Two days ago, the two hour, weekly national phone in program of CBC Radio One discussed the two year anniversary of the earthquake in Haiti. Cross Country Checkup’s broadcast was modeled on its broadcast on the one year anniversary, with the same two invited guests—David Morley, Director of UNICEF Canada, and Professor Robert Fatton of Wesleyan University in Virginia. Mr. Morley accompanied the entire program. Professor Fatton was interviewed for ten minutes.
This year’s program was an improvement over last year’s for two large reasons. One, by pure chance, several callers who came onto the broadcast spoke of the exemplary work of the two largest international providers of health care in Haiti—the Cuban medical mission and Partners In Health. And two, the wishful thinking expressed by Mr. Morley and Professor Fatton last year for the 2010/2011 national election process (of which the count of the fraudulent first round was in full swing at the time of the broadcast) was absent this time.
Here are some of the positives and negatives that came through in this year’s broadcast.
* As mentioned above, Cuba’s and Partners In Health’s exemplary work in promoting public health care in Haiti came through strongly. Several callers referred to the inspirational biography of Paul Farmer, Mountains Beyond Mountains (by Tracy Kidder, 2004).
* Professor Fatton poured cold water on misguided or misleading confidence in the record of the Martelly/foreign power regime governing Haiti today. He said that Haiti under Martelly is mired in a web of destructive economic policy and inertia on social policy, with similarities to the years of the pre-1986 Duvalier tyranny. Specifically, he said the reliance on foreign-owned sweatshop manufacturing factory investment as a road ahead for Haiti’s economy (with the consequent inattention to agricultural development) is a worn policy that has been tried and failed in the past and will fail again.
* Many of the callers on the program reported on positive experiences in working with Haitians on development projects. They expressed admiration for the Haitian people and many had cautious optimism for the future.
Not so positive
There were important shortcomings in the broadcast, the more important of which were the following:
* Poor presentation of the crisis of housing and shelter. The broadcast did not explain the scope of the crisis in housing and shelter and the difficulties that persist. Furthermore, David Morley provided a misleading description when he said that the relief effort had succeeded in bringing the number of people in the camps of displaced persons down from 1.5 million in the late spring of 2010 to 500,000 in the latest counts. The impression created is that one million people have been sheltered or re-housed. That’s wildly off base, including for these reasons:
1. Of the app. 400,000 buildings in Port au Prince at the time of the earthquake, 20 per cent were destroyed or damaged beyond repair.[i] Another 26 per cent require major structural repair in order to be safe to reinhabit. That’s app 175,000 dwellings and this accounted for less than half the people in the camps at their highpoint. The remaining numbers of people in the camps were there due to other, pressing humanitarian reasons, including they felt unsafe in their homes or neighbourhoods; water, food and other services to neighbourhoods were disrupted or non-existent; and aid was more accessible in the camps.
2. A portion of the decline in the number of people in the camps is for very disturbing reasons, namely, the re-occupation of condemned or severely damaged homes. According to the 2011 BARR Study, app 65 per cent of condemned dwellings and 85 per cent of severely damaged dwellings had been reinhabited by early 2011. These reoccupation numbers are likely even higher today. Sadly, this is a part of the story of the housing and shelter crisis that is virtually absent from the public discourse, no doubt because it casts a bad light on the pace and scope of the shelter program overall.
3. A portion of the decline came from people who left the earthquake zone entirely and moved to other areas of Haiti that were already lacking shelter and other life-sustaining resources.
* No reporting on the cholera epidemic. Unfortunately, there was next to nothing reported on the broadcast concerning the cholera epidemic. It remains a concern not only due to the continued infections and mortalities (now exceeding 7,500 victims), but also because available resources for cholera prevention are receding as many international organizations end their funding or programs. As well, the apparently reckless conduct of the UN military mission in Haiti went without comment. MINUSTAH accepted cholera-infected soldiers from Nepal to its mission, and they, in turn, failed to properly treat their sewage, either dumping it or allowing it to run off Haiti’s largest river system.
* No reporting on the human rights situation. Haiti is beset with a host of human rights challenges, including the prison system that Canada has been funding and to which it has assigned overseers, the grave problems of sexual violence against women, the continued, apparent impunity enjoyed by former dictator Jean Claude Duvalier, and President Martelly's determined plans to revive a Haitian army (disbanded in 1995 due to its history of human rights violations).
* The future of MINUSTAH. This year will be the eighth anniversary of the creation of the MINUSTAH police and military mission in Haiti. Why is the force in Haiti, and what useful role is it playing in the country, if any? This question merited attention but did not receive it. The little information that was presented to the broadcast about MINUSTAH’s conduct in Haiti led host Rex Murphy to exclaim, "Good lord, no wonder many Haitian people want it gone.”
Really not positive
This writer tried to contribute to the program but was unsuccessful. I did reach the program call screeners. As protocol demands (a reasonable procedure) I was asked to explain what ideas and experiences I hoped to contribute to the broadcast. I did so and was then told I might be phoned to appear on the broadcast if time permitted. I was never phoned.
Was this a case of censorship? Unlikely. A case of a call screener wondering, ‘Sovereignty and social justice for Haiti, what’s that got to do with earthquake relief and recovery?’ Quite possibly. I had an identical experience last year, though I reached the program much later in the broadcast compared to this year. For two years running I have lodged a complaint to a program producer that the program did not select as a special contributor one or more of the voices from the social justice movement for Haiti.
a. Mr. Morley stated “half the buildings in Port au Prince were destroyed by the earthquake.” That’s incorrect. As per the above, 20% were destroyed or damaged beyond repair, and 26% require major structural repair.
b. The figures of “200,000,” “250,000,” “300,000” for earthquake fatalities have never been satisfactorily documented. The 2011 BARR Study provided a median estimate of 65,000 fatalities, based on surveys in neighbourhoods. A news commentary by researchers Robert Muggah and Athena Kolbe in the summer of 2011 cited 150,000. What is clear is that the Haitian government and the international organizations have never published a comprehensive report to explain how the large estimates were arrived at.
c. Mr. Morley explained that only one per cent of earthquake funds have reached the Haitian government and its agencies. One per cent is the figure for emergency funds, in the months immediately following the earthquake. According to the UN Office of the Special Envoy on Haiti, the percentage of funds received or directed by the government for recovery and reconstruction is much higher, in the range of 25 per cent. That is very generous, and quite dubious. Probably the Office considers funding decisions of the Interim Haiti Reconstruction Commission to be made under the umbrella of the Haitian government because Haiti’s prime minister is a nominal co-chair of the (now defunct) Commission.