Letter to CBC on Six Month Anniversary of the Earthquake

Vancouver BC

July 18, 2010

Hello CBC Vancouver,

Thank you for your letter correcting my e-mail query several days ago. I listened via podcast to the July 12 Early Edition story on Haiti and found it interesting. It’s unfortunate that the planned interview with Garry Auguste on On The Coast later that day hit a snag.

I'd like to offer a few thoughts on the CBC’s and other media outlets’ coverage of the six month anniversary of Haiti’s earthquake.

I believe that each of Canada’s print and broadcast media have a duty to keep Canadians informed of the broad outlines of the relief and reconstruction effort for Haiti. This is required not only on humanitarian grounds but also because of the heavy financial outlay that the Canadian government claims it is making for Haiti (“$1 billion”--more later on this claim).

I don’t think the CBC has met this standard, nor has the print media excepting, perhaps, the two Montreal dailies that I try to follow, The Gazette and La Presse. CBC national radio news and its leading news programs, As It Happens and The Current were all but silent on Haiti in the months preceding the six month anniversary. As It Happens carried a comprehensive story on the anniversary—a lengthy interview with The Gazette’s Sue Montgomery on July 9. The Current carried none. The extensive news broadcast reports were partial, necessarily so because it is a big and complicated story that defies telling in the space of four or five minutes.

The Early Edition’s July 12 interview with PLAN Canada CEO Rosemary McCarney follows what appears to be an unfortunate pattern by that program of relying exclusively on representatives of non-governmental organizations for reporting on Haiti. Her account, as with that of Nigel Fisher of UNICEF Canada on the program some months earlier (he is now deputy special representative for Haiti of the UN Secretary General), shows the folly of that approach.

Like Mr. Fisher before her, Ms. McCarney presented an inaccurate picture of the scale of the ongoing disaster in Haiti. Her positive interpretation of the situation today--“Farmers got their crops in…tens of thousands of Haitians are working for cash or in work-for-food programs, clearing rubble and doing other work…tens of thousands of children are back in school..most Haitians today have sufficient food and have access to basic health care…”—is at odds with what most journalists, the largest medical organizations and even the UN’s own representatives are saying.

I won’t make a long list here of what those sources are saying. You will find an informative and comprehensive compilation on the website of the Canada Haiti Action Network, http://www.canadahaitiaction.ca/. I will quote one of those sources, Patrick Lagacé of Montreal’s daily La Presse, in the opening to his July 10 article entitled, "Why Does Nothing Change?" He writes, “Nothing has changed. This is what strikes the visitor who returns to Port au Prince six months after the earthquake of January 12. Nothing has changed. Or very little. Too little.”

A similar estimation was published in the Vancouver Sun on July 10.

Concerning the over-optimistic claim of Ms. McCarney about farmers and food production, a July 15 article on the UN News Center warned that food production in Haiti remains in a very perilous condition. Prior to the earthquake, the FAO estimated that Haiti only produced one half of its food needs. The situation has, of course, deteriorated greatly since then.

As Ms. McCarney only hinted, the most serious problem in Haiti today, and one can only describe it as catastrophic, is the continued absence of temporary or permanent shelter for hundreds of thousands of earthquake victims. If this were a catastrophe whose scope simply and inevitably required more time to solve, then her guarded optimism-- “So a lot has happened in the past six months, but there’s a lot more to do…”—could be excused. But overall, I would characterize her overall description of Haiti as misleading.

Take the simple problem of rubble removal. All the reports from Haiti talk about the slow pace of the effort to clear rubble and therefore prepare the ground for shelter. Why have Canada, the U.S. and Europe, not to speak of Latin America, not dedicated machinery and aid crews to work with Haitians and tackle this obstacle?

I have nothing against interviews with ngo representatives. But they have a vested interest in presenting a positive picture of the situation; after all, THEIR work and credibility, not to speak of their livelihoods, are at stake. The voices of journalists, medical agencies and human rights organizations in Haiti also need to be heard.

Concerning the recent claim by Minister Beverley Oda that Canada has committed $1 billion to earthquake relief in Haiti, we are researching this dubious claim and will be writing about it forthwith. For now, I will simply note the enclosed Canadian Press story from six days ago. It explains Canada is one of the laggards that has yet to pay a dime of its $400 million promised to the Haiti Reconstruction Fund established at the UN donors conference on March 31. The government is paying the necessary minimum--$30 million--in the coming weeks in order to retain a seat on the fund's steering committee. Furthermore, the article also says that none of the $400 million is new money. Presumably, all or part of it is a rehash of the $555 million over five years announced in 2006.

The CP article is a rare investigation by a Canadian news outlet into Canada's spending claims in Haiti.



Roger Annis
Haiti Solidarity BC

cc Ms. Esther Enkin, CBC Radio News

Canada cautious cutting Haiti quake cheques

By Mike Blanchfield, The Canadian Press Mon Jul 12, 2010


OTTAWA- Canada will soon deliver its first $30-million cheque to the Haiti Reconstruction Fund, the bare minimum for a seat on the international steering committee that will rebuild the earthquake-shattered Caribbean country.

That represents the first money to be committed from the two-year, $400-million pledge Canada made during a United Nations conference in March to help build Haiti after its devastating Jan. 12 earthquake.

"The Haiti Reconstruction Fund is the multi-donor trust fund, and to be on the steering committee of this multi-donor trust fund you've got to give at least $30 million," a senior government official told The Canadian Press on condition of anonymity.

And with the federal government already freezing aid spending next year to fight the deficit, officials confirmed that Canada's high-profile contribution would not include new money.

"The multi-donor trust fund doesn't care if it's new money, as long as you give $30 million," the official said.

That money will come from the Canadian International Development Agency, but officials said other departments — including Foreign Affairs and the RCMP — would be tapped for additional contributions soon.

At a news conference Monday, International Co-operation Minister Bev Oda touted the more than $1 billion in aid Canada has committed to Haiti through its regular stream of overseas development, and through new initiatives since the earthquake.

But Canada appears reluctant to commit to further spending commitments until it gets a meeting with former U.S. president Bill Clinton, the special envoy for Haiti, who is overseeing the international rebuilding efforts.

Oda and Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon said Monday they want a meeting with Clinton in order to get a first-hand briefing on the pace of reconstruction.

Clintonexpressed his displeasure last week at the pace of reconstruction, prompting the ministers to call for a face-to-face briefing.

"I saw his (Clinton's) comments over the weekend in the papers on Friday, where indeed he felt there were donor countries that were not living up to expectations," said Cannon.

"So those are issues that I want to be able to, with Minister Oda, discuss with him so that we scope all that out and get a better sense of what he means by those comments."

Added Oda: "Our government is very concerned about making sure that our funds will be spent wisely."

A separate briefing that government officials gave The Canadian Press confirms Ottawa is moving cautiously before approving additional funds for Haiti.

Before the earthquake, Canada had already earmarked $555 million over five years, ending in 2011, for Haiti.

Since the earthquake, it has spent an additional $150 million in emergency relief.

The government has also matched the $220 million that Canadians have given in private donations from a public appeal after the magnitude-7.0 quake killed 240,000 people, including 58 Canadians.

Cannon said Haitian reconstruction is a "monumental task requiring a sustained effort and a long-term commitment."

He said donors can be happy with "some of the progress" achieved in Haiti, but he acknowledged there is still much to be done.

"I certainly understand people's impatience at the very difficult circumstances that hundreds of thousands of Haitians find themselves in," he said.

"However, we think it is important to point out that rebuilding Haiti is a long-term process that will take at least 10 years, according to experts."