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Photo essay: Haiti’s earthquake victims wonder where the reconstruction money went

Originally published in PBS Newshour.

Five years since a magnitude 7.0 earthquake shook their nation, 80,000 Haitians remain in tent camps, a visible reminder of the slow humanitarian effort to rebuild the poor country and move its affected residents to permanent housing. Photo by Ed Kashi/American Jewish World Service

Five years since a magnitude 7.0 earthquake shook their nation, 80,000 Haitians remain in tent camps, a visible reminder of the slow humanitarian effort to rebuild the poor country and move its affected residents to permanent housing. Photo by Ed Kashi/American Jewish World Service

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On Jan. 12, 2010, a magnitude 7.0 earthquake reduced the impoverished island country of Haiti to rubble, leaving 220,000 dead, another 300,000 injured, and more than a million homeless. Many of those who survived also lost limbs to falling walls and debris from buildings that weren’t constructed to withstand seismic waves.

According to the U.S. Geological Survey, the tectonic plates hadn’t produced a large-scale earthquake of comparable strength in the Caribbean area for 150 years.

The tragedy triggered an international response that raised $13.5 billion in donations from governments and individuals, with the U.S. leading the relief operation. President Barack Obama spoke directly to Haitians — “You will not be forsaken. You will not be forgotten” — but every year since, critics have asked the same question: Where did the money go?

Five years later, the “build back better” reconstruction promise remains limp, critics argue, while tens of thousands of people are still in temporary housing. While the number of Haitians living in these tent camps have decreased since the earthquake, 123 camps housing more than 85,000 people remain open, Amnesty International said.

“On paper, with that much money in a territory the size of Haiti, we should have witnessed miracles; there should have been results,” Haiti-based photographer Gael Turine told Time magazine.

An overshot of Jalousie, a shantytown that was the target of a government project that relocated people that took shelter in the tent camps provided after Haiti’s 2010 earthquake. As part of the $1.4 million effort to beautify the slum, the Haitian government painted the facades of these dwellings. AJWS, among other critics, said the move was a cosmetic change that provided Petitionville, Port-au-Prince’s wealthiest neighborhood, a colorful view that belied the poor conditions the slum’s inhabitants faced. Photo by Ed Kashi/American Jewish World Service

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A woman hangs her laundry to dry in front of her makeshift home made out of tin and tarps. Five years after the devastating Haiti earthquake, many of the tent camps and shantytowns that once sheltered some 1.5 million people now hold about 80,000 as the government tries to move them into permanent homes. Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Then, for the first time in a century, Haiti suffered a cholera outbreak that emerged 10 months after the earthquake. As of August 2014, the disease had claimed 8,592 lives and sickened more than 700,000, the United Nations Children’s Fund said.

A four-person panel appointed by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon released a report in May 2011 that investigated if U.N. peacekeepers had inadvertently caused the outbreak when an overflowing septic tank in one of their camps spewed into the Artibonite River, a main water source for many Haitians. The report did no find the U.N. at fault. Haitian plaintiffs, in response, filed a class-action lawsuit in the hopes of holding the U.N. accountable for the outbreak.

Frustration in Haiti has boiled over into public outcry against government corruption. Two days before the fifth anniversary of the country’s earthquake, anti-government demonstrators gathered in Port-au-Prince, Haiti’s capital, to protest the long-delayed elections and called for the departure of President Michel Martelly.

 

A woman walks past the fence that covers the view of what was the Presidential Palace before it was destroyed when magnitude 7.0 earthquake struck just before 5 p.m. on Jan. 12, 2010 in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images

A woman walks past the fence that covers the view of what was the Presidential Palace before it was destroyed when magnitude 7.0 earthquake struck just before 5 p.m. on Jan. 12, 2010 in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Children sit on the wall next to the National Cathedral that was destroyed five years ago by a magnitude 7.0 earthquake that struck Haiti in 2010. Five years later a church has been built next to the ruins and the city of Port-au-Prince struggles to recover even as the government is locked in a stalemate over parliamentary elections that have been delayed for several years. Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Although reconstruction efforts have removed much of the rubble — the National Palace, once the symbol of slow recovery, was demolished in 2012 — the most visible reminder of the earthquake has been the country’s displacement camps, where poor conditions are compounded by chronic poverty and political upheaval. With an unemployment rate of nearly 40 percent, the majority of Haitians live under the national poverty line, the Associated Press reported.

Photographer Ed Kashi, working for American Jewish World Service, captured earthquake survivors still living in Haiti’s tent camps. Kashi photographed Camp Immaculée, which will soon close, leaving its residents with an uncertain future.

 

Tens of thousands of earthquake survivors remain in tent camps like Camp Immaculée, located in Port-au-Prince. AJWS said the camp’s residents face imminent eviction, and most have nowhere to go next. Centered is Jackson Doliscar, who, at the time, represented FRAKKA (Force for Reflection and Action on Housing), an organization that acted as advocates on behalf of earthquake survivors, providing legal aid and calling for a more sustainable plan to resettle displaced persons. Doliscar is flanked by camp committee members who, at every one of these camps, help promote the rights of the people living in these camps, AJWS said. Photo by Ed Kashi/American Jewish World Service

Tens of thousands of earthquake survivors remain in tent camps like Camp Immaculée, located in Port-au-Prince. AJWS said the camp’s residents face imminent eviction, and most have nowhere to go next. Centered is Jackson Doliscar, who, at the time, represented FRAKKA (Force for Reflection and Action on Housing), an organization that acted as advocates on behalf of earthquake survivors, providing legal aid and calling for a more sustainable plan to resettle displaced persons. Doliscar is flanked by camp committee members who, at every one of these camps, help promote the rights of the people living in these camps, AJWS said. Photo by Ed Kashi/American Jewish World Service

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Children play a game of dominoes as they hang out together near their makeshift homes. Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Children play a game of dominoes as they hang out together near their makeshift homes. Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Friends stand together near homes made out of tin and tarps that they built over the land where their homes once stood. Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Friends stand together near homes made out of tin and tarps that they built over the land where their homes once stood. Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Women face an increased risk of sexual violence in tent camps, AJWS said, among other human rights violations. Photo by Ed Kashi/American Jewish World Service

Women face an increased risk of sexual violence in tent camps, AJWS said, among other human rights violations. Photo by Ed Kashi/American Jewish World Service

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A family looks out from behind the tarp that serves as the front door to their home. Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images

A family looks out from behind the tarp that serves as the front door to their home. Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jackson Doliscar of FRAKKA, left, speaks with camp residents. Photo by Ed Kashi/American Jewish World Service

Jackson Doliscar of FRAKKA, left, speaks with camp residents. Photo by Ed Kashi/American Jewish World Service

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Most of these children were born at Camp Immaculée, and live adrift in this temporary tent camp — and its poor conditions — for the past five years. Photo by Ed Kashi/American Jewish World Service

Most of these children were born at Camp Immaculée, and live adrift in this temporary tent camp — and its poor conditions — for the past five years. Photo by Ed Kashi/American Jewish World Service

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A young lady looks out from behind a cloth that serves as the front door to the home made out of tin and tarps. Her family built the shelter over the land where their home once stood before the 2010 earthquake. Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images

A young lady looks out from behind a cloth that serves as the front door to the home made out of tin and tarps. Her family built the shelter over the land where their home once stood before the 2010 earthquake. Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images

 

 

 

 

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It’s been five years since Haiti’s earthquake. And the ‘redevelopment’ hasn’t been about helping Haitians.

Originally published in The Washington Post.

Anti-government protesters in Port-au-Prince last month called for President Michel Martelly’s resignation. (HECTOR RETAMAL/AFP/Getty Images)

Anti-government protesters in Port-au-Prince last month called for President Michel Martelly’s resignation. (HECTOR RETAMAL/AFP/Getty Images)

Five years ago this month, a terrible earthquake struck my country. I was in the capital city, Port-au-Prince, when suddenly the earth shook and buildings around me and across the city collapsed—taking with them hundreds of thousands of lives and the hopes of my nation. The world stood with us that day and in the weeks and months that followed. Donations poured in; the United States and many other governments pledged to help us rebuild Haiti. But five years into the reconstruction, as a Haitian, I must ask: For whom are we rebuilding our country?

Haitians are not benefiting as fully as they should from this global aid. Despite billions of dollars earmarked for Haiti, nearly 100,000 people still live under plastic tarps in displacement camps. Poverty has worsened all around the capital: more beggars on the streets, an increase in teen pregnancy, and more people turning to sex work. A cholera epidemic has wrought further devastation, killing thousands; the CDC and others have suggested the strong possibility that cholera was brought to Haiti by United Nations peacekeepers, the very force tasked with stabilizing the country. In truth, a great deal of the “redevelopment” has gone to help the rich and powerful, not the impoverished and displaced people who need it the most.

The Haitian government is using its scarce resources to invest furiously in tourism, the mining of gold and other natural resources, massive industrial construction projects and the exportation of our agricultural products. There are reasonable arguments for each of these strategies—after all, stimulating Haiti’s economy could increase the quality of life for people at all economic levels. But it takes little digging into recent investments to find stories of criminal abuses of power that have provoked outrage from Haitian citizens, whose land is being taken to make room for these projects without their consent.

Haiti’s building boom often appears to serve the purposes of Haiti’s elite and of outsiders, who stand to benefit from the land, resources and untapped potential of our country. Take, for example, Île-à-Vache, a tiny, pristine island off Haiti’s southern coast that remains unknown to most of the world. The island holds Haiti’s sole remaining untouched forest, a green oasis in a country where all but 1.5 percent of the land has been stripped bare by logging. Île-à-Vache is home to tens of thousands of villagers who have lived there sustainably and peacefully for generations.

All that changed in 2013, when the government declared the island a public utility and launched plans to build an international airport, 1,500 hotel rooms, a golf course and night clubs—a plan completely out of scale in a place formerly without cars, technology or government infrastructure.

The government promotes the project as a shining example of land, community and development existing in harmony, with equitable distribution of benefits for all. But villagers tell a very different story. The government forged ahead without assessing how the project will affect the land and its people. The islanders have not been compensated for their land and will likely be forced to migrate to the cities in search of jobs. And contractors have brazenly razed a virgin old-growth forest, dredged the untouched Madame Bernard Bay and cut down fruit trees that families depended on for their livelihoods.

When the community protested peacefully, requested information about the plans and asked to be included in decision-making about the project, the government sent heavily armed law enforcement teams to the island to suppress dissent. Local police officer and community leader Jean Mathelnus Lamy was arrested after organizing peaceful protests.

Elsewhere in Haiti, citizens are concerned that officials will not be able to properly regulate the burgeoning mining industry, which has the potentialto displace farmers from their land and negatively affect the environment; already, mining contracts have been awarded to foreign companies without public or parliamentary scrutiny. Meanwhile, the government is building industrial parks, including one for a South Korean clothing manufacturer on a tract of fertile farmland, instead of housing for earthquake survivors, even as the displacement camps that house them are closing. With no long-term plan to house them elsewhere, many of these displaced people may find themselves homeless again soon.

Fortunately, there are Haitian activists seeking to redress these wrongs. As a consultant to American Jewish World Service (AJWS), I work with 29 Haitian grassroots organizations that are using AJWS’s support to advocate for accountability in how relief funds are spent. These groups are working to rebuild Haiti for the benefit of all of its people, including those living in poverty and other groups that have been traditionally excluded, including rural communities, women and LGBT people.

One such organization, Collective for Île-à-Vache (Konbit Peyizan Île-à-Vache, or KOPI), is behind the peaceful protest movement on the island. It is demanding that construction stop and that the government consult the community and conduct an environmental assessment (which is required by Haitian law) before the project resumes. If the government continues to threaten this community and the land, KOPI plans to bring the case to international courts.

The world’s attitude toward Haiti and my own government’s attitude toward its people must radically shift. The U.S. government has taken steps in the right direction with last summer’s passage of the Assessing Progress in Haiti Act, which insists that the State Department be more transparent and accountable in the use of reconstruction funds. If Haiti fails to ensure that development benefits its people—something the government might be likelier to do with international oversight that the act promises to provide—then the earthquake will have meant not only a natural disaster, but also a radical redistribution of assets from the poor and vulnerable to the rich and powerful.

 

NixonBoumbaNixon Boumba, born in Haiti, works as an in-country consultant there to American Jewish World Service, an international aid and human rights organization.

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Congress Passes Bill to Assess U.S. Funding in Haiti

Ian Schwab, AJWS's associate director of advocacy (far left), speaks at a Haiti Advocacy Working Group event.

Ian Schwab, AJWS’s associate director of advocacy (far left), speaks at a Haiti Advocacy Working Group event.

More than four years after a devastating earthquake hit Haiti, the country is still struggling with deep-rooted inequality, rampant poverty and a troubled government. Congress recently passed a new bill to reform how the U.S. tracks the progress of its development projects in Haiti—with the hope of making those projects more effective.

“Our government laudably committed a significant amount of aid to help Haiti rebuild, but a lack of transparency made it difficult to understand how U.S. government funds were being used,” said Ruth Messinger, president of American Jewish World Service. “The bill will help establish clear and transparent goals for future U.S. involvement in Haiti and will ensure that U.S. dollars are spent in responsible ways that create long-term, positive change.”

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How Beverly Bell’s Book “Fault Lines” Offers a Portrait of Haiti Through the Lens of Haitian People

Fault LinesThe fourth anniversary of the earthquake in Haiti has come and gone. There were the usual speeches, press conferences, updates and flurries of attention. There was also, at least in some quarters, an expressed concern that it is “taking too long” to make a difference on the ground, that the problems of weak government, corruption, misdirected aid, and missing land titles are inhibiting efforts to put the country back together.

Yes, it is all taking a long time. We at AJWS are not surprised because we know the people who know Haiti well, and they predicted that the recovery process would not go smoothly. They warned those of us who were ready to listen. Haitian people understand the incredibly complex 210-year story of their country better than Americans because they live the complexity—day in and day out. They also know that too often, and in too many ways, the U.S. government has been complicit in creating problems for Haiti and in Haiti and that, in some ways, this is still the case.

All of this is to say that to understand Haiti, I believe everyone should read one of the few books that really tells the story authentically: Beverly Bell’s Fault Lines. Read More »

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Dominicans of Haitian descent deserve full equality in the Dominican Republic

DR protest

Protesters organize outside the Dominican Republic’s Constitutional Court.

Daniela lives in a batey—a town of sugar cane workers—in the Dominican Republic. At 17 years old, she has just graduated from high school and now volunteers as a community health educator. Her dream is to go to college—but that dream was crushed last month, when the country’s Constitutional Court revoked citizenship from all Dominicans of Haitian descent born after 1929.

Daniela was born in the Dominican Republic, but the government no longer considers her a citizen—just because of her family’s Haitian heritage. The impact on Daniela and her family will be devastating. Her college dream is now shattered, and she might be deported from the only home she’s ever known. Read More »

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Facing a Food Crisis: The Ingenuity of Haitian Farmers

Originally posted on The Jew and the Carrot.

With Passover around the corner, many of us are poised to recite the words, “Let all who are hungry come and eat.” But when nearly 1 billion people around the world are hungry or malnourished, these words become acutely daunting—particularly for communities recovering from disasters.

More than three years after a major earthquake ravaged Haiti, the country is still struggling to recover. Unfortunately, there is no shortage of problems: homelessness, violence, political corruption and, perhaps most severe, a shortage of food—resulting in hunger. In November 2012, these crises were further exacerbated by Hurricane Sandy, which ripped through Haiti before wreaking havoc in New York and New Jersey. Read More »

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Women’s Day 2012: Port-au-Prince, Haiti

On Women's Day, Haitian women march behind a banner that says "Social Justice."

As Women’s History Month draws to a close, AJWS’s country consultant for Haiti, Amber Lynn Munger-Pierre, reflects on Women’s Day in Haiti.

If there were an observable theme that I could surmise from the Women’s Day activities in Haiti on March 8th, I would say that it was unity. The Women’s Day march brought together many diverse groups from Haitian Civil Society—women and men, adults and youth. There were so many groups present that it is hard to name them all. Some of AJWS’s partner organizations that were present include: AJWS’s partners FAVILEK (Fanm Viktim Level Kanpe/Women Victims Get Up Stand Up), GARR (Groupe d’Appui aux Rapatries et aux Refugies/Assitance for Repatriates and Refugees); PAPDA (Plateforme Haïtienne de Plaidoyer pour un Développement Alternatif/Haitian Platform for Advocacy and Alternative Development); and FRAKKA (Fos Refleksyon ak Aksyon sou Koze Kay/Force for Reflection and Action for Appropriate Housing). Read More »

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Haitian Women and Rabbi Tarfon

It is not upon you to finish the work, but neither are you free to desist from it.” I have used this saying by Rabbi Tarfon from Pirke Avot many times, but until last week, I hadn’t truly comprehended the meaning behind these words. Over the course of three days, I had the honor of meeting a delegation of Haitian Civil Society leaders who came to Washington to meet with officials in connection to the two-year anniversary of the earthquake.  They came as part of the Haiti Advocacy Working Group, a collection of U.S. organizations devoted to a fair and more effective reconstruction process in Haiti, that AJWS hosts.  Two of them, Marguerite Salomon, Director of GCFV (Group Concertation des Femmes Victims), and Emmania Durchard, Director of AJWS’s grantee KOFAVIV (Commission of Women Victims for Victims), have been fighting to protect women from sexual and domestic violence in Haiti for decades. When the earthquake hit, the situation became exponentially worse. Instead of giving up, these women continued forward. As Emmania described “…after the earthquake, the rate of sexual violence was so high, that we needed to support all of them. We have more work to do, not only to provide support, but to advocate and educate.”*

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Haiti Two Years Later: Why Won’t the International Community Listen?

It has been two years today since the devastating earthquake in Haiti claimed the lives of approximately 300,000 people. This anniversary should inspire us to take a moment of reflection to remember those whose lives were lost and, even more importantly, to renew our commitment to supporting the Haitian people’s goal for a new Haiti. But there has been an unfortunate disconnect between the international community’s response to this disaster and what Haitian civil society leaders on the ground want for their country.

We Believe in HaitiAs I think back to the many conversations that I had with AJWS’s partners in Haiti right after the earthquake, they weren’t just talking about putting back together the pieces that were broken, as many who came to Haiti to help have tried to do. They wanted to use this disaster as the impetus to construct a new Haiti—a Haiti where those who were rendered voiceless for so long would finally be listened to and included in the determination of their country’s future.

These grassroots leaders have acted on these ideas, working hard since the earthquake to shape their country from the ground up. They’re working for greater inclusion of small-scale farmers in the government’s agricultural agenda, pushing for housing rights for the more than 500,000 people that remain in camps, fighting for more just laws that protect against sexual and gender-based violence and so much more.

But despite their progress, these local voices haven’t been consulted sufficiently over these past two years, as international organizations have descended on Haiti to implement their own agendas. In a recent article published by the Nation of Change it is estimated that only 1 percent of international aid went to the Haitian government and extremely little went to Haitian companies or non-governmental organizations. Instead, the funds have gone to support international organizations, plans presented by international governments and foreign private companies—all implementing their own agendas for how Haiti should develop.

In many cases, these projects have failed to succeed because they didn’t take into account the local context. For example, this past summer the “Building Back Better Communities” housing expo, held in Port-au-Prince, featured 59 housing units presented as possible alternatives for the more than 1 million people Read More »

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Remembering Sonia and Our Obligations to Haiti

By all rights she should have been a nobody. But instead, Sonia Pierre, the Dominican born daughter of Haitian migrants was, at the time of her premature death this week at the age 48, an internationally respected, award winning advocate for the civil and social rights of Haitian Dominicans and a leading grassroots responder to the continuing needs of Haitians in the aftermath of the devastating January 2010 earthquake. She was both practical and a bit of a dreamer. As we approach the second anniversary of that earthquake, when it seems that much of the world has forgotten the promises it made in response to that natural disaster, we can all learn something from Sonia, and in doing so, honor her memory and our commitments to Haiti.

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