Haiti and the Rest of the World: Loving their Time of Cholera

March 29, 2012

Image The UN’s man in Haiti, Nigel Fisher, is not happy, and neither should you be. Of all the peoples of the world requiring urgent assistance, surely the Haitians rank fairly high – what with the devastating earthquake in 2010, regular hurricanes and ongoing political turbulence. But, as Fisher complains, the level of aid reaching Haitians is measly.

Having called for $382 million in aid last year, the Haitian government saw less than half that figure delivered. This year, they were more modest. After requesting $210 million, to deal with those displaced by the earthquake, less than 10 percent has been delivered.

This has potentially lethal connotations. As Fisher states, it “threatens to reverse gains achieved in the fight against cholera through the promotion of sanitary and hygiene practices” and, as the rainy season approaches in May, thousands still living in makeshift camps will be “exposed to cholera outbreaks and risks of flooding.” Over the past two years, over 500,000 have sickened with cholera in Haiti, resulting in at least 7,000 deaths. Now, cutting the funds to treat new cases puts thousands at even greater risk. This is hard to fathom, but it’s how the world of aid works, or doesn’t work.

As a result, donors are pulling out of the country and scaling back key elements of their relief efforts. Temporary latrines were installed in their thousands by big donors after the quake, at huge cost. Now they are being removed and left to decay as the organisations which paid to have them maintained pull out.

Residents of the camps are also becoming victims of violent crime and arson, exacerbating their problems. As Alexis Ekert reports for the Women’s International Perspective, five camps have seen suspected arson attacks in the past two months. In one blaze, 96 homes were destroyed and five people died, including a mother and her three children.

Beset by “paid thugs” seeking to displace the camps, on the orders of richer landowners, and in the face of total government inaction, camp residents are resisting, maintaining their hold on the land that they have occupied since the earthquake. They are mistrustful of offical plans to move them (or some of them) into “planned” communities, and with good reason. In one instance, the Place Jeremie camp saw police visit in the dead of night armed with machetes and batons, destroying tents. Despite being promised $500 to move, residents received $25.

So resistance is growing. Alongside camp dwellers, campaigners from the Right to Housing Collective are demanding a national housing plan, an end to violence and a moratorium on evictions. This might bear fruit. As organizer Jackson Doliscar puts it “People are unaware of their specific rights, especially as displaced people. They don’t think that they have the right to ask anything of their government… That’s beginning to change… Many camps are ready to join hands.”

Groups like RHC are demanding an effective government, and one with the resources to build long-term infrastructure (such as a functioning sewage system). Yet since the quake, donors have been reluctant to give money to the government, seeing it as hopelessly corrupt and irresponsible. As the Guardian’s Prospery Raymond has reported, some have argued that with proper monitoring, money could have been channeled through the state, but the bulk of the money has passed through aid agencies, propping up the camps, but doing nothing for the state of Haiti’s sewage system.

Unfortunately, there is a massive political stumbling block in the way. Because the government of Martelly was “elected” in an election from which the country’s largest political party, Fanmi Lavalas, was excluded, and because the elections followed a transparent intervention by the United States and its allies to remove democratically elected President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, the Haitian state lacks legitimacy. Huge chunks of the people are excluded from participation in the political system by virtue of their allegiance to Lavalas, which amounts to discrimination against the poor, as Lavalas was overwhelmingly a people’s party, defining itself against the economic elite of sweatshop owners and professionals. Until the United States accepts that Aristide has a role to play in Haiti’s future, there may be no real progress in modernising the Haitian state, yet Washington seems determined prevent any such outcome.

So Nigel Fisher is calling for the aid that has already been promised, to be delivered. This might yet save some lives in Haiti’s refugee camps. But this aid is not enough. The current gang in charge of Haiti’s government (implicated in several corruption scandals), may not be the ones to trust with billions of dollars in reconstruction money. But supporting Haitian campaigners, and calling for Lavalas to be treated fairly, while allowing Jean-Bertrand Aristide to be welcomed back into politics, may allow for a transition of power.

That’s a fight for the people of Haiti. Our fight is to make sure that the gang we have “elected” make good their promises to the poorest people in the world. As voices at Westminster call for aid to be scaled back, we need to call for our commitments to be honoured..

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