mercredi 19 août 2015

Following Outcry, the Red Cross Is Shifting Its Priorities in Haiti

y Jacob Kushner
August 18, 2015 | 6:50 pm
When an earthquake decimated Haiti's capital and nearby cities in 2010, people around the world pledged $13 billion in aid, $488 million of which was donated to the American Red Cross — the largest branch of the world's largest relief charity.
In June, an NPR/ProPublica report alleged that the Red Cross had misused and wasted funds it devoted to housing, building only six out of 700 planned homes and failing to shelter anywhere near as many displaced Haitians as it had claimed. US Rep. Rick Nolan (D-Minn.) urged the House Oversight Committee to hold congressional hearings on the matter, calling the allegations "extremely disturbing," but none have yet been scheduled.
In a letter last month to Red Cross CEO Gail McGovern, US Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) said he was "deeply concerned" by indications that "the Red Cross failed to meet many of its objectives in Haiti," and asked for a detailed accounting of its programs.
Rather than assert that its spending information amounted to "trade secrets," as it did when it initially declined to detail its spending on Hurricane Sandy relief last year, the Red Cross replied that it had spent $76.5 million on temporary or provisional shelter, another $34 million on repairing damaged houses and helping families relocate, and $62 million on neighborhood renovation programs, which also included the repair of permanent homes. (Grassley's office told VICE News that he still wants the agency to disclose overhead costs and other spending details.)
Five years after the earthquake, some 64,000 Haitians remain officially displaced, and tens of thousands more reside in temporary shelters or on land from which they face eviction. Roughly 150,000 of them live in a desolate stretch of land at the foot of the mountains north of Port-au-Prince that Haitians call Canaan — the biblical Promised Land.
It is located just southeast of Titanyen, a settlement whose grassy plains have long served as a dumping ground for the bodies of political opponents and, more recently, for victims of the earthquake and a cholera epidemic, sourced to UN peacekeepers, that quickly followed.
With more homesteaders arriving each week, the Red Cross has partnered with USAID to invest $14 million in a series of projects over the next two years to support them as they build a permanent community. There is much work to be done: Canaan lacks paved roads, electricity, plumbing, and public services, while heavy rains and hurricanes make it vulnerable to severe flooding and landslides.
The Canaan projects are part of a $56 million investment that the Red Cross says it has committed to development and disaster preparedness in Haiti. It expects to spend most of this by the end of 2016, but will continue to sponsor various initiatives into 2017 and perhaps beyond.
The agency's adjustment of priorities in Canaan illustrates its evolving understanding of the infrastructural challenges that disaster recovery entails, but critics of its effort in Haiti insist that this does not absolve it of what they say were harmful mistakes.
'Helping people live more permanently in Canaan… is that a good idea?'
"They raised more money than they knew what to do with," Jonathan Katz, the Associated Press bureau chief in Haiti at the time of the earthquake and author of The Big Truck That Went By: How the World Came to Save Haiti and Left Behind a Disaster, told VICE News. He argues that the ineffective use by the Red Cross and other aid agencies of hundreds of millions of dollars in contributions shaped many of the problems the country faces today.
"When people criticize the Red Cross they say, 'We gave half a billion dollars to the Red Cross and five years later there are still some tent camps — where did the money go?' " he remarked, referring to temporary shelters for people whose homes had been destroyed or damaged. "Answer: into the tent camps. They built tent camps."
Habitat for Humanity estimated in 2013 that $500 million in total aid had been spent on emergency aid and transitional shelters, leaving just $200 million for reconstruction.By spending so much on temporary accommodation, charities left thousands of Haitians entrenched in precarious lodging conditions while allocating insufficient funds to permanent housing or services.
"If the response to the earthquake had been competent, Canaan wouldn't exist," Katz said. "The amount of work that would be put into making it safe to live in would be tearing it down and building it from scratch."
Missing from this discussion is the role of Haiti's government. There was no one living in Canaan at the time of the earthquake, but after Haiti's government declared the area a public utility, government officials and some relief agencies began promoting the area as a viable location for Haiti's displaced masses. Many heeded the call, creating a disorderly sprawl of improvised housing.
Clement Belizaire, the head of the country's housing agency, agrees that the humanitarian response was chaotic.
"There was a lack of coordination," he told VICE News. "International agencies were not responding to the will of the Haitian government, and that was a shame."
Belizaire noted that the Red Cross closely aligned its spending with the government's wishes, however. If the agency misappropriated its resources, he suggested, it did so at the direction of Haiti's leaders.
Leslie Schaffer, the American Red Cross's current Latin America regional director, told VICE News that this is why, apart from funding temporary shelters, the agency allocated millions of dollars to projects like Campeche, the urban housing project described as a major failure because only six houses of a promised 700 were constructed.
"The government of Haiti said, 'Listen, if you build new communities, there are land tenure issues, and we have to provide all the other services that accompany it. What would be better is if you would help us to reconstruct our inner cities,' " she recalled.
Belizaire believes that it is misguided to blame the Red Cross for not crafting a comprehensive housing plan when Haiti's government itself didn't have one. It took more than two years to create the housing policy agency that Belizaire now directs and for that agency to compose a national policy.
"You can't build houses when there's no housing policy," he said.
Meanwhile, he added, the government's preliminary plan contained what were in retrospect poor directives. Released two months after the earthquake, it urged swift and largely temporary solutions to shelter. The plan called for the immediate relocation of 100,000 people squatting in precarious Port-au-Prince locations, saying it had identifying five sites for relocation where "provisional shelters should be installed." But it did not name these sites, making it impossible to know if Canaan was among them.
By the time it formulated a national housing policy, Haiti's government had changed its tune drastically. "The construction of housing is the responsibility of families," it declared at the outset of the 72-page document. The plan called for increased loans and credit as well as incentives and support for Haitians to build or rebuild homes and communities themselves.
"That's what the Red Cross is doing now," Belizaire said.
'This is recognizing that this will be a massive city to come.'
Just three years after the disaster, homesteaders had already spent $90 million of their own money on construction in Canaan, according to an estimate by Habitat for Humanity.
Some of Canaan's areas have markets, schools of varying quality, and even two-story buildings and spotty, informal electricity. But newer arrivals must settle in areas with little more than dirt paths snaking between tiny structures made of sticks, tarpaulin sheets, and salvaged scraps of metal. The Red Cross and USAID have designed a series of projects to help change that. A nonprofit called Global Communities won the bid to implement the project, but it won't be building houses. It will instead lead from behind, working with the Red Cross to provide technical assistance for Canaan residents to accomplish their own goals.
Anna Konotchick, who is managing the Canaan program on behalf of the Red Cross, told VICE News that this strategy reflects the Haitian government's new approach to housing.
"Instead of 'get a government to build a house, get an NGO to build a T-shelter,' now it's shifted to providing communities support in leading the process," she said.
Red Cross funding will be used to help a Haitian bank set up microfinance lending and banking locations so that Canaan residents can benefit from long-term financial services and planning. People will receive loans to start small enterprises, ranging anywhere from wheeled coffee carts to cellphone charging stations. A second microfinance institution will extend loans to those who might not otherwise qualify — people without assets or who seem less likely to repay a loan.
Other projects are structural. The Red Cross will pay for a Haitian contractor to build Canaan's first paved road and fund its first water pipeline. (Residents currently buy water that is brought in on trucks.) It will also bankroll the construction of Canaan's first school to be approved by the Ministry of Education, and help establish a proper electrical grid.
Most importantly, the Red Cross will work with nearly a dozen different government agencies and utilities to coordinate Canaan's future development.
"This is recognizing that this will be a massive city to come," Konotchick remarked. "It's not just trying to react to what this is now, but trying to react to what it will be years from now, knowing that it will double or triple in size."
From funding technical studies on soil quality, to ensuring that each part of the Canaan is accessible by road, to creating local governance structures, the Red Cross will support residents as they "plan what Canaan will look like five years, ten years from now," she said.
To everyday donors, that may not sound coherent or even measurable. But it's what the Red Cross, USAID, and Haiti's government agree is the best way forward.
"Infrastructure, roads, electricity — this is our vision, and the Red Cross is supporting this," Belizaire said.
But Canaan's fate remains uncertain. Some believe the land may be a flood zone, and that heavy rains or hurricanes could jeopardize the homes and lives of its residents. A study released in April warns that "large areas of the settlement are currently exposed to flood hazard." If those risks aren't properly mitigated, Canaan could be another disaster in the making.
Global Communities is currently drafting a proposal due in mid-September that will lay out how Red Cross funding can mitigate these risks — by supporting the planting of trees to reduce soil erosion, for example. Belizaire has also acknowledged that the government will likely have to resettle Haitians residing on steep hillsides and other hazardous zones.
Critics like Katz counter that the premise of assisting the development of a city in a disaster-risk area is ill-advised.
"Helping people live more permanently in Canaan… is that a good idea?" he asked. "If in five years there's a hurricane and 2,000 people are dead in Canaan, [the Red Cross] better not say that they had nothing to do with that and then try to raise more money."
But Belizaire says there's little alternative.
"Yes, the area has a very high risk of flooding," he said. "We are a natural disaster risk country."
Follow Jacob Kushner on Twitter: @JacobKushner
TOPICS: americas, haiti, 2010 earthquake, international red cross, american red cross, disaster relief, canaan, housing, shelters, development, habitat for humanity, global communities, usaid, charles grassley, rick nolan, gail mcgovern

Editorial: Red Cross faces questions on Haiti relief

Posted Aug. 17, 2015 at 11:00 PM
The world reached out in grand fashion when a massive earthquake struck Haiti five years ago. Former President Bill Clinton raised millions of dollars. Celebrities organized high-profile benefits. The Times-News held a fund-raiser at the Williams High School auditorium starring our very own Alamance County humorist and star Jeanne Robertson. Thousands of dollars were raised here. Millions elsewhere.
The American Red Cross joined in the effort in a big way, promising to rebuild homes, schools and infrastructure in a country that was in desperate shape before the earthquake. The Red Cross raised almost $500 million, more than any other group.
Where did the money go? That has come under question in an investigation by ProPublica, a nonprofit news organization, and National Public Radio.
The chief executive of the Red Cross said in 2011 that the agency would “provide tens of thousands of people with permanent homes.” The actual number of permanent homes built through the Red Cross in Haiti is six, according to the ProPublica/NPR investigation.
Overall, reporters found “a string of poorly managed projects, questionable spending and dubious claims of success.”
The reporting has prompted an inquiry by U.S. Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa. In a letter to Red Cross officials, Grassley said he had been “assured that the Red Cross had made substantial steps forward in improving efficiencies and reducing waste, fraud and abuse within the organization. However, the recent news articles cast doubt on some representations made by the Red Cross.”
The Red Cross’ initial plan, according to the ProPublica/NPR reports, was to build roughly 700 homes with toilets and showers — luxuries in Haiti. They would start in Campeche, a hillside neighborhood in Port-au-Prince where residents lived in mud and sheet metal shacks.
No homes were built there.
According to the reports, the Red Cross was unable to deliver on many of its projects in Haiti. Red Cross leaders were reluctant to rely on the Haitian people or native speakers for help navigating the cultures and politics of a complex, poverty-stricken nation. So the Red Cross gave millions to outside groups, didn’t properly track the money, and spent too much on overhead and bureaucracy.
The Red Cross continued to raise money for Haiti “well after it had enough for the emergency relief that is the group’s stock and trade,” ProPublica/NPR reported.
The Red Cross has challenged the reporting.
In a letter to Grassley, Red Cross officials said they spent $400.5 million of the $487.6 million raised. They used the money to repair homes, provide rental subsidies and shelters. They also trained Haitians on first aid and jobs skills, and provided soap, buckets and rehydration packets during a cholera outbreak. The money bought mosquito nets. It helped toward rubble removal efforts. And it helped repair infrastructure.
Page 2 of 2 - “For a disaster of the scale of the Haiti earthquake, the needs were so great that we could not in good conscience halt donations or imagine at the outset what precise amount of donations would be needed,” the agency wrote to Grassley. “We are confident that those donations were needed and we spent and committed them well.”
But Grassley’s frustration has only grown. The senator has criticized the Red Cross for not being more transparent about how it spent the money it raised for Haiti. Red Cross frontline workers over the years, decades, have done tremendous work, often under extremely difficult conditions. Locally in Alamance County they’re the first to lend a hand to those touched by fires or other tragic events. Their work here is a godsend for families.
But it’s essential that not-for-profit fundraising organizations be utterly transparent to donors, to recipients, to the broad public. They deal with disaster. But first they have to earn trust.
Parts if this editorial were previously published in the Chicago Tribune.

Haiti’s critical test — and ours

wilson.house.gov Haiti faced a critical test last week when voters headed to the polls to cast ballots for the men and women who will serve in the next Parliament. The election, three years overdue, was the first of three to be held by December and will measure the nation’s ability to hold fair and transparent elections and self-govern.

In this first round, more than 1,800 candidates vied for approximately 130 seats, which in itself is extremely problematic. During the inevitable October runoffs, voters will also cast ballots to elect a new president from yet another overcrowded field of more than 50 candidates.
Its current head of state, President Michel Martelly, has governed by decree since January, when the last Parliament coincidentally dissolved on the fifth anniversary of the 2010 earthquake that killed 200,000 people. Without the same checks and balances that most democracies enjoy and not enough lawmakers to even form a quorum, Martelly has been unable to achieve much in the past eight months.

Haiti took its first tentative steps toward true democracy just days after the United States marked the 50th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act. It was a bittersweet occasion since the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2013 ruling that eviscerated the heart of the landmark law — the coverage formula that required certain states and jurisdictions with a history of discrimination to first clear election changes with the Department of Justice. So, instead of serving as model that Haiti can emulate, we are still creating barriers to voting for certain Americans, including minorities, poor people, seniors and young adults.

Haitian voters faced obstacles at the polls that were reminiscent of that unfortunate period in American history before the VRA when African Americans, especially in the South, were denied the right to vote. At some polling stations in Haiti, they were forced to wait for hours before they were able to cast ballots, while at others, they were turned away because their names were not on the official lists of registered voters. In too many instances, voters could not cast their ballots in privacy. Fifty-four polling stations were closed because of violence and there were also allegations of ballot stuffing and missing election materials. At least two people were killed.

Yet according to a report from the Organization of American States, which sent 28 monitors to observe the elections, “most polling stations were able to conclude their operations as planned, and characterized the holding of the elections as a step forward for Haitian democracy.”
That’s not good enough, and I believe that Haitian voters, who have waited three long years to have their say, deserve much, much better. I also have a vested interest in seeing democracy grow and thrive in Haiti. South Florida is a gateway to it and other Caribbean nations. But practicalities aside, I consider the Haitian people to be both friends and family.

Fair and credible elections are a critical first step toward showing the world that the Haitian people are ready to move beyond the disasters, natural and man-made, that have adversely affected their nation. There is no more fundamental way of doing that than through the power of the ballot box.
It may be a while before the election results and details about turnout are made public. I am hoping that Haitian voters defied expectations of low turnout and that millions went to the polls en masse. And, I hope they will be ready to do it again in October and December.

I urge Haitian voters to not be discouraged by any obstacles they may have faced because voting is the foundation on which all other changes, from the political to the economic, will be built. As my colleague and civil-rights icon Rep. John Lewis recently noted, “When it comes time to get out and vote, we have to do so. The right to vote is the most powerful nonviolent, transformative tool we have in a democracy, and the least we can do is take full advantage of the opportunity to make our voices heard.”

The world will be waiting and watching.
It will be watching us, too, and waiting to see whether the United States will hold itself to the same expectations that it has for others by ensuring that the Voting Rights Act fully reflects its original intent and the promise of fair and credible elections here at home.

Read more here: http://www.miamiherald.com/opinion/op-ed/article31340492.html#storylink=cpy

Cholera, climate change fuel Haiti's humanitarian crisis: UN

By Amelie Baron
 Port-au-Prince (AFP) - Climate change, cholera and the return of thousands of emigrants from the neighboring Dominican Republican are fueling a humanitarian crisis in Haiti, the UN warned. The impoverished Caribbean nation is facing a deluge of problems, pushing an already vulnerable population closer to the edge, said Enzo di Taranto, who heads Haiti's UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). Among these pressures is a new cholera outbreak. Cases are up 300 percent in the first months of 2015 compared to the same period last year, di Taranto said in an interview with AFP. Haiti -- the poorest country in the Americas -- is already suffering from chronic instability and struggling to recover from a devastating 2010 earthquake that killed more than 250,000 people and crippled the nation's infrastructure.

A cholera outbreak after the quake was blamed on UN peacekeepers' poor hygiene.
According to UN data, nearly 20,000 people have been affected and 170 killed by the disease since the beginning of the year.
More than 8,800 Haitians have died of cholera since it appeared in October 2010 and, even today, cases recorded in Haiti surpass the total number of people with the disease elsewhere in the world.
Beyond the increase in cholera, the humanitarian situation in the country is worsening because of a "convergence of several factors," di Taranto said.

"The devaluation of the gourde (Haitian currency), which means an increase in the price of baseline products like medicine, food and water; the drought which has hit many regions in the country; and also the repatriation of Haitians from the Dominican Republic," are all contributing, he said.
- Families with nothing -
In June, the neighboring Dominican Republic introduced a tough new immigration policy, prompting 60,000 Haitians to leave the country.
Many ended up back in Haiti, straining an already vulnerable system.
The uncontrolled flow is exerting a "demographic pressure on the already very weak health system in Haiti and on the supply of food and water," di Taranto said.
He said the problems are especially bad in the southeastern community of Anse-a-Pitres.
Many families who returned from the Dominican Republic are living hand-to-mouth in shanties.
The effects of climate change are also encroaching. The summer drought previously confined to country's north has crept into the south.
"In the Cayes region and the Macaya natural park, water sources are dry," di Taranto said. "It's a problem that's spreading."

Haiti, which has lost 98 percent of its forest cover, has seen worsening agricultural conditions and topsoil erosion.
Because of this, the warm air current from "El Nino" is affecting Haiti more than other countries in the region.
"We need to launch public rural development programs which let us confront these climatological dynamics that we can't control," di Taranto said.
To address the immediate humanitarian emergency, OCHA estimates it will need around $25 million in the next four to six months.
But five years after the devastating earthquake that killed more than 250,000 people, international aid for Haiti is diminishing.
It's a situation that directly threatens help for more than 60,000 victims of the quake who are still living in camps.
To access a broader pool of potential donors, the United Nations is planning an online crowdfunding campaign and also using celebrities to draw attention to the cause.
The last such visit was from the singer Beyonce in May.

Haiti Elections 2015: Violence At Polls Results In 14 Candidate Disqualifications

By Clark Mindock @clarkmindock on August 18 2015 6:37 PM EDT

Fourteen candidates for national office in Haiti were disqualified Tuesday by state election officials following violent disturbances at voting stations across the country earlier this month. Accusations of violence during the elections spanned from allegations that one candidate asked their supporters to attack their opponent to allegations that a candidate shot a gun in the air at a polling station.

Voters went to the polls Aug. 9 to choose two-thirds of the country's 30-member Senate and to elect the entire Chamber of Deputies class. Whether or not those who were disqualified had won, according to the Associated Press, is uncertain because the winners had not been announced yet. In January, the country disbanded its parliament, and it had been three years since the last vote in the country took place.

Of those disqualified was Arnel Belizaire, a former opposition member of the Chamber of Deputies who was accused of firing a weapon at a polling site. He has denied the accusations.
In spite of the violence concerns during the polling, which was the first of three scheduled dates to renew the government, international observers considered the voting to have gone pretty well overall. Still, there has been concern that the violence and intimidation kept many people at home when they should have been casting their votes.

"The consensus is that, while there were some problems -- including more than two dozen polling places that were shut down for some reason or another -- the process did go on fairly smoothly," said senior correspondent for Al-Jazeera Rob Reynolds at the time.

The country is slated to vote again in October, when presidential voting will also begin. A third round could take place in December. International allies have been pitching in to cover the $74 million price tag of the elections, and citizens have been encouraged to vote in all three rounds of voting. Every two years, a third of the Senate seats are normally replaced; however, voting was suspended in 2012.