Tropical Storm Isaac’s destruction is another “unnatural disaster” in Haiti

Published on Institute for Public Accuracy (IPA), Aug 27, 2012

Over 30 groups working on Haiti have set up the Under Tents campaign in working to ensure housing. The groups state that many of Haiti’s problems are not “natural disasters,” but are the result of policies that become increasingly glaring as Haiti faces more storms this season. Among the groups in the campaign are the following:

Claude Fignole, country director at ActionAid Haiti who witnessed the storm from Port-au-Prince, said today: “Tropical storm Isaac is not the only cause of disruption in Haiti. One in five Haitians right now is at risk of forced eviction. Many of these evicted families who ended up homeless are now bracing the terror of another storm season. The Haitian government must put a stop to all forced evictions and designate land for permanent housing so families do not have to face inadequate shelter during fierce storms like Isaac.”

Alexis Erkert with the group Other Worlds said today: “Tropical Storm Isaac underscores the urgency of resolving Haiti’s housing crisis. Lack of safe and affordable housing is one of Haiti’s most pressing social needs, and yet long-term solutions for displaced people have been shockingly absent from disaster response and development plans. What will it take to convince the Haitian government and international community that Haitians need houses? A growing housing rights movement in Haiti is calling for affordable, dignified housing. The international community has a responsibility to rally in support of this call.”

“Despite the international community’s vow to learn from past mistakes and ‘build Haiti back better,’ little has changed for Haiti’s poor. Rural communities in Haiti’s South Eastern mountains were cut off due to mudslides from Tropical Storm Isaac, and displacement camps, still home to nearly 400,000 earthquake victims, were devastated by Isaac’s 60 mile-an-hour winds and rain. Seven people reportedly lost their lives in the storm, but it will be days before the full impact is known.”
( Alexis Erkert, in Haiti, alexis.otherworlds (at), speaks English, French, Kreyol.)

Melinda Miles is with TransAfrica/Let Haiti Live. She said today: “Until now, efforts to relocate homeless earthquake victims have focused on moving people out of highly trafficked areas and parks, a strategy to get them out of sight and out of mind. It is shameful that the plight of the most vulnerable Haitians can be so easily ignored until a storm threatens to make them visible again.”
(Melinda Miles, Melinda (at), speaks English and Kreyol)

Nicole Phillips is an attorney with the Institute for Justice & Democracy in Haiti. She said today: “The Haitian people will continue to disproportionately suffer from natural and unnatural disasters until the international community’s policies and practices that make the country particularly vulnerable to environmental stresses are changed.

“Haitians’ extreme vulnerability to natural disasters like tropical storms and earthquakes is a result of international aid, trade, debt and governance policies over many decades that crippled Haiti’s economy and prevented its government from providing basic public services, including disaster prevention and relief. According to Haitian Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe, the government’s emergency plan for Isaac for its population of 10 million people consisted of $50,000 in emergency funds, buses and 32 boats for evacuations. Edmond Mulet, United Nations Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations in Haiti, admitted after the 2010 earthquake that, ‘the international community is co-responsible for [the] weakness of Haitian institutions and the Haitian state.’ The policies also generated vulnerability by forcing Haitian farmers off their land and into overcrowded cities that offered little employment or safe housing.”
(Nicole Phillips, Nicole (at), speaks English and French.)

Background: see IPA news release from Friday: “Cuba’s Hurricane Preparedness: A Model for Florida and the Gulf Coast?” (text below).


Cuba’s Hurricane Preparedness: A Model for Florida and the Gulf Coast?

Published on Institute for Public Accuracy (IPA), August 24, 2012…

By Gail Reed [in Havana] medic(at), also via Camila Curtis-Contreras, ccurtiscontreras(at) Reed is executive editor of MEDICC [Medical Education Cooperation with Cuba] Review.

Gail Reed said today: “In the many years I’ve worked here in Cuba, I’ve seen the disaster prevention strategy up close — and been in at least five hurricanes myself. Cuba does a few things we don’t often see in other countries that help save lives: they close schools to keep families together; use ‘community evacuation’ in especially isolated areas — where specific buildings or homes have been reinforced just for that purpose — rather than having people and their household goods traveling miles to shelters; and they turn the lights out and shut down the cooking gas mains when winds reach a certain speed. This last measure alone has certainly saved hundreds of lives, since many deaths result from people wading in flood waters zapped by downed electric wires, or from gas explosions.

“We also get radio and television messages a full 72 hours before a storm is expected to hit — and TV meteorologist Jose Rubiera is something of a folk hero in Cuba for his informative ‘stormtracking’ broadcasts day and night.

“Finally, the Cuban Civil Defense, a small organization at the top, involves virtually everybody at the municipal level; together with public health and Red Cross participation, local government and institutions are well prepared with risk assessments and disaster planning.

“The success of Cuba’s disaster preparation and mitigation strategies shows up in the results: just 35 deaths were caused by the 16 hurricanes and tropical storms that have torn through the island since 2001 — and 17 of those from Hurricane Dennis in 2005, which hit a province usually spared from such weather.

“Which brings me to another reason why the Cubans are successful: they learn from their mistakes. After Dennis, they studied why people had low risk perception, taking chances that put their lives in danger. On other occasions, they have scrapped old ways of doing things to give people and property better protection.

“Cuba’s experience is interesting because in an economically deprived context, they set the goal of a PUBLIC system that protects 100 percent of their population. That means prioritizing vulnerable people — from those who live along the coastlines, to the elderly, disabled, families in precarious housing, and pregnant women and children.”

See MEDICC’s “Strategies for Disaster Management” issue.

Saul Landau, slandau (at), Professor emeritus at California State University, Pomona, Landau is a senior fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies and has won numerous awards for the 40 films he has produced, several of which are about Cuba.

He said today: “The Cubans made a sensible decision to save lives during hurricanes and erected an infrastructure to do the job — which is logical for Florida and the Texas gulf ports as well. Before hurricanes strike, Cubans evacuate likely victims and insure their safety. We do not do this, nor have we begun to even discuss it. Yet, each year, the big storms ravage areas of this country. Cuba has special medical and paramedical units trained, and they make plans for all their regions. We do not. They offered to send people after Katrina, but Bush refused the offer.”

Note to producers: Jackson Browne’s song “Going Down to Cuba” may make for a good lead-in, especially the lines “They might not know all the freedoms you and I know / They do know what to do in a hurricane.” (at 2:25).