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Haiti and The Broken Promises

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By Elsadig Elsheikh

Six months after the earthquake devastated Haiti, most of the 3 million people who have been affected by the quake still live in misery.  The Haitian government estimated that at least “222,570 people died, 300,572 were injured, 188,383 houses collapsed or were damaged, of which 105,000 were completely destroyed.”

Last month, a report released by the United Nations Office of Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) indicated that “60% of government, administrative and economic infrastructure [was] destroyed, including the Presidential Palace, Parliament and the Cathedral, 25% of remaining houses in Port au Prince are so damaged they require demolition, 23% of all schools in Haiti [were] affected, with 80% in the affected area destroyed or damaged, and more than half the hospitals in the affected area destroyed or damaged.” Moreover, the international medical NGO “Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors without Borders” reported that “the earthquake destroyed 60% of the existing health facilities and 10% of medical staff were either killed or left the country” ( MSF Report, July 2010).

Additionally, the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti and other grassroots organizations in Haiti pointed out that about 98% of the debris from the quake has yet to be removed; thousands of bodies remain in the rubble, and 1.9 million people who have been made homeless by the quake still live in tents in relief camps.   Almost no transitional housing has been built, and most of these camps have no electricity, running water, or sewage disposal and the tents are beginning to fall apart.

Days after January’s quake, the world responded to the Haitian tragedy with unparalleled scenes of “generosity” on our TV screens: we watched how Haiti flooded with NGOs and promises from heads of governments from around the world pledging financial support to rebuild Haiti.  Over $9 billion has been pledged to assist Haiti to recover from the catastrophe, and for a moment it seems that humanity had reached the pinnacle of global solidarity.

But when the smell of death had gone, very few countries kept their promises.

Of the $9 billion promised, Haiti has received only 2% have paid in full, mainly from Brazil, Norway, and Australia. These funds were directed by the World Bank.  Other countries made contributions independent of World Bank direction, which have proven extremely crucial to supporting the neglected people of Haiti. For example, Venezuela has pledged to cancel Haiti's $395 million debt with Petrocaribe, the Venezuelan national oil company. Last month the government of Venezuela announced at a conference on Haiti in the Dominican Republic that $198 million from the debt is available for direct investment in Haiti's health and education projects.

Similarly, Cuba continues to assist in filling the gap of Haiti’s primary health care needs for 2.8 million of Haiti's 9.3 million people– both Cuba and Venezuela had opposed the supervision of the World Bank to direct donor effort for Haiti.  Senegal offered an even more generous gift via its president Abdoulaye Wade who proposed “voluntary repatriation to any Haitian that wants to return to their origin.”  The offer specifies that “Senegal is ready to offer them parcels of land - even an entire region.”

In contrast, it’s sinister that the US Congress - by the end of fiscal year, 2010 - has approved a budget of over $1.08 trillion for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan but is still debating whether to release the $1.2 billion that the US government promised to the Haitian people as aid assistance.

Many questions have been raised about where the money that has been collected on behalf of, and for, Haiti: Where was the money spent, and how has it been spent, and on whom has it been spent? These questions and others regarding the ethic of “humanitarian aid” remain to be answered by the hundreds of NGOs and international agencies serving on the ground in Haiti.

The Report On Transparency of Relief Organizations Responding to the 2010 Haiti Earthquake released July 12, 2010 by The Disaster Accountability Project indicates that “In its investigation, The Disaster Accountability Project found that of the 197 organizations identified as soliciting money for their activities in Haiti following the earthquake only 6 had publicly available, regularly updated, factual situation reports detailing their activities.” But Haitians have experienced more than their fair share of Western duplicity, enduring a long history of betrayal by Western powers over the last 200 years from the invasion of General Leclerc, Napoleon’s brother-in-law, in 1802, to the support of Papa Doc Duvalier and his family’s dictatorships in the 1960s thru 1980s, to oust of Jean-Bertrand Aristide in 2004.

Today, Haitians are waiting for the aid that the wealthiest of the world promised them six months ago, but despair and disappointment are sinking their hope as the richest of earth continue to negate their promises. Haiti’s disaster is not a sole responsibility of Haitian people nor is it completely natural, it is ours too, and the world is obligated to respond.

Readings on Haiti:

  1. The Black Jacobins: Toussaint L'Ouverture and the San Domingo Revolution, by C.L.R. James (1989).
  2. The Uses of Haiti, by Paul Farmer (2005).
  3. AIDS and Accusation: Haiti and the Geography of Blame, by Paul Farmer (2006).
  4. Reproducing Inequities: Poverty and the Politics of Population in Haiti, by Catherine Maternowska (2006).
  5. An Unbroken Agony: Haiti, From Revolution to the Kidnapping of a President, by Randall Robinson (2007).

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Elsadig Elsheikh

Elsadig is a research associate for the international program to lead the development of specific focus and thinking about medium and long term research and projects to leverage our understanding in looking at various societies in terms of racially, ethnically, economically, and socially excluded groups and communities for the Kirwan Institute. Before coming to the Institute, Elsadig worked with various grassroots and advocacy organizations in fields of Internal Displaced Persons, Indigenous population, human rights, immigration, anti-racism, and social mobilizations in Sudan, Greece, Colombia, and the United States. Elsadig was a fellow in the 2009 Human Rights Advocates Program (HRAP) at Columbia University. He received his MA in social justice & sustainable development and a graduate diploma in conflict transformation across cultures both from the SIT Graduate Institute in 2008. In 2005, he received a B.A. in political science & international studies from the Ohio State University, and prior to that he studied international relations at the Panteion University in Athens, Greece.