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Haiti Nine Months On

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October 22, 2010

Haiti Nine Months On

Donor money spent on a road map no-one can read

by Isabeau Doucet

Ex-US President Bill Clinton at the Sean Penn-sponsored camp for internally-displaced Haitians at the Petionville Golf club. Photo: Isabeau Doucet

PORT-AU-PRINCE, HAITI—“Nothing! Nothing! We’ve seen nothing!” chanted the crowd of internally displaced people (IDP) in Port-au-Prince on October 6. They were pursuing former US president Bill Clinton after his photo-op in their squalid camp. Clinton was on his way to the third Interim Haiti Reconstruction Commission (IHRC) meeting in downtown Port-au-Prince. Ironically, the camp is considered one of the capital's best, thanks to the attention brought to it by actor Sean Penn.

Similar chants were echoed at a demonstration of about 200 IDPs on October 12 in front of Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive’s offices, where the IHRC is based. At that action, called exactly nine months after the quake, protesters delivered a letter demanding respect for their Constitutionally guaranteed right to housing, a moratorium on forced expulsions and an end to the “masquerade aid” of non-governmental organizations (NGOs).

The IHRC, co-chaired by Clinton and Bellerive, is the body that decides how to spend money donated to rebuilding Haiti after the January 12, 2010, earthquake. This month’s meeting took place by teleconference, and journalists were invited to follow it by calling a US-based number. This immediately excluded any Haitian who could not afford the three-hour-long international call.

Some journalists crowded into the PM’s press room to listen to the meeting over a small pod-like speaker that looked like an oversized video game joystick. The teleconference’s sound quality was poor, static-filled and at times unintelligible. I was sitting closest to the speaker and straining to make out what was being said. All seven of the foreign white journalists in the room were seated around the conference table where the mini-speaker sat. Only three of approximately 20 Haitians present were seated around the table; the rest were in chairs along the walls of the room, out of earshot of the muffled voices deciding their country’s fate.

As if to underscore this irony, most of the conference was conducted in English. French statements were translated into English, but not vice versa. Nothing was presented in or translated into Kreyol, the national language, making it even more difficult for Haitians to know where the millions of dollars are going. The whole exercise felt amateurish. The conference call plodded along, casual and faltering. The IHRC board did not seem bothered by frequent interruptions and confusion, as though voting on the investment of millions of dollars was a banal hobby.

Reginald Boulos, an industrialist from one of Haiti's most powerful families and a staunch backer of the 2004 coup d'etat against President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, insisted that meetings should begin with a progress update on projects to ensure transparency and accountability, implying that even IHRC board members have little information on the whereabouts of previously approved money. His minor reservations and criticisms were later trumpeted by Clinton as "fierce debate and vigorous participation on the part of the Haitian members of the board."

The session took place during Haiti’s “back-to-school” week, and at the subsequent press conference Clinton claimed that 80 per cent of children who were in school before the earthquake are now back in class. It was unclear how he obtained that figure two days into the new term, and many schools didn’t resume class until the following week.

At its last meeting in August, the IHRC approved $94 million—a much needed investment— to prepare schools for the new academic year. Haiti ranks alongside Somalia and Eritrea as one of the worst places on the planet to be a schoolchild. Only half of Haiti’s children attended (mostly private) schools before January 12; the quake destroyed about 90 per cent of those schools. Only $26 million of the $94 million has been funded. Fewer kids are in class than ever before, and Haiti’s Ministry of Education says it still hasn’t seen any of the money allocated to schools.

The press release given to journalists after the IHRC meeting stated that UNICEF gave $100 million to “support the Haitian government and civil society in the fight against gender-based violence.” But during the meeting, there was no mention of the UNICEF money, only concerns that a $10.6 million UN population fund for women and girls’ “gender equality impact is not yet approved,” according to one of the board members.

It is unclear where UNICEF’s $100 million has gone. Merina Zuluanie of FAVILEK (Women Victims Stand Up), a grassroots organization that has been providing medical, legal, and moral support for women and children victims of sexual abuse and violence for over 15 years, said her group has not received any IHRC or UNICEF funding.

I spoke with Malia Villard Appolon, the coordinator of KOFAVIV (Commission of Women Victims for Victims), a coalition of raped women. KOFAVIV members have taken charge of their own security in camps—organizing escorts to protect women going to the toilets, handing out whistles to women at risk, raising awareness of women's vulnerability and organizing groups of men to take shifts patrolling their areas of residence. Before the earthquake, KOFAVIV had an office with a clinic, doctor, nurse, psychologist, laboratory and everything in place to accommodate rape victims. That was all destroyed on January 12 but since then, Malia says, “we have received nothing from UNICEF.”

None of this might may come as a surprise, nine months on, if you consider that Haiti’s main national hospital in downtown Port-au-Prince looks much like it did in the aftermath of the quake: hallways and pharmacies full of rubble; people waiting outside for treatment; operations being conducted in tents; the pediatrics unit damaged beyond repair. Dr. Claude Surena, the head of the Haitian Medical Association, and regional health director, said he has an 18-month strategy to get the health sector back on its feet, but he can’t move ahead with anything until donor funds arrive. According to the IHRC website, $17 million was approved and funded on August 17. So why is the place still in shambles?

“I think we’re making progress with the road reconstruction and agriculture sectors,” said Clinton, without going into specifics. The IHRC website says $464.8 million in road construction and rehabilitation projects were funded back in August for some 389 kilometres of road. The site's sections on “Job Creation” and “Institutional” assessment of public buildings, indicate $0 funding has been provided. "Housing" has received $13.4 million and "Education," $26 million.

As a recent study by Oxfam (or a visit to any market) shows, Clinton has taken no measures to lobby for a reversal of his administration’s trade policies—policies for which he took personal responsibility back in March—which decimated Haiti’s rice crops by flooding the market with heavily subsidized Arkansas rice.

The Haitian elite on the IHRC has funded itself (thanks to the Inter-American Development Bank and World Bank) with $24.5 million of $35 million over five years to “establish a partial credit guarantee fund for enterprise development,” according to the IHRC website. Meanwhile, the same IHRC board has released no funding for the $65 million earmarked over the next 12 months to “create 300,000 temporary jobs across the country, focusing on populations touched by the earthquake.” Neither has the project to “assess public buildings in the 10 departments”—$1 million over five months—been funded. A mere $13.4 million has been provided for housing, Haiti’s most critical need.

At the post-meeting press conference, when asked “what of the IHRC funding is being given to help people in the camps,” Clinton interrupted the journalist, dodged the question, and spoke of the need to implement a mortgage system. This exchange reveals why Clinton heads the IHRC. His priorities are to facilitate banks providing mortgages, the wealthy elite finding credit, and businesses having roads to bus in their workers and ship out their sweatshop assembled garments and electronics. Job-creation and housing for Haiti’s 1.5 million homeless people suffering in squalid camps will just have to wait.

Isabeau Doucet is an independent journalist, story-teller and artist based in Haiti. This article was originally published by Haiti Liberte.

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