundits, and NGO operatives instead shift blame onto Haitians themselves. They present Haitians as a people incapable of managing their nation. This view has guided the international response to Haiti since its independence two hundred years ago.  … Read On

Source: The Case for Haitian Reparations | Jacobin

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HAITI: Want to Help Haitians: Support Haitian Led Orgs… | Mark Schulle

1)      Support the initiatives led by Haitian people and groups

2)      If we contribute aid to a foreign agency, demand they post their decisions and relationships with local groups

3)      Solidarity, not charity

4)      Address the root causes, including neoliberal policies our governments enforced

5)      Demand that our aid has real participation by local groups, not just doing the work but setting priorities and identifying how the work is to get done

6)      Actually reinforce human capacity – making sure this time expertise is shared with a critical mass of Haitian actors, who can and should be the ones making decisions

7)      Link humanitarian aid to development (not the old, failed neoliberal model), and disaster preparedness

Source: Hurricane Matthew: An Update from the Haiti Support Group | Haiti Support Group

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HAITI: 7th anniversary of earthquake: An Inconvenient Truth | Haiti Support Group

…Haitians did not powerlessly watch Matthew wash through their land, waiting for foreign aid to appear. They have banded together – families, neighbours, cooperatives, work societies, community, solidarity and diaspora groups – to begin the clean-up, and get the affected regions back on their feet. Yet, once again, the media and the “international community” have chosen to present Haitians as passive, fatalistic, superstitious and cavalier (yes, all at once!).

Source: An Inconvenient Truth: Hurricane Matthew and Cholera in Haiti | Haiti Support Group

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ON THE MEDIA, HAITI: Interested in Haiti? Read this book: Why Haiti Needs New Narratives by Gina Athena Ulysse

A Haitian-American anthropologist makes sense of her homeland in the wake of the 2010 earthquake.

Mainstream news coverage of the catastrophic earthquake of January 12, 2010, reproduced longstanding narratives of Haiti and stereotypes of Haitians. Cognizant that this Haiti, as it exists in the public sphere, is a rhetorically and graphically incarcerated one, the feminist anthropologist and performance artist Gina Athena Ulysse embarked on a writing spree that lasted over two years. As an ethnographer and a member of the diaspora, Ulysse delivers critical cultural analysis of geopolitics and daily life in a series of dispatches, op-eds and articles on post-quake Haiti. Her complex yet singular aim is to make sense of how the nation and its subjects continue to negotiate sovereignty and being in a world where, according to a Haitian saying, tout moun se moun, men tout moun pa menm (All people are human, but all humans are not the same). This collection contains thirty pieces, most of which were previously published in and on Haitian Times, Huffington Post, Ms Magazine, Ms Blog, NACLA, and other print and online venues. The book is trilingual (English, Kreyòl, and French) and includes a foreword by award-winning author and historian Robin D.G. Kelley.

Source: UPNEBookPartners – Why Haiti Needs New Narratives: Gina Athena Ulysse

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HAITI: 7th Anniversary of the Haiti Earthquake: An Update from the Haiti Support Group

Today marks the seventh anniversary of the Haiti earthquake and the start of a challenging and tumultuous year for the country.

Source: An Update from the Haiti Support Group

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CSFilm will attend Haitian Diaspora Challenge Symposium – Will you join us?

Join us for the DCI Symposium at MIT on January 21, 2017. The Diaspora Challenge Initiative aims at leveraging ideas about successful development concepts amongst members of the Diaspora looking for opportunities to contribute to Haiti’s development. We will have special guests which include Ambassador Paul Altidor and Haitian Congressman Jerry Tardieu.The event is free to attend. Must register to attend. Link to register in bio. #dciHaiti #naahp #grahnusa #shr #edem #otgs

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HAITI: U.N. Apologizes for Role in Haiti’s 2010 Cholera Outbreak

Secretary General Ban Ki-moon avoided any mention of who brought the disease to Haiti, and critics said his mea culpa came too late.

Source: U.N. Apologizes for Role in Haiti’s 2010 Cholera Outbreak

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HAITI: Haitians at US border face deportation lottery

Haitians at Tijuana border

Haitian migrants arrive at the Casa del Migrante shelter late into the night. (Jonathan Levinson/IRIN)

By Jonathan Levinson, www.irinnews.orgNovember 24th, 2016

On a quiet, residential street overlooking the Tijuana River, barely two miles from the US border, Pierre Jacques Norma, a Haitian migrant who has traversed nine countries over the past three months to reach Mexico, sits in the dining area of the Casa del Migrante shelter.

Norma’s future is uncertain even by the precarious standards of most migrants. When he and his pregnant wife go to their appointment with US Customs and Border Protection on 23 December, he has no idea if they’ll be released into the United States and given the opportunity to apply for asylum or be detained and deported back to Haiti.

“I’m not scared of being deported. I know God is looking for a better life for me,” he says, finishing off a dinner of rice and stew provided by the shelter. The small group of Haitians sitting around the table nods in agreement.

U-turns, now Trump

It’s no surprise that Norma places his faith in God as he contemplates his future. The past few months have been a rollercoaster ride for US policy towards Haitian migrants. The election earlier this month of Donald Trump, who campaigned on an anti-immigration platform, has only added another layer of uncertainty.

On 3 November, with little fanfare, the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) resumed deportations of Haitians for the first time in the nearly seven years since they were suspended following a devastating earthquake. The move was a response to a 1,300-percent increase in arrivals of Haitian migrants over the past year, an influx that immigration officials have been struggling to manage.

Between October 2015 and September 2016, about 5,000 Haitians arrived in the US, the majority of them via Brazil, where they have been eligible for humanitarian visas since the 2010 earthquake. But Brazil’s economy took a nosedive this year, sending the country’s unemployment rate soaring to 11.8 percent and prompting many Haitians to make the long trek to the US.

“DHS thought that this humane policy was a magnet and drawing people to the southwest border, and so they wanted some deterrence. They changed the policy and said we’re going to deport them,” explained Randy McGrorty, executive director of Catholic Legal Services for the Archdiocese of Miami, which represents people seeking asylum and relief from deportation.

But before deportations could resume Haiti was once again devastated, this time by , which hit on 4 October. The UN estimates that 1.4 million people in Haiti are in need of humanitarian assistance following the hurricane and that 800,000 are “extremely food insecure”. The country, the poorest in the western hemisphere, is still grappling with an existing cholera epidemic that has sickened 700,000 people and killed 10,000 since 2010.

After the hurricane, DHS put deportations on hold, but only for 30 days. In the past three weeks, since they resumed, 203 Haitians have been deported, according to an official from US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

Another reversal

During November, most Haitians admitted into the US (about 1,440) were slated for deportation and detained as part of a process called “expedited removal”.

“If someone is put into expedited removal proceedings, they don’t have access to a judge,” said Andrea Guerrero, the executive director of Alliance San Diego, an immigrant assistance agency. “They are summarily ordered removed and deported as soon as is feasible.”

But detention centres soon filled up. ICE says that 10 percent of its detention space is now filled by a total of 4,425 Haitians.

DHS was forced to change policy once more. Starting on 11 November, the department went back to its pre-September policy of paroling Haitians.

A parolee is given a court date in their destination city and released. Those individuals will eventually go before a judge to determine if they have a genuine asylum claim. In most cases, their claims will be rejected and they’ll be placed in deportation proceedings. But with half a million people in line for a court date, the wait can be years and in the meantime many find work in the US.

Agonising wait

Norma has been in Tijuana since 5 November, but US border officials are only able to process about 60 Haitians a day. With an estimated 4,000 Haitians waiting to enter the US from Tijuana, and ICE officials estimating that as many as 40,000 more are en route from Brazil, the wait for an appointment can take months and uncertainty about the outcome has left many on the border despondent.

Since the 2010 earthquake, many Haitians in the US have benefited from temporary protected status for 18-month periods that have been repeatedly renewed, most recently until July 2017. But new arrivals don’t qualify for TPS and there are fears that president-elect Trump will shut down the TPS programme all together, making even Haitians who have been resident in the US for the past seven years liable for deportation.

Last Friday afternoon, outside the Casa del Migrante shelter, Norma and his friends were hanging out with a small group of Haitians – five women and five men – whose appointments with Customs and Border Protection were that day. They were waiting for Grupo Beta, a Mexican immigration organisation formed to assist migrants, to pick them up and transport them to the border. When the van arrived, everyone gathered around. Shelter volunteers took photos and waved goodbye and the Haitians staying behind looked on smiling, but with a hint of longing.

Shelter problems

Father Pat Murphy, who runs Casa del Migrante, has seen US policy shift too many times over the past couple of months to offer any advice to the Haitians staying at his shelter.

“The ones who went today probably will be paroled. By Monday they could change their minds again,” he said. He added with a frustrated laugh, “I’m not going to say anything to anyone anymore because I look like the crazy one.”

The unannounced policy changes have profound ramifications for the NGOs in the US that have the de facto task of caring for the parolees when they’re released.

Guerrero is exasperated that the government doesn’t appear to have learned from the very recent past.

“We were in this situation a couple of months ago. We were in a shelter crisis. We had to open up National Guard facilities. We had to put a call out for donations. We were feeding 500 people a day because they didn’t have anything but the clothes on their back. And now, by next week, we’re going to be in the exact same situation.

“It’s a failure of government to not make a proper plan or partner with receiving communities.”

The latest new rule

In a statement released on Wednesday, DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson formally announced the resumption of deportations for Haitian nationals and said he had authorised ICE to acquire additional detention space so that those apprehended at the border “can be detained and sent home as soon as possible”.

Among the Haitians in Tijuana there remains a stubborn fixation on the American dream, but Murphy is trying to persuade them to consider shifting it south just a few miles. He’s encouraging the Haitians to think about a Mexican dream instead of an American one.

“You get to the other side, have your parole, and in one year you go to court and you’re deported anyway. It’s not a final solution to your problem,” he tells them. “Mexico offers a humanitarian visa. Take it and work.”

“Tijuana has always been this place where people can feel at home even if they’re from somewhere else,” Murphy told IRIN.

And while it might not be the first choice for many here, it’s certainly on their radar.

“Haitians have heart; heart to fight, to work, to find a better life,” said Sammy Laroch, one of the Haitians watching the group climb into the Grupo Beta van to go to the US border.

Asked if he’d consider staying in Tijuana, Laroch said he would first try his luck getting paroled in the US, even if it carried the risk of detention and deportation. Tijuana was “plan C”.

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HAITI: Haiti faces a ‘major food crisis’, its interim president says – BBC News

Haiti’s interim leader tells the BBC the country faces a “major food crisis” after Hurricane Matthew.

Source: Haiti faces a ‘major food crisis’, its interim president says – BBC News

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HAITI: U.S. government quietly resumes deportations to Haiti | Miami Herald

As Haiti continues to struggle in the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew, the U.S. government has started to deport Haitians again.

Source: U.S. government quietly resumes deportations to Haiti | Miami Herald

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UPDATED: Hurricane Matthew – Support Haitian-led organizations

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If you would like to support recovery efforts in Haiti please donate to Haitian-led organizations.

Suggested Haitian-led organizations that CSFilm has experience with include:

Haitian Health Foundation, Working specifically in the hardest it area of Jeremie: The mission of the Haitian Health Foundation (HHF) is to improve the health and well-being of women, children, families and communities living in the greater Jérémie region through healthcare, education and community development.

SAKALA, Working in Citi Soleil, massive slum at the base of Port-au-Prince, dealing with disastrous flooding

Lambi Fund of Haiti, locally led long-term development work

Grassroots International, progressive US based organization with long relationships with Haitian-led organizations

ActionAid-Haiti – Locally led by a team of highly respected Haitians focused on long-term development and policy issues.

Partners in Health, Healthcare systems and response

 

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HAITI: ‘There’s Going to Be Famine Here’: Hurricane Matthew’s Apocalyptic Aftermath in Haiti

After traveling through the once beautiful, now devastated peninsula that bore the brunt of the storm, it is hard to believe there will ever be a full recovery.
JÉRÉMIE, Haiti — The roads were lined with Gordian knots of massive uprooted trees, twisted, severed palms, torn corrugated roof parts, crushed rural dwellings, schools, local shops. Mile after mile the scenery repeated itself; the devastation growing with an eerie intensity. Leafless trees and palms had turned black, as if scorched by the storm, and stood like frozen, shaven sentinels in a sea of flooded fields for as far as the eye could see. Destruction was everywhere.

A three-day trip through Haiti’s hardest hit southern peninsula revealed the still-unimaginable scale of suffering Hurricane Matthew left behind, and the long-term catastrophic impact the tempest will have on this Caribbean island. More than 1,000 people are believed to have died. Fears are growing of a cholera epidemic. And despite some long-delayed aid deliveries, hopes for the future are fading.

The colossal storm had hovered slowly, it seemed almost maliciously, over this agriculturally rich region, destroying everything in its path with an especially punishing blow to the region of Grand’Anse, Haiti’s breadbasket on the northern coast of the peninsula. Its final coup de grace: destroying the bridge over the Momance River, effectively severing the peninsula from the capital of Port au Prince and the rest of the country.

“It’s like a state of war,” said Hilaire Delence, a 28-year-old customs worker in the farming town of Torbeck on the south coast of the peninsula. Residents were desperate for any kind of help—water, food, medical supplies, shelters, anything. “The people cleared the streets themselves,” he said. “Every tree fell.” His family was one of the few that had several plots of crops and some cattle after decades of hard work.

“We’ve lost everything,” he said, walking through the rotten remains of their manioc field. “We were the only house left standing because we have cement walls. All the other houses in the community were destroyed. Our home became the only shelter as people ran from the fierceness of the storm towards the fields.”

Both of Delence’s parents stood on the porch, visibly shaken. “It started in the afternoon, on Monday and continued until Wednesday,” said Anne Marie Laurette Laurent, his demure 70-year-old mother, her voice quivering. “We huddled for three days here, we couldn’t move, we were shaking with fear. We just held on to each other. When we came out, we could not believe what we saw.” Delence said she had fainted.

His parents had farmed here for 60 years. “It will take five to 10 years to rebuild the coconut trees. Maybe 50 years for the big trees,” said Rosulme Gabriel Delence, his 68-year-old father, a proud Haitian farmer whose fixed stare betrayed the trauma he wished to hide.

The big trees bear the fruit called lamveritab in Creole and even âme véritable, meaning “true soul,” in French—the breadfruit that is prized by farmers for its multiple uses and the revenue it brings in.

“We [in the town] lost all our shops, too,” said Rosulme. “The books are gone. It’s the beginning of the school year. We owe credit for our loans. Now we have nothing, nothing.”

“I didn’t believe I would survive,” she said. “But I’ve lost all my resistance. There’s no hope to rebuild what we worked hard for.” Those who had sought refuge in the Delence house chimed in. A woman in the small crowd that had gathered around the porch cried, “All we have left to do is die.”

On Torbeck’s debris-laden main streets, young men had set up roadblocks in futile protest at the lack of help.

“No one, no one has come! Not the government people, not the international aid. We’re desperate,” said Don Duerviliyouyou, a young teacher. “This community is entirely dependent on agriculture and livestock, because there are no institutions, so no jobs. The only support we get is from the [Haitian] diaspora and that too is going to stop because of government corruption.” He had just summarized the situation of some 80 percent of Haiti’s poor. He paused and said gravely, “There’s going to be famine here.”

Down the road, heavily clad cops from Haiti’s Corps d’Intervention et de Maintien de l’Ordre (CIMO) security forces chased other protesters, firing tear gas in all directions. The protesters were outside the Haitian-Taiwan Cooperation plant. Inside, local mayor Guidile Joseph was meeting with the plant managers about getting help for the community. Asked about why no officials from the government’s Civil Protection had come to Torbeck, she raised her voice: “Me too, I am angry like the protesters. We don’t have a government. We have the will but no one is hearing us.”

Joseph described the magnitude of crop losses—manioc, rice, corn, pit mil (made into a type of cornmeal), peas, and many banana plantations.

“The loss is devastating, not just for us, but for the whole country,” she said. “No one has come to help. We have not seen a single delegation from anywhere. We need the international help.”

The same macabre landscape of devastation lined the 86-kilometer road to Jérémie. Haiti’s most vulnerable, its poorest, were putting out mattresses to dry, using the overturned palm trees as laundry lines were every rescued piece of clothing hung. Others were trying to save the trunks that were not completely destroyed to burn charcoal for cooking, one of the main reasons for Haiti’s massive deforestation.

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There was not a dwelling standing. And no convoys of aid. At Camp Perrin, midway to Jérémie, 300 families huddled inside a rudimentary building that served as school and library in this mountain village. A man waived frantically at our car.

Fortil Wisman, referred to himself as the community representative, but is a lawyer by profession. “No one has come, you are the first person I’m describing the conditions to.”

They, too, had no food, no water, just a large tin bowl of beans. “We’ve been forgotten, no local official has inquired or come,” said Wisman. “This is an area that is home to nearly 100,000 poor Haitians.” A major downpour began. Wisman noticed the uprooted trees. “We have no shade to protect us from the harsh sun, but when it rains, there’s no protection for all the sans-abris, the homeless, everywhere. People are getting sick and there’s no medical help.”

Grand’Anse, the northern province of the peninsula, one of the largest agricultural regions in the country, had been cut off from all communications. Haiti’s two main cellular service providers had been severely damaged by the storm. No news had come out of Jérémie, its capital and second port, also known as historical and cultural center.

The picturesque town, known for its gingerbread-style houses, and for its poets, has a prized tourist destination. It looked like a sea of pulverized wreckage stretching from the coast to its hilltops. The cathedral’s recently restored roof had been torn off, as were the roofs of most of the houses that lined its streets.

Juliette Nicolas sat on the porch of her Aubergine Inn. Soaked checkbooks, Xeroxed house plans, and a printer were on the table, piles of documents dried in the driveway, sheets and mattresses lined the roofless second floor. The fierce winds and rains had engulfed the inn, drenching every inch, including valuable historical documents.

“Jérémie is gone. It’s totally destroyed,” said Nicolas, a native of this town she’s been helping to support for years. She trained as an architect, and spoke of the irony of a meeting set up by the United Nations the week before Hurricane Matthew about managing urban risks in the aftermath of the horrendous 2010 earthquake that killed an estimated 200,000 people. “The main goal was to force a national plan for communal structural assessments and make that a law,” said Nicolas. “That way one would know where to put an airport. In Jérémie, our airport is on a fault line—but where do you put it?”

In Jérémie’s famed square, where the damaged cathedral stood, a man walking by stopped to say to us, to anyone, to no one, “I’ve lost everything. My wife is sick. My kids can’t go to school. Our house is destroyed. What are we going to do? Die?”

The heat pounded the weary residents on Sunday as they, too, stretched clothing to dry on any surface, including hanging doors or fallen ceiling beams. They cleared debris solemnly. Everyone echoed the same cry of help: “The officials haven’t come, the aid hasn’t come, we are desperate, we have no water, we need Aquatabs to purify the local water.”

U.S. Army helicopters flew overhead ferrying the 16 tons of supplies the U.S. government was able to bring to Haiti last Thursday, once air traffic had resumed. Tired but angered residents looked up, tempers were beginning to flare. The International Organization for Migration was in charge of distributing the supplies from the staging area at the small airport. But nothing had been delivered. On Monday morning, the first convoy of OIM’s huge trucks rolled in, barely passing through Jérémie’s narrow streets.

The long-term consequences of Hurricane Matthew’s destructive path was lost on no one. Even before the storm, 90 percent of Haiti had been deforested and was essentially barren land. More than 35 percent of its agricultural production came from this southern peninsula. The situation is infinitely worse than the impact of the storm felt in the United States. Here, it is not about getting a battered population back to normal. For many, that will never happen, and there is no real hope left.

In Port au Prince, the government promised that a wooden pontoon bridge would be temporarily placed over the Momance River. A Haitian presidential candidate said, even more boldly, that a permanent bridge would be up within days. But such assurances have been drowned in what is still the muddy and treacherous crossing.

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ON THE MEDIA, HAITI: Hurricane Matthew in Haiti: Looking Beyond the Disaster Narrative

Well-meaning people have either emailed or texted me over the past couple of days, with some variant of “how are things going in Haiti?”

Short of people’s prayers, and the question, “is everyone you know ok?” How indeed to respond?

Hurricane Matthew is a Category 4, meaning that winds are gusting at 145 miles per hour. This is the first category 4 since 1954, Hurricane Hazel, which introduced nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) to Haiti.

Aside from random notes trickling in here or there, the coverage has been minimal. This is in direct contrast to the earthquake that rocked the country on January 12, 2010.

Anthropologist Gina Athena Ulysse has inspired a generation of scholars, challenging us with a deceptively simple call: “Haiti needs new narratives.” The coverage of this storm is an urgent case for why.

Disaster aid is faciliated by media coverage. An article inDisastersdemonstrated a correlation in the amount of seconds allocated on prime time news to a particular disaster and the generosity of the response. However, the Haiti earthquake’s high media profile—and the generosity it inspired—came at a price. With stories of devastation, appearing to many foreign observers as hell on earth with phrases like “state failure” often repeated, foreign media coverage also naturalized foreign control of the response.

The media coverage—then and now—highlights the importance of what can be called “disaster narratives.” What is covered, what is not, who is hailed as a hero, whose efforts are ignored, shape the results. I detail this connection in a just-published book chapter.

The story is still unfolding. As I write this Tuesday night the category 4 storm is leisurely moving north, still dumping rain on an already fragile environment. So we won’t know for quite some time the full extent of the damage.

Coastal cities in the southern peninsula, including the largest cities, state capitals Les Cayes and Jéremie, are under water. The main road connecting the peninsula to the rest of the country has been blocked as the bridge in Petit Goâve has been destroyed by the torrent.

The centralization of political and economic power in Port-au-Prince that began under the 1915 U.S. Occupation and accelerated withneoliberal economic policies imposed by the U.S. Government, multilateral agencies such as the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF) and others renders getting relief much more difficult.

Once-thriving ports and regional economies, these secondary cities are now dependent on the road to the capital for almost everything. The province of Grand’Anse, with Jéremie as its capital city, is particularly isolated. Its primary economic lifeline, accelerated as the asphalt road has been advancing in the past several years, is charcoal.

Paradoxically because of its isolation, the Grand’Anse has noticeably more trees than other provinces. But this is changing: commentators from all across Grand’Anse have commented on the connection between this road and an uptick in charcoal production. Anthropologist Andrew Tarter is collecting quantitative data on charcoal.

The cutting of trees for charcoal production has rendered Haiti much more vulnerable to extreme weather events. The photos of the deep brown deluge testify to the topsoil being washed away, that would have been otherwise protected by tree roots.

Washing along with the soil is this season’s crops. This summer many breathed a measured sigh of relief as an almost two-year drought ended. These hopes were washed away with the downpour, representing not only food to feed Haiti’s exponentially growing urban population in competition with cheaper, subsidized imports, but the cash to send rural children to school. The high cost of education, and that it comes at once, is a major trigger for individual families producing charcoal in the first place.

With water everywhere in the photos it is easy to forget that clean, safe, drinking water will be an urgent priority in Haiti, still battling cholera brought to the island nation six years ago this month by U.N. troops. While finally apologizing for the disease that killed over 9,000 in five years, the U.N. has evaded responsibility for reparations.

These longer-term impacts are unfortunately not a part of the story. Frankly I would be surprised if news outlets will be talking much about the storm at all after tomorrow, as the focus is on Matthew’s impact on U.S. coastal areas. The governors of Florida and North Carolina have declared a state of emergency, issuing evacuation orders. Given the juxtaposition in this several-second media blips, one might well be wondering: why can’t Haiti do that?

The short answer is: they most certainly tried.

The Miami Herald’s Jacqueline Charles discussed the efforts of the elected mayor of seaside Cité Soleil trying to offer relocation assistance. Other local mayors refused, except for Pétion-Ville, offering emergency shelter for 200 residents (the request was 10,000). This is among the only accounts of Haitian people, particularly elected officials, doing something.

Given the fragile state of infrastructure and communications, local Haitian governments, the Civil Protection Department (DPC in the original French), have been doing an admirable job of moving people out of the most danger. Residents of Île-à-Vache were moved to Les Cayes, only to be doubly displaced by the deluge. In Abricots, an hour and a half from Jéremie via a very difficult and rocky road, moved residents up the hill.

While we outside of Haiti may not be told, grassroots organizations are doing an admirable job. In Cité Soleil, Konbit Solèy Leve has offered emergency assistance and Sakala, shelter. Peasants associations in Camp Perrin and all over the South province are welcoming people from LesCayes, down the hill.

These patchwork efforts highlight the limitations, particularly lack of resources. Charles reported that the Cité Soleil government was bankrupt. The communication and logistics necessary for evacuation, emergency shelter, and life-saving food and water, are straining Haiti’s already fragile economy.

And yes, there are still people living in what used to be called “camps.” Given official pressure to reduce the statistic, tens of thousands of people living in Karade are not “internally displaced persons” since Karade is now a “village.” Not two weeks ago, residents were newly threatened with violence in an effort to force them to leave.

I hesitate to write this given how Haiti has been politicized in the most cynical way by a candidate who has expressed his hostility to immigrants and black people generally, but frankly, Haiti was not “built back better” by the $16 billion relief effort to the 2010 earthquake, as UN Special Envoy Bill Clinton cheerfully promised.

So, what now? Right after the earthquake I wrote a piece for Common Dreams offering suggestions, which basically boil down to support local efforts, initiatives, ideas, and organizations.

Many people, including Haitian scholars, journalists, and social movements, have taken stock of the lessons learned from thehumanitarian aftershocks. Among them include:

1)      Support the initiatives led by Haitian people and groups

2)      If we contribute aid to a foreign agency, demand they post their decisions and relationships with local groups

3)      Solidarity, not charity

4)      Address the root causes, including neoliberal policies our governments enforced

5)      Demand that our aid has real participation by local groups, not just doing the work but setting priorities and identifying how the work is to get done

6)      Actually reinforce human capacity – making sure this time expertise is shared with a critical mass of Haitian actors, who can and should be the ones making decisions

7)      Link humanitarian aid to development (not the old, failed neoliberal model), and disaster preparedness

The storm will leave, the flood waters recede. I hope the world’s attention span will last at least a little longer, so that we will finally apply lessons at least Haitian people learned.

Mark Schuller

Mark Schuller is Associate Professor of at Northern Illinois University and affiliate at the Faculté d’Ethnologie, l’Université d’État d’Haïti. Schuller’s research on NGOs, globalization, disasters, and gender in Haiti has been published in thirty book chapters and peer-reviewed articles. Schuller is the author or co-editor of seven books—includingCapitalizing on Catastrophe: Neoliberal Strategies in Disaster ReconstructionHumanitarian Aftershocks in Haiti—and co-director / co-producer of documentary Poto Mitan: Haitian Women, Pillars of the Global Economy. Recipient of the Margaret Mead Award, Schuller is the board chair of the Lambi Fund of Haiti and active in several solidarity efforts.

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HAITI: New Haiti Briefing Unwanted Gifts: A Concise History of Harming Haiti

By haitisupportgroup.orgSeptember 17th, 2016

Our new Haiti Briefing No. 81 entitled Unwanted Gifts: A Concise History of Harming Haiti is out now!

The Briefing gives a historical insight into centuries of international meddling in Haiti often marred by mishaps, bad decisions and intentional harm. In light of recent developments in the escalating cholera controversy – namely the office of UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon last month conceding that the organisation was at fault in 2010 for the devastating outbreak of a disease that has killed close to 10,000 people – our Haiti Briefing offers readers an in-depth background into repeated efforts by outsiders to blame Haitians for their mistakes. From gunboat diplomacy and the AIDs epidemic to the Clintons, MINUSTAH and cholera. You name it, the international “community” has been there and done it. We argue that we must challenge the racist, imperialist assumptions upon which foreigners have acted and continue to act in Haiti and  defer where necessary and wherever possible to Haitian voices and Haitian administrators so that they can take the lead in Haiti’s socioeconomic reform.

The Haiti Briefing, published in English and French, is the key publication of the Haiti Support Group. Released quarterly, since 1992 our Briefing has provided our members, Haiti watchers and decision-makers with analysis of Haiti’s development issues, reflected through the voices of popular organisations on the ground.

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HAITI: Only Haitians can save Haiti

AFP_FJ4XO
washingtonpost.com, Opinion by Joel Dreyfuss, 

Joel Dreyfuss is a Washington Post Global Opinions contributing columnist.

Haiti won a rare victory on the international stage last week. After five years of evading accountability, the United Nations finally admitted that its peacekeepers were responsible for a deadly cholera epidemic that killed 10,000 men, women and children and sickened 700,000. Long after scientists traced the disease to the poor sanitation practices of Nepalese troops stationed in Haiti, the U.N. rejected the findings, claimed diplomatic immunity and enlisted Obama administration support to block efforts by Haitians to hold the agency accountable in U.S. courts. The U.N. backed down after a report by New York University law professor Philip Alston, an adviser on legal and human rights, became public. Alston called the U.N.’s stonewalling “morally unconscionable, legally indefensible and politically self-defeating.”

The U.N.’s arrogant stance was just the latest example of how Haiti’s friends are so often its worst enemies. The U.N. military mission has been in Haiti since 2004, presumably to “stabilize” the country and nurture its fragile democracy. Yet that democracy is barely breathing, with a “provisional” president and a group of dubiously elected officials who can barely agree on a date for presidential elections.

Consider the aftermath of the massive earthquake that killed 200,000 to 300,000 Haitians on Jan. 12, 2010. The international community did responded generously. Former presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush presided over a reconstruction commission that won $14 billion in international pledges and posed to help transform Haiti into a modern nation. However, what money was actually delivered was sucked into a morass of Beltway consultants, failed projects and nongovernmental organizations. “Valuable studies and assessments conducted by Haitians themselves were largely ignored,” the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development reported in a postmortem study. Six years later, the rubble in downtown Port-au-Prince has been cleared, but little has been rebuilt. The nation’s center of commercial activity has moved to suburban Pétionville. Plans to revive the capital remain as vague as the early-morning fog that drifts across the majestic mountains that serve as a backdrop to Haiti’s tortured history.

The Clintons have expressed a fondness for Haiti ever since they honeymooned there in 1975. Bill and Hillary have been up to their elbows in Haiti ever since 1994, when President Clinton used U.S. military power to restore Haiti’s first democratically elected president, Jean-Bertrand Aristide. Clinton, whose home state of Arkansas is the No. 1 rice producer in the United States, extracted an agreement from Aristide in 1995 to drop tariffs on imported rice. The resulting influx of cheap American rice destroyed Haitian’s near-self-sufficiency in food and sent thousands of poor farmers and their families into the overcrowded capital. Clinton has since apologized for his “devil’s bargain.” Fast-forward to today, and Haitians know that the United States’ presidential elections will have a profound effect on their future: A Hillary Clinton victory could mean more interference in Haiti’s affairs.

The current political crisis was precipitated by the heavy-handed manipulation of Haitian politics by the “Core Group,” (the United States, Canada, France, Spain, Brazil, the European Union and the Organization of American States). In 2011, they excluded the most popular political party from presidential elections and discarded one of the top vote-getters, and Haitians ended up with former bandleader Michel Martelly as president. They tried the same tactics this year, putting heavy pressure on Haitians to complete a tainted second round of ballots. Fed up, thousands of Haitians took to the streets to reject that advice and force a new round of elections over strong American objections.

Haitian identity at home and abroad is tightly linked to our native country’s status as the world’s first free black republic. Every August UNESCO commemorates the secret ceremony in Haiti’s Bois-Caiman in 1791 that triggered a successful slave uprising, which in turn fomented the revolution that led to its independence. I know I will offend many of my fellow Haitians by saying this out loud — but I wonder if Haiti will ever truly regain its independence. The reality is that Haiti, more than 200 years after it gained its freedom, has spent large chunks of its existence under the military, political or economic control of foreign powers.

Haiti paid twice for its freedom, first with blood and then with money. Haitians handed Napoleon his first significant military defeat by repelling the 50,000 troops he sent to restore slavery. But fearing a new invasion, Haiti signed an agreement with France’s Charles X in 1825 to pay former owners of plantations and slaves tens of millions of francs (variously estimated by historians at between $3 billion to $25 billion in today’s dollars) as the price for recognition. The deal doomed Haiti to 80 years of distorted budgets focused on paying off foreign debt and starving its people of the infrastructure and educational facilities that might have set the young nation on a more prosperous path. The United States began its military occupation of Haiti in 1915 and remained there for 19 years. But even before American Marines landed in the country, Haiti’s many authoritarian and corrupt leaders plunged the country into debt and exacerbated the domination of the many by the few. Rosalvo Bobo, an early-20th-century Haitian politician, noted that Haitian leaders had replaced the liberating achievement of their ancestors for “slavery of blacks by blacks.”

The ultimate challenge for Haiti — and many other small countries — is how to gain a measure of control over their own destinies, especially when they are in the “back yard” of powerful nations, dependent on foreign aid and are forced to deal with internal divisions. One way the U.N. could make restitution is to fulfill its pledge to rebuild Haiti’s sanitation system and begin planning a removal of the peacekeeping force. Those who want to help Haiti should begin consulting and involving Haitians at home and abroad in their grand plans.

But the best incentive for change will come from Haiti itself. A new chapter for the embattled nation will come only when Haiti’s rapacious business and political elites and its masses of neglected poor learn the lessons from 200 years ago — that no one is coming to save them.

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