Haiti and the Year of Sorrow

In order to get a better perspective of what was happening on the ground, on January 11, 2011 I interviewed the President of Yele Foundation International, Hugh Locke while he was in Haiti.
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As the only nation created from a successful revolt of African Slaves, Haiti has been a beacon of light for oppressed people around the world. Ironically that same proud history of struggle through its valiant fight for liberty from the French in 1804 resulted in policies brought forth by its neighbors, many of whom were still steeped in slavery and colonialism, that mired Haiti in a cycle of poverty, political oppression, and periods of great suffering over its over 200-year history.

In the face of such a history of turmoil, nothing has had the devastating affect on the lives of the Haitian people like the horrific earthquake that struck the country on January 12, 2010. The category 7.0 colossus that struck Haiti leveled the capital, Port-au-Prince, and devastated the towns of Jacmel and Leogane. In the end, over 250 hundred thousand Haitians would lose their lives while the images of children with bodies lodged under pounds of rubble were shot to televisions internationally. The suffering of the Haitian people was put on display for all the world to see. The level of human devastation and misery felt by Haitians in the wake of the earthquake become a nightly spectacle that seared the hearts of people in almost every corner of the globe. Tears were shed by those who had little knowledge of Haitians and their proud history or the suffering they endured because of that history.

The resilience shown by the Haitian people in the face of this disaster was inspirational. The will to live among many of the earthquake's victims was evidenced by stories of individuals who had survived several days under debris, without water or food, to surprisingly be discovered by rescuers alive when all hopes of survival should have been lost.

Americans and the international community responded with a generosity and an outpour of support demonstrated in those rare moments when humanity works under the guidance of its better angels. Celebrities, athletes and entertainers heard the cries of Haitian children dismembered by the earthquake, losing arms ands legs in often the most harsh makeshift medical facilities. All together, Americans raised over $1.4 billion in charitable donations. The international community pledged over $10 billion to help Haiti in March, 2010, two months after the earthquake.

Though these efforts and pledges illustrated how people can often show the best intentions after such massive human devastation, the practical realities of planning and implementation combined with bureaucracy and sometimes mismanagement have denied the survivors of Haiti's earthquake the resources needed to adequately help them and their country back on a trajectory toward any semblance of normalcy.

While over 1 million Haitians languish in inadequate makeshift tents that have grown into whole towns and villages of displaced individuals, less than 12 percent of the temporary post-earthquake housing needed to protect them from hurricanes, massive rains, and the indignities of often living without any latrines, have been built since the earthquake. Because the earthquake damaged the main prison in the Capital of Port-au-Prince, thousands of hardened criminals have taken to these tent cities and turned their innocent suffering fellow countrymen into prey. Women in the tent cities are constantly raped many times by more than one individual. They are denied any form of protection or security in these conditions while they still suffer memories of losing mothers, fathers, and siblings to the horrible earthquake of January 12, 2010

Of the charitable contributions donated by the international community, less than 38 percent have been spent on improving the conditions on the ground for the earthquake survivors. The international pledges have not even come close to being completely realized. Furthermore, in October, 2010 cholera, a disease which under normal circumstances in sanitary conditions should be easily contained, was believed to be introduced into Haiti by UN "Peace keepers" from Nepal. The disease has claimed the lives of over 3.700 Haitians, and some speculate it may infect another 400,000 by 2012 if not contained. If this occurs, more Haitians could die from cholera than the actual earthquake that so affected the country.

We must then ask: What went wrong? The British organization Oxfam recently issued a report explaining how the combination of the international community, many of the NGOs, and the poorly equipped Haitian government have failed to coordinate efforts to effectively deal with the problems facing Haiti a year after the disaster of January 12, 2010.

As stated here:

While the emergency response is lauded for saving millions of people with vital supplies, services, and shelters, "neither the Haitian state nor the international community is making significant progress in reconstruction.

The report paints a picture of an international effort entirely divorced from the needs and wishes of the Haitian people -- not to mention the Haitian government. The original Action Plan meant to be put into place by the IHRC was favored by a mere 17.5 percent of Haitians, according to an Oxfam poll cited in the report. In implementation, the commission failed to include government ministers, for example consulting them in a tardy fashion -- and providing documents for review often only in English (the Haitian government operates in French). Individual NGOs and aid organizations actually carrying out the relief effort have done no better. "Many aid agencies continue to bypass local and national authorities in the delivery of assistance," the report claims.

In order to get a better perspective of what was happening on the ground, on January 11, 2011 I interviewed the President of Yele Foundation International, Hugh Locke while he was in Haiti.

Question: What are the daily services Yele Foundation is providing on the ground to assist the Haitian people, especially in the wake of the cholera epidemic:

Hugh Locke, President of Yele Foundation International:

Yele is one of the largest suppliers of fresh filtered water to the tent camps.
34,000 gallons of filtered water a day is delivered by tanker taker truck. Each tank can provide water to 240 families.Furthermore, 25,000 10 ounce containers of drinking water are delivered to people in the tent cities. We provide this six days a week.

We've been doing this even before the Cholera but it has been even more important since that time. We've also been delivering soap, water purification tablets, and large amounts of hand sanitizer to the tent cities. There is no reason for people to be dying from Cholera. Its about soap, water, washing hands and re-hydration. Using a combination of water, salt, and sugar in a proper proportion will provide the re-hydration needed to stem the disease. We provide training to people in the tent camps on the process of preparing this method of re-hydration.

Question: What are some of the other efforts Yele is involved in?

Hugh Locke:
Yele employs 2000 people per day to clean streets and canals and pays them quite reasonably by Haitian standards. We also provide fresh vegetables for 2000 orphans a week, as well as tents and services needed in the tent cities.

Question: What are your thoughts on the allegations that the NGOs are not improving the situation in Haiti:

Hugh Locke:
Of the 12,000 NGOs in Haiti the majority are doing good and important work, but there are a minority that are really giving the rest of us a bad name.

Question: What is the obstacle to really changing the situation in Haiti?

Hugh Locke:
Lack of coordination. There is really no coordination between the NGOs, the Haitian government, and the people in charge of the rebuilding effort. There seems to be no master plan for the overall rebuilding and no collective combined effort to get things done. Everyone is working off their own directives.

Question: What about the plan drawn up by the international community? Isn't that being used?

Hugh Locke:
That plan is completely unable to reconstruct the Republic of Haiti. There is no constituency or support among the Haitian people to implement that plan. I've seen every document proposed as a plan and I'd be embarrassed to put my name on any of them. Compitent people are unable to get by incompetent or unwilling individuals to repair this country.

Question: What do you see as the future of the effort to rebuild Haiti:

Hugh Locke:
There is a small window of opportunity between the earthquake and the point in which the effort to rebuild Haiti will be unable to truly be accomplished. Within that window there must be a change to really be able to impact the lives of the Haitian people on the ground, or that opportunity will be lost.

As Haitians look back on their year of sorrow, let us hope that this window of opportunity is not squandered, and that this earthquake can bring forth something positive: A decent quality of life for Haitians in their homeland, which sadly they have often been denied over their 200 year history.

This article was originally posted in The Loop21

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