14 May, 2010, Countercurrents
Six months after Haiti’s January 12 quake, inadequate relief has arrived, numerous accounts calling conditions hellish, unsanitary and unsafe – New York Times writer Deborah Sontag’s July 10 article for one, headlined, “In Haiti, the Displaced Are Left Clinging to the Edge,” saying:
Conditions around Port-au-Prince “contain a spectrum of circumstances: precarious, neglected encampments; planned tent cities (with poor sanitation); debris-strewn neighborhoods, (and only) 28,000 of the 1.5 million (or more) displaced moved into new homes,” the affected areas “a tableau of life in the ruins.”
Oxfam’s Julie Schindall said “Everywhere I go, people ask me ‘When will we get out of this camp?’ ” She doesn’t know so can’t say.
In her July 3 article, Montreal Gazette writer Sue Montgomery headlined, “Haiti’s camps of despair,” saying “life in Haiti’s 1,300 camps is crowded, unsanitary and increasingly dangerous, (an ongoing) miserable, boring existence….proper housing (and pre-quake conditions) years away” at best.
In dismal slums, she describes traumatized Haitians living in “torn, sweltering and soaked tents suitable at best for weekend camping,” surrounded by rubble and the stench of rotting garbage, their patience taxed to the limit, their lives shattered for lack of basic services, including housing, sanitation, and enough food and clean water.
Torrential afternoon rains leave “lake-sized puddles in which mosquitoes breed, then spread malaria. Deep, raspy coughs can be heard everywhere. Scabies and other infections transform children’s soft skin into irritating red bumpy rashes. Bellies are swelling and hair turning orange from malnutrition. Vomiting and diarrhea are as common as flies.”
On June 25, writing in the Los Angeles Times, E. Thomas Johnson from the Danish DanChurchAid relief organization headlined “Haitians still wait for recovery,” saying:
“In more than 10 years of emergency relief work, I’ve never seen camps like those in Port-au-Prince. International standards….are in no way being met.” Recovery and reconstruction efforts haven’t even begun, posing a:
“significant risk of further disaster. (The camps) are congested beyond imagination, with ramshackle tents standing edge to edge in every square foot of available space,” under rainy conditions “rais(ing) very real concerns about a cholera epidemic.” If a hurricane strikes, the death toll could be horrendous because nowhere can refuge be found.
Although rubble clearance will take time, it’s “shocking (that) it hasn’t begun. In four days of driving through this sprawling, heavily populated city recently, I saw only one backhoe in operation (repairing a sewer line).” The only modest cleanup efforts are by Haitians with shovels and wheelbarrows, inadequate for the enormous task. A “convoy of construction equipment” is needed, but there’s none. Why not, asked Johnson?
On July 3, Haitian-Truth.org saw “little hope for Haiti,” the country infested with “a load of foreigners and local bureaucrats, businessmen and other exploiters maneuvering for part” of the billions of pledged aid, very little so far delivered, President Rene Preval, collaborating with corporate predators, mindless of his people’s misery, some of the worst seen anywhere.
Yet “Millions are being made constructing (makeshift homes) that are nothing more than garbage and will not last 12 months.”
Pre-quake, most Haitians had no electricity or running water and still don’t. Too little of everything affects the homeless, and construction is more talk than reality. Crime is always a problem, but “more prevalent (now, attacks in camps) terrorizing thousands, especially women and girls,” Director Malya Villard of the Commission of Women Victims for Victims, Kofaviv, calling conditions “an ideal climate for rape.”
“Heaven protect us” from international community “experts (and disaster capitalism profiteers). But then, Heaven” long ago forgot Haitians.
On July 13, the Washington Post’s Dana Milbank headlined, “The sad math of US aid to Haiti: 6 months, 2 per” of the amount pledged, saying:
“The commander (Col. Michael Borrel) of the US military’s task force in Haiti and his deputies delivered some good news (about) ‘Incredible humanitarian efforts’….underway,” telling reporters that “significant progress” has been made, “a great effort (to achieve) some very tangible things (to help) the people of Haiti.”
“And what are these incredible and tremendous things:”
— in an area unaffected by the quake, four schools, each with two or three rooms and the same number of latrines – nothing for the three million affected people, half or more of them displaced;
— no rubble removed or people provided permanent structures, Col., Borrel admitted;
— less than 2% of promised reconstruction aid delivered;
— only 2% of rubble removed, most from the airport and port area to facilitate commerce; and
— less than 2% of displaced people moved into permanent housing; others still in tent cities everywhere, including on steep hills, soccer fields, and median strips of roads.
State Department spokesman, PJ Crowley called it an “enormous response.” When asked what else the military would do, Col. Borrel said nothing, his remaining contingent “will redeploy back to the home station” after September 18.
OCHA July 1 Report
OCHA says over two million people have been affected, 1.5 million still living in 1,342 “spontaneous settlement sites;” all vulnerable to hurricanes, storms, and flooding; and another 661,000 with “host families.” Unmentioned is that relief aid is woefully inadequate, and homeless Haitians are on their own, no meaningful plans in place to help them.
A July Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders) report headlines, “Emergency Response after the Haiti Earthquake: Choices, Obstacles, Activities and Finance,” saying:
— the quake destroyed 60% of existing health facilities, MSF losing 10% of its staff, either killed or departed; and
— those remaining forced to work under adverse conditions, its 3,000 staff providing care for 173,000 through May.
Although health care delivery has improved modestly in recent months, urgent problems remain, especially the lack of “substantial, robust shelter. Sheeting and tents were never anything more than a very temporary solution,” at best, lasting about six months. They’re now deteriorating, torrential rains a major problem, turning tent cities into open sewers, making everyone vulnerable to infections, parasites, and diseases like malaria, cholera, and dysentary.
Sanitation is major problem. A single waste dump serves three million, and it’s “full to overflowing,” compounded by overwhelming trauma, vast devastation, and no plans in place to rebuild.
Overall, “There is a staggering gap between (early) enthusiasm and promises (replaced by) the dire reality on the ground after half a year,” showing no progress.
A July 8 British Red Cross (BRC) report, titled “From sustaining lives to sustainable solutions: the challenge of sanitation in Haiti” called for an “urgent sanitation solution,” saying it’s one of Haiti’s main priorities, so far unmet.
BRC Disaster Recovery Manager, Alastair Burnett, said humanitarian agencies “continue to provide a large proportion of water and sanitation services….However, sanitation is a much broader urban reconstruction issue that falls outside the capacity and remit of” these organizations, able only to contain, not solve a growing crisis. A committed international community must do it. Their priorities so far lie elsewhere, leaving Haitians on their own in dire straits.
Even before the quake, conditions were grim, less than one-fifth of the population with access to toilets. Now in affected areas, it’s worse except for what aid agencies provide, including toilets, hygiene promotion, and clean water – for about 240,000 people of the two – three million affected.
Issues Affecting Women
The Huairou Commission is a “global coalition of networks, institutions and individual professionals that links grassroots women’s community development organizations to partners (focusing on) five campaigns: Governance, AIDS, Disaster, Land and Housing and Peace Building.”
In April, it published “An Assessment of Women’s Current Conditions in Haiti (little different now from then), saying:
While the quake has been an overwhelming human catastrophe, it’s been “particularly (hard) for women with significant risks of worsening. The crisis has intensified (their) responsibilities, such as care-giving for the vulnerable, including infants, children, the elderly and disabled, and amplified existing social inequalities, therefore exposing women to higher rates of poverty and violence.”
In Haiti, women are important because they “contribute to overall recovery….organiz(ing) themselves to distribute supplies, establish shelter, and pool labor and resources to create community support services” in times of emergency, often unknown and unacknowledged.
An assessment found the majority of women consulted living in precarious conditions, struggling daily for enough food, clean water, shelter, sanitation, and medical attention, with inadequate aid forthcoming to help.
Almost none of 400 women consulted got access to the “food surge” or other “Flash Appeal sponsored food or supply distribution.” As of early April, only five of 38 organizations got NGO or international agency distributions, those getting it using it for their own purposes, not for the needy.
In most cases, women have been on their own finding safe water, available only to those who could pay. Inadequate food as well creates “a daily anxiety (about) how to keep children fed and their basic nutritional needs met.”
In addition, most had to create their own shelter with bed sheets and other household fabrics, providing poor protection from rain, intense heat and insects. Poor sanitation makes exacerbates conditions, resulting in human waste and other garbage polluting the camps, creating serious hazards.
Their main medical concerns relate to communicable diseases in crowded camps, but a lack of medical attention complicates women’s sexual and reproductive health, most groups saying it’s become common for women to give birth on their own, posing serious health risks for mothers and newborns.
Other major concerns involve school for their children, employment for themselves, and safety and security, the latter a serious problem living in the open without electricity, leaving them vulnerable to theft and violence, including rape, numerous cases reported and many not, believed to be in the hundreds.
Overall, “women’s longer term priorities included permanent, safe, and stable housing, education from the primary to professional levels, healthcare and employment opportunities, aspects of life (most) felt had not been adequately provided prior to the earthquake.” Now they’re in disarray.
Some organizations say women must be “central in the reconstruction, that they be included in decision-making as well as recruited” for recovery-generated jobs. They want the same opportunities as men, but few always plague Haiti, in better times facing crushing burdens, including widespread unemployment, deep poverty, and repression, except for the interregnum under Aristide, conditions the great majority of Haitians want restored.
A Final Comment
Problems plague Haiti that won’t quit, one of many its prisons, those who know saying hell is being in one, a May 25, 2010 AFP report calling their conditions dire. So bad in fact that:
“Prisoners are dying (in them) due to ‘alarming’ conditions, human rights groups warned, saying that new facilities” are badly needed to relieve overcrowding.
According to the National Coalition for Haitian Rights (RNDDH) spokeswoman Marie-Yolaine Gilles, detainees are being crammed into tiny cells and given no medical care or much else.
Ecumenical Centre for Human Rights Director Jean-Claude Bajeux, said conditions are so extreme that inmates “are sleeping standing up or just on scraps of fabric.” They’re not considered human and are treated horrifically under overcrowded, poor sanitation conditions, getting little medical care or even adequate food and clean water.
In some facilities, average cell space is less than half a square meter, little more than crowded standing room, creating tensions any spark can set off.
On May 22, New York Times writers Deborah Sontag and Walt Bogdanich headlined, “Escape Attempt Led to Killings of Unarmed Inmates,” saying:
“When the earth shook violently on Jan. 12, the inmates in (Les Cayes’) squalid prison clamored to be released, screaming: “Help! We’re going to die in here.”
Unlike other prisons, this one sustained little damage, affording no exit to safety. “Instead, conditions worsened for the inmates,” most pre-trial detainees, “arrested on charges as petty as loitering (or absurd like witchcraft or werewolfery) and locked up indefinitely alongside convicted felons.”
According to justice reform advocate Maurice D. Geiger, “….you can be arrested in Haiti for practically nothing. And once you are arrested and go to prison, it is not only possible but likely that you will stay there for an extended period of time without seeing a judge.”
According to a 2007 International Crisis Group report, the injustice turns prisons into “powder kegs awaiting a spark.” The quake provided it, letting hundreds escape from Port-au-Prince’s national penitentiary, its largest facility, after one of its walls collapsed.
In Les Caynes, prisoners were packed “into cells so crowded their limbs tangled, former prisoners said,” so bad it provoked a riot, Haitian National Police (PNH) and UN Blue Helmets responding violently, rushing the facility and shooting indiscriminately.
According to a confidential UN report, former inmates, prison workers and relatives of the deceased, 19 were killed and dozens wounded after unarmed prisoners were forced to lie down. They were then shot in cold blood, Haitian officials denying what UN spokesman David Wimhurst said “a major human rights violation….”
According to Sontag and Bogdanich, “dozens (lay) dead and wounded, their bodies strewn through the courtyard and crumpled inside cells, (the) prison (a) blood-splattered mess.”
The official cover-up was that no lethal force was used. Rather, security forces found “lifeless bodies” when they entered the prison, saying a “prison ringleader” was responsible, slaughtering fellow inmates before escaping, an account The Times writers reject, explaining:
“Haitian authorities shot unarmed prisoners (pre-selected, some in their cells, others in the prison yard) and then sought to cover it up,” – afterwards, burying most bodies in an unmarked grave, their bloodstained clothes and shoes burned to destroy evidence.
According to human rights leader Myrtil Yonel, “For us, we consider this to be a massacre.”
No investigations were conducted. Forensic evidence was destroyed, and these type killings occur often throughout Haiti, on streets and in neighborhoods, police and Blue Helmets terrorizing people, committing murder and atrocities with impunity.
Even children aren’t spared, including in prisons. According to the Haitian National Human Rights Defense Network, dozens boys and girls are imprisoned, “….minors….receiving no special treatment whatsoever and routinely face prolonged preventive detention, overcrowding, poor conditions and no rehabilitation strategy,” unbearable for anyone, let alone children who may be adults before freed.
A final note. Rescheduled from their original February and March dates, parliamentary and presidential elections will take place on November 28, but under what conditions remain to be seen, given the mass deaths, displacement, and devastation, including destruction of the Provisional Electoral Council’s headquarters and most voter rolls that hadn’t been updated since 2005, omitting hundreds of thousands of young people now eligible.
Under Haiti’s Constitution, Preval can’t succeed himself. His term expires on February 7, 2011, but on May 4 he decreed a three-month extension until May 14 (Parliament voting to allow it), exactly five years from the date he took office. Credible Haitian elections any time are challenging, more than ever now under dysfunctional conditions.
Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago and can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org. Also visit his blog site atsjlendman.blogspot.com and listen to cutting-edge discussions with distinguished guests on the Progressive Radio News Hour on the Progressive Radio Network Thursdays at 10AM US Central time and Saturdays and Sundays at noon. All programs are archived for easy listening.