It's been three years since le goudou-goudou, the day in Haiti when Mother Earth rose up, flung her arms out in despair, and wept such great shuddering, wracking sobs that more than 200,000 of her children perished in her paroxysm of grief.
Three years on, and still Haiti weeps for her children, those perished and those who remain, lost and bereft when Mother Earth's sobs finally went silent.
WHAT GOD (AND THE DEVELOPMENT RACKET) HATH WROUGHT
To understand the criticisms to follow, it's necessary to have a clear and unobstructed view of the stage on which they are set. So let's look at a few statistics, courtesy of the folks at Amnesty International:
HAITI EARTHQAKE IN NUMBERSGot that? The quake itself killed more than 200,000 people, and left 2.3 million homeless. And yet, three years on, nearly 358,000 Haitians, more than 90,000 families, remain homeless. Three years on, they remain "internally displaced persons" (IDPs), in other contexts known as refugees, spread across nearly 500 separate IDP camps.
200,000 people dead
2.3 million homeless
105,000 houses destroyed; 208,164 houses badly damaged
The [i]nternally displaced
357,785 people (90,415 families) living in 496 camps (as of end October 2012)
52% are women
60,978 individuals have been evicted from 152 camps since the earthquake
78,175 individuals are currently under threat of eviction – 21 % of the total number of IDPs currently living in camps.
Living conditions in camps
72,038 internally-displaced people in 264 of the 541 camps did not have on-site access to water and toilets (in June 2012)
50% of camps remaining did not have on site access to water and toilets, affecting more than one internally displaced person out of six, for a total of 66,546 persons. (June 2012)
Before the earthquake
67% of the urban population lived in slums which were the areas most affected by the earthquake.
The most unequal country in the Americas
56% of households live with less than a dollar a day and 77% with less than 2 [dollars per day]
The 10% of richest households in Haiti earned 68% of the total revenue of all households
More than half of the population subsists on less than one dollar a day. More than three-quarters survives, if you can call it that, on less than two dollars per day.
And yet, the outside world assured Haiti and her people that they would "build back better." They would invest in Haiti, and in her people; build capacity; invest billions of dollars in development, housing, agriculture, manufacturing; provide sustainability (both environmentally and in terms of avoiding the great moral hazard of giving poor people money outright to help themselves).
So why is Haiti, according to many on the ground there, worse off now than three years ago today?
THE REPUBLIC OF NGOs
In the world of humanitarian aid and development - and these days, even in Haiti herself - Haiti goes by another name: The Republic of NGOs. It's a quick and brutally clear demonstration of the fact that, in the outside world's eyes, Haiti does not belong to Haiti, nor to Haitians; despite winning her freedom (at great ongoing cost) from the white slavers more than two centuries ago, the rest of the world continues to regard her as always as not actualized, as Other. As "less than."
In the world of international humanitarian aid and development, that's a very convenient attitude to hold. It provides the perfect excuse, rationalization, justification for a multitude of paternalistic sins.
And in Haiti today, those sins, like the devil's own army, are Legion.
On New Year's Day, The Times published an editorial:
More than $1 billion allocated for Haiti remains in the United States Treasury, almost all of it for recovery, though America is hardly the only donor sitting on unspent aid. And more than 350,000 people who lost their homes that terrible day are still living in tent camps. The rubble has finally been cleared, but building permanent homes has taken a back seat to other matters.On Christmas Eve, The New York Times reported:
The Times article reads like a catalog of missteps, of old mistakes and new ones that together present — to put the most optimistic spin on it — fresh opportunities to learn. One was the tendency of humanitarian aid organizations to go back to what they had been doing before the earthquake, in areas like sanitation, health, education and transportation, without the guidance of a broad plan and clear priorities for how best to repair the nation. Another failure has been the persistent unwillingness to include Haitians in the planning and execution of projects, leaving them feeling like bystanders in their own country and squandering opportunities to build government ministries and institutions capable of sustaining themselves once the world’s attention and donations are gone.
Most recovery aid has been channeled through foreign agencies, nonprofit organizations and private contractors, a practice that inflates administrative costs and perpetuates cycles of dependency. And then there was the simple and shameful failure of global donors to meet their promises to deliver money and aid.
This [paying IDP camp residents a small stipend to move along and become someone else's problem] represents a marked deflation of the lofty ambitions that followed the disaster, when the world aspired not only to repair Haiti but to remake it completely. The new pragmatism signals an acknowledgment that despite billions of dollars spent — and billions more allocated for Haiti but unspent — rebuilding has barely begun and 357,785 Haitians still languish in 496 tent camps.
. . .
An analysis of all that money — at least $7.5 billion disbursed so far — helps explain why such a seeming bounty is not more palpable here in the eviscerated capital city, where the world’s chief accomplishment is to have finally cleared away most of the rubble.
More than half of the money has gone to relief aid, which saves lives and alleviates misery but carries high costs and leaves no permanent footprint — tents shred; emergency food and water gets consumed; short-term jobs expire; transitional shelters, clinics and schools are not built to last.
Of the rest, only a portion went to earthquake reconstruction strictly defined. Instead, much of the so-called recovery aid was devoted to costly current programs, like highway building and H.I.V. prevention, and to new projects far outside the disaster zone, like an industrial park in the north and a teaching hospital in the central plateau.
Meanwhile, just a sliver of the total disbursement — $215 million — has been allocated to the most obvious and pressing need: safe, permanent housing. By comparison, an estimated minimum of $1.2 billion has been eaten up by short-term solutions — the tent camps, temporary shelters and cash grants that pay a year’s rent.
Of course, the gears of the self-sustaining aid racket grind inexorably onward, as outsiders pick and choose what they want to fund, rather than what the Haitian people themselves tell funders they need:
But an examination by The New York Times shows that such post-disaster idealism came to be undercut by the enormousness of the task, the weakness and volatility of the Haitian government, the continuation of aid business as usual and the limited effectiveness of the now-defunct recovery commission that had Mr. Clinton as co-chairman.
With no detailed financial plan ordering reconstruction priorities, donors invested most heavily in the sectors that they had favored before the earthquake — transportation, health, education, water and sanitation — and half their financing for those areas went to projects begun before 2010.
“One area where the reconstruction money didn’t go is into actual reconstruction,” said Jessica Faieta, senior country director of the United Nations Development Program in Haiti from 2010 through this fall.
This, despite the fact that housing was - is - the single greatest need.
The State Department, IADB, the now-defunct Reconstruction Commission, and every NGO in the country similarly love to tout their investment by emphasizing the thousands, millions, even billions of dollars that they've "disbursed." "Disbursal." It sounds like such a concrete word, implying, you know, actual distribution of monies. None of the above-listed actors ever mentions, unless explicitly pressed, that it's all on paper - or, rather, on a computer screen. Because "disbursal" is not synonymous with "spending." In the case of Haiti, it's barely even in the same hemisphere:
Moreover, while at least $7.5 billion in official aid and private contributions have indeed been disbursed — as calculated by Mr. Clinton’s United Nations office and by The Times — disbursed does not necessarily meant spent. Sometimes, it simply means the money has been shifted from one bank account to another as projects have gotten bogged down.And now, for much of the international development community, the idea of housing for Haiti's displaced persons is apparently passé.
That is the case for nearly half the money for housing.
The United States, for instance, long ago disbursed $65 million to the Haiti Reconstruction Fund for the largest housing project planned for this devastated city. The fund, which issued a January 2011 news release promising houses for 50,000 people, then transferred the money to the World Bank, which is executing the project. And there almost all of it still sits, with contracts just signed.
Although so much money allocated for reconstruction languishes in the bank, humanitarian financing for Haiti has all but dried up while needs remain acute, said Mr. Fisher, the United Nations’ humanitarian coordinator."WE CALLED IT THE SECOND EARTHQUAKE"
"The donors have made it clear that they feel the humanitarian crisis is over and that development is their focus,” Mr. Fisher said. “But it’s a false dichotomy. Of course, the country needs long-term solutions but until they are in place we still need resources to deal with the problems at hand."
Current projections, he added, are that 200,000 Haitians will still be living in camps a year from now, on the fourth anniversary of the earthquake.
As noted above, funders were determined fund their own interests, including projects that were under way before the quake upended Haiti's world. As is usually the case with our own dominant culture when it intervenes in cultures not its own, the primary goal winds up being about its own members, not the people they allegedly want to help. In the Republic of NGOs, this attitude was the rule, not the exception:
In the months after the earthquake, foreigners, arriving by the planeload, took over. They did not mean to; nobody in the humanitarian world wanted to sharpen Haiti’s dependency on foreign assistance. But Haiti’s government was as shattered as its people, and old patterns of interaction are hard to break.The Haitian people were right: They were an afterthought. Or, perhaps more accurately, not even a thought at all. they were, in point of fact, entirely incidental to the member "nations" of the Republic of NGOs and their goals. And the obscenity of an colonialist/capitalist invasion that spent billions in salaries and luxury accommodations in specially-built gated compounds and ferrying in tricked-out luxury SUVs for the purposes of promoting their own brands and profiles was not remotely lost on Haiti's people, either. "Revolting" was all too accurate a descriptor:
Coordinating the disaster response, foreign humanitarians met on the isolated, gated United Nations logistics base and divided into clusters dealing with issues like shelter and health. Something was missing, though: "In the initial confusion and loss of life after the earthquake, the clusters effectively excluded their Haitian counterparts," Nigel Fisher, humanitarian coordinator for the United Nations, said. "Little by little, we brought them in."
Still, many Haitians never shook the feeling that they were an afterthought and that their institutions and businesses were being bypassed and undermined. Many of the best-educated Haitians were lured away from government and private-sector jobs by the far higher salaries offered by foreigners.
"We called it the second earthquake," said Jean-Yves Jason, mayor of Port-au-Prince at the time.
In retrospect, the numbers tell the story: Donors provided $2.2 billion of humanitarian aid in response to the earthquake. The United States Department of Defense got nearly a fifth of that aid to carry out its relief operation, which involved 22,000 troops. The Haitian government got less than 1 percent.This attitude has carried over into subsequent attempts to "help Haiti." As recently as last month, IDP camps were being raided, with homeless citizens, children, elders, and families forced out to make way for "other priorities."
More of the recovery aid — 15 percent — has been channeled through the Haitian government, and the United States ambassador to Haiti, Pamela A. White, says that a shift in approach has led international donors to align "our investments with Haiti’s priorities in a truly country-led manner."
But thus far almost all contracts have been awarded to foreign agencies, nonprofit groups and private contractors who, in turn, subcontract to others, with each layer in the process adding 7 to 10 percent in administrative costs, as noted in a paper published by the Center for Global Development.
"All the money that went to pay the salaries of foreigners and to rent expensive apartments and cars for foreigners while the situation of the country was degrading — there was something revolting about it," Ms. Pierre Louis said.
In a sentiment that many Haitians share, Dr. Boulos said that foreigners in Haiti "do everything at a cost five times higher."
In the Republic of NGOs, a new football field is more important than the lives of thousands:
Marie (not her real name) and her child were violently and forcibly evicted along with tens of other families from Place Jérémie on 21 December 2011.And in the Republic of NGOs, development heavyweights like the Clinton-Bush Haiti Fund feel utterly unconstrained by the needs of their alleged target population. Now that the Fund has ceased operations (as of December 31, 2012), it has turned over its final grants to the IADB's Multilateral Investment Fund (MIF) for disbursal and administration. Local media outlet Haiti Libre has reproduced the Fund's press release, which lists those grants. In any other context, they would all be worthy endeavors, but in today's Haiti, they yet again overlook the most pressing needs. Indeed, they overlook those needs so completely that it cannot be anything but deliberate. And there is, quite frankly, no excuse for a funder operating at the level of the Clinton-Bush Haiti Fund to have allocated, three years on, not a penny for housing.
"The camp committee was putting pressure on us to leave the camp. They said they needed the square for a [football] championship. But we didn’t have anywhere to go so we stayed there. They distributed leaflets every now and then with threats. At night they would throw stones and bottles on our tents … Then one day at 3 o’clock in the morning, they came and started knocking on the doors. Then they destroyed my shelter with razor blades and knives... They pushed me out and started tearing down everything. I did not have time to take any of my things with me; I left only with the clothes I was wearing."
None of this is surprising, of course, to anyone who has followed Clinton's "efforts" in Haiti over the last three years.
"YOU EMBARRASSED ME"
No one - no one - should still labor under the delusion that Bill Clinton is any sort of uber-liberal, uber-progressive leader. Anyone who entertains such absurd notions should review even the most cursory history of his involvement in Haiti over the last three years, which will rapidly disabuse the reader of such fantasies. He is a capitalist through and through, with a paternalistic colonialist heart.
His treatment of the people of Haiti makes that conclusion indisputable.
In April 2010, Mr. Clinton was named co-president of the Interim Haiti Recovery Commission, referred to as the I.H.R.C. Two months later, at a luxury hotel in the hills above Port-au-Prince, the commission held its first meeting. It would hold only six more, though, before the Haitian Parliament declined to renew its mandate and it faded into history, its Web site decommissioned and its public records erased with it.I'm not interested in the slightest in what Mr. Abrantes thinks. In the incestuous world of international development, he's a wholly-owned subsidiary of Clinton, Inc., and has a quite obviously vested interest in defending the Clinton crowd's conduct in Haiti. I've written at great length over the years about the shortcomings and failures and inexcuseable negligence of the IHRC, its "efforts," and Bill Clinton's personal behavior as its titular head. If you want gory details from years past, you can read about them at you leisure from among the diaries here. I'm not interested in wasting time rehashing it here, nor in debating it. But what has come out of the investigation by The New York Times in recent weeks is so telling, and so emblematic of everything that is wrong with how the international development racket has behaved with regard to Haiti, that it cannot go unremarked.
"As a tool for Bill Clinton, the commission was good; it helped him attract attention to Haiti," said Dr. Boulos, a commission member. "As a tool to effectively coordinate assistance and manage the reconstruction, it was a failure."
Alexandre V. Abrantes, the World Bank’s special envoy to Haiti, disagreed. "Everybody badmouths it, but I miss it," he said. "It created a level of coordination, with everybody around the same table, which you find in few countries. I think people had unreasonable expectations that it would be an implementing agency."
The large [IHRC] board consisted of foreign diplomats and representatives of the Haitian government and society. Early on, the Haitian members felt excluded when they learned about Mr. Verret’s appointment from the media. Their frustration deepened, culminating in a confrontation with Mr. Clinton and Jean-Max Bellerive, the Haitian prime minister, at their December 2010 meeting.No, sorry. You embarrassed yourself, and then compounded the offense with such a petty display, attempting to shame a man who had the nerve to stand up for himself and his people.
An account was pieced together from the meeting’s minutes and interviews with participants.
When Mr. Clinton was delayed in arriving at the Santo Domingo Hilton, where the meeting was taking place because of post-electoral violence in Haiti, a dozen Haitian board members crowded into a hotel room to prepare a written statement.
Rising to read it at the meeting, Suze Percy Fillipini, an elegant former diplomat, described how the Haitian members felt like "bit players" and "tokens" who were called on to "rubber stamp" a hodgepodge of projects that "collectively do not respond to the urgency of the situation or provide the foundation for the sustainable rebuilding of Haiti."
Attending by Skype, Mr. Bellerive appeared livid and said the board members were merely "individuals," which, in a Haitian context, meant they were nobodies, according to several members. Ms. Fillipini, her eyes flashing with tears, defended herself and the other appointees. Another member, Jean-Marie Bourjolly, a Haitian-Canadian business professor, complained that the executive director and chairmen did not respond to e-mails, saying it was neither good manners nor good governance.
After the meeting, Professor Bourjolly recounted, Mr. Clinton approached him, put a hand on his shoulder and said, "You embarrassed me."
"It was really tough," said the professor, summarizing the commission’s work as "such a waste."
Not too surprising, though. The whole Commission was ill-conceived from start to finish:
Given that so much time and money was invested in creating it, people did, in fact, expect that the commission would take charge of the reconstruction process and deliver tangible results. But by the end many believed it had been little more than an exercise in assembling and then dismantling what one United Nations official called a pseudo-institution. "It was like in a play — the facade of a reconstruction project," said Priscilla Phelps, an American consultant who served as the commission’s housing expert.This, when the rubble wasn't even cleared. And why wasn't it cleared? Because nobody wanted to do it. In the words of one of the people who ultimately took up that threshold requirement: "It wasn't sexy."
"We never took a proactive role in deciding what the country needed to get back on its feet and then asking the donors to finance those priorities instead of doing their own thing," she said. "The way reconstruction money got spent was totally chaotic, and the I.H.R.C. was emblematic of that."
From the start, the commission faced two major challenges. First, President René Préval did not really support it, seeing it as a usurpation of power, several former commission members said. Second, it had no money of its own to hand out — although the separate Haiti Reconstruction Fund, a pot containing 14 percent of the reconstruction dollars, could not make grants without its approval.
The commission’s secretariat worked out of a giant white inflatable tent on the grounds of the old United States Embassy compound, crisply air-conditioned and lined with banks of desktop computers. For a long while, the spacious tent was almost eerily empty because the commission, with a budget of $8.79 million its first year, got off to a slow start.
The commission did not engage an executive director until five months into its 18-month existence. The director, Gabriel Verret, moved haltingly to hire other key employees. The vacuum, meanwhile, was filled by William J. Clinton Foundation staff members and volunteer consultants from McKinsey & Company and PricewaterhouseCoopers.
As pro bono consultants to the commission, PricewaterhouseCoopers designed a performance and anticorruption office, and the firm subsequently won a $2.4 million contract to run it over the objections of France’s board member, who called it "a pure conflict of interest which damages the integrity of the office."
Their first — and last — monitoring report was the only real record of the commission’s work. It summarized the 75 projects valued at over $3 billion that had been approved. The numbers themselves are not very meaningful because they included projects without any or enough money — a $1 billion 'funding gap" existed, an international official said.
Still, the report indicated just how broadly recovery was being defined. At least $1.4 billion represented big-ticket, multiyear projects that were not directly related to the earthquake, among them improving the education system, developing agriculture in central Haiti and building roads all over the country.
The American Red Cross managed to screw up a great deal where its involvement in Haiti was concerned, but it got one thing right: Its in-country leadership realized that its millions could be put to use most effectively by the people themselves, and so it planned to distribute cash grants to some 400,000 Haitian families to help them get out of the IDP camps and into real housing.
The other actors on the ground, to put it mildly, freaked.
"Moral hazard." "You can't give people cash." Every excuse in the book why Haitians themselves should not receive cash grants to rebuild - with no objections, of course, to the ridiculous amount of waste simply on plastering NGO logos on every water bottle and tarp and piece of plastic sheeting.
Dr. Boulos said he proposed an alternative. "I told the head of the American Red Cross, in front of Bill Clinton, 'Let’s put the entire money in housing construction. Let’s repair the houses.' But they had all kinds of reasons why not." Shortly after the earthquake, international advisers proposed different ways that Haiti could manage its reconstruction, including a Haitian-owned recovery agency embedded in the government. But a United States proposal to establish a stand-alone commission jointly led by the Haitian prime minister and "a distinguished senior international figure engaged in the recovery effort" won out.But Clinton and Co., always quick with the superficial slogans were going to "build back better."
The PricewaterhouseCoopers report, then just released, contained a telling if understated aside: "The 'build back better' approach does not always align with the objective of quickly finding housing solutions for camp residents."And as one development professional involved on the ground noted:
"Early on, it seemed fairly clear that the only viable approach was to rebuild existing neighborhoods[.] But it took six to eight months to get the government used to that, and another four to six months to make the donors comfortable. Nobody wanted to think reconstruction might be a giant slum-upgrading project. They wanted little pastel houses and kids with ribbons in their hair to put on the cover of their annual report."And, once again, Clinton, Inc.'s priorities trumped the needs of Haiti's people. The Clinton-Bush Haiti Fund sank $2 million into the Royal Oasis, a luxury hotel development whose target market would be the wealthy outsiders of the "disaster tourism" industry, not the Haitian people dying of cholera under plastic sheeting in the mud and waste of the IDP camps.
But perhaps most emblematic of Clinton's misplaced priorities and mismanagement is Zoranje.
One relic of those aspirations is the abandoned site of a 2011 housing exposition held in Zoranje, where scores of colorful prototype homes now sit empty, some padlocked, others plundered and used as toilets.It's not just Zoranje, either. Reminiscent of Clinton's destruction of the Haiti's rice crops by dumping American rice on the country are the efforts construction projects designed to benefit American companies:
Dreamed up at a meeting at Mr. Clinton’s home in Chappaqua, the expo cost millions in public and private money. Competing firms spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to participate in the hopes of winning sizable contracts. But by the time the exposition took place, the thinking about housing had already shifted and most contracts were going to be awarded for urban fix-it work instead.
Adjacent to the expo site in Zoranje is the only large new housing project completed so far. With $8.3 million in financing, mostly from the Inter-American Development Bank, most of its 400 small pastel houses remained unoccupied for half a year, except in some cases by squatters, because the authorities could not figure out how to connect the complex to water. Eventually, the beneficiaries were allowed to move in anyway.
Critics have also questioned the location of the American-subsidized new housing settlement in rural Caracol, far from the disaster, as well as the high cost of its one-bedroom homes. They are being built by a Minnesota company on a site prepared by a Maryland firm for $31,400 a house.The same is true of "partnerships" with NGOs like the American Red Cross when it comes to housing and infrastructure:In the earthquake-ravaged slum neighborhood of Campeche in Port-au-Prince, Dieudonne Zidor, an elected official, agreed. Gliding gracefully up a rocky pathway, she pointed out the anarchic jumble of condemned homes, makeshift shanties and corroding shelter boxes. "As you can see, conditions are calamitous," she said. But it is not rocket science to figure out what is needed, she added: houses, streets, electricity, water, health clinics, schools, women’s centers.
That includes site preparation, internal wiring, individual water hookups and flush toilets. But current thinking among humanitarian officials is that those are all extras. A small, simple one-family house in Port-au-Prince can be built for $6,000, they say, and more people can be helped.
Although the Caracol houses were supposed to be occupied by December, only 70 of 750 had been finished by the end of November because of severe weather and logistical problems, an American aid official said.
Progress has been even slower on the other American-built settlement, which is on a large, flat swath of gravel in Cabaret. Only about a dozen of the 156 houses there had a completed structure, minus doors and windows, in early December.
"Lots of money, few results," said the deputy mayor of Cabaret, Pierre Justinvil. "Look, I personally, with my own hands, have just built a whole school for less than the cost of one of those houses and more quickly. I think we Haitians need to take the wheel."
Yet, though the local authorities have already approved an urban plan for the neighborhood, the American Red Cross has engaged in a lengthy process to determine how best to spend its $20 million budget to improve Campeche.
Sandrine Capelle Manuel, the organization’s representative in Haiti, said it had been a productive process. “We prioritized all the issues and created a consultative group that is representative of the community fabric,” she said. “We did a strong and deep assessment, and now we need to do a master plan with the community.”
But Ms. Zidor said: "All they do is hold meetings and hand out juice. In the end, they will have spent the whole $20 million giving juice to the people."In the end, they will have spent the whole $20 million giving juice to the people. What a sad and shameful epitaph.
And hardly unique. Whether NGO, private corporation, or governmental agency, the same problems repeat themselves over and over and over again:
Not all costly foreign initiatives were equally valuable — or appreciated.Even the "good" NGOs, the ones who have, thus far, had the best reputation for their work in Haiti, are not immune:
One American taxpayer-financed program, scrutinized by the Agency for International Development’s inspector general, was intended to provide short-term jobs for Haitians and to remove significant rubble. But the program, and in particular the work carried out by two Beltway-based firms, was less than successful on both fronts, the inspector general said: It generated only a third of the jobs anticipated and it appeared to demonstrate that using manual labor to clear debris was so inefficient as to slow the rebuilding effort.
One of the firms, Chemonics International, which was awarded $150 million in post-earthquake contracts, built a $1.9 million temporary home for the Haitian Parliament. The American ambassador presented it as a gift to Haitian democracy, but many legislators were more irked than thankful because the building was delivered devoid of interior walls and furnishings, as The Global Post reported, and it took almost half a year to scrounge together the money to finish it.
"Building takes time; it’s destruction that’s rapid," said President Michel Martelly at a recent end-of-construction ceremony for the new teaching hospital. But building is only half the battle; the gleaming white structure, erected by the nonprofit Partners in Health in the provincial city of Mirebalais, has not yet secured its first-year operating budget of $12.5 million to $13 million.IADB has similar problems, although one wonders why they did not provide for architectural guidance along the way:
In contrast, here in the disaster zone, where the devastated National Palace has only just been demolished and destroyed federal buildings have yet to be replaced, the country’s largest medical center remains in a strikingly dilapidated state. More than two years ago, Mrs. Clinton and Bernard Kouchner, then the French foreign minister, signed an agreement to reconstruct it, but the shattered General Hospital, with some temporary renovations keeping it functional, still awaits its $70 million overhaul. Like that hospital, many recovery projects have lingered on the drawing board or gotten delayed by land and ideological disputes, logistical and contracting problems, staffing shortages and even weather. The United States still has more than $1 billion allocated for Haiti sitting in the Treasury, and the global Red Cross movement has more than $500 million in its coffers.
The Inter-American Development Bank, for instance, is spearheading a multiyear school rebuilding program that a Haitian public institution is executing. The bank was hoping that as many as 21 new schools, which are being built by Haitian firms, would open this fall.
But a bank inspection last spring detected serious design flaws and construction errors. A fuller audit then found that the schools, despite being bankrolled after the earthquake, did not comply with anti-seismic or anti-hurricane standards.
How much beyond the $15.4 million cost it will take to make them safe has yet to be determined, said Pablo Bachelet, a bank spokesman. But construction has been halted.
In the mountain town of Furcy, meanwhile, the children study in a couple of plywood structures without plumbing or electricity planted in the midst of one of the construction sites. Surrounded by half-built cinder-block walls, jutting rebar and piles of stone and sand, some 480 students cram into 10 makeshift classrooms illuminated only by the natural light that seeps through the gap between the partial walls and the tin roofs.
Then, no strangers to life’s setbacks, they trudge miles home over muddy, treacherous mountain roads as darkness descends.
What passes for reporting about Haiti today is a slovenly mix of off-the-rack stereotyping mixed with a roughly equal amount of pat-on-the-head infantilizing condescension toward the country and her people, topped off with much more than a soupçon of outright racism. It's not journalism, it's patournalism: smug, self-congratulatory, sanctimonious paternalism tarted up as "re-por-TAHZH."
And it feeds the gaping maw of the development beast.
I've become accustomed to it, just as I have with coverage of our NDN communities. "Accustomed," though, is not "inured." It's infuriating, particularly when the rest of the world doesn't even notice.
Now, though, someone has. Thomas Craemer, a professor of public policy at the University of Connecticut, has traveled to Haiti, and has seen conditions there firsthand. And he's become increasingly troubled by the media's coverage of Haiti - across the board:
Craemer was surprised to find that the picture of Haiti as a terminally dysfunctional failed state wracked by violence and endemic corruption was more or less consistently reported across the spectrum of news media outlets: about 67 percent of sentences coded in the New York Times’ coverage reinforced stereotypes, for example, as did roughly 77 percent of sentences in the conservative Limbaugh radio program.It's actually really sad that any study can find only a differential of 10% between The New York Times and Limbaugh on any topic. But on issues involving poverty, race, and international relations?
Don't ever tell me The Times is a liberal outlet.
But it's not just the emphasis on corruption:
Another feature of media coverage about Haiti – a tendency to focus stories about crime and violence – had him worried about his safety as he prepared for his first trip there. “I was really scared about what could happen, and we have the same problem here in the U.S. when we talk about so-called ‘good’ and ‘bad’ neighborhoods,” he said. “Yes, there is a danger and it is elevated compared to the normal baseline, but what does that mean? How afraid should we be?” According to the study, not near as much as the media image suggests.Then, of course, there are the overt examples of outright racism by people who are busily exploiting Haiti for their own profit. I'm not even going to bother to quote from that particular pile of ordure.
Craemer contends that the negative media image of Haiti may be rooted in contemporary reports of the Haitian revolution (1791-1804) that once terrified US slave owners. These fears may have subsequently become incorporated into American mainstream culture as anti-Black racial stereotypes that people today are often not even aware of.
Nor am I going to quote from the absolute sewage of the comments sections of Canadian media outlets reporting on last week's announcement by the Harper administration, through mouthpiece Minister of International Cooperation Julian Fantino, that it was freezing all funding to Haiti for new projects. I'm not even going to link them. But one thing I found especially telling: The racists who were so eager to refer to Haiti as a "cesspool" and demand to know why their tax dollars should go there were all too eager to draw parallels between their racist and inaccurate perceptions of the Haitian people and what they termed Canada's own "greedy natives." Yes, folks, that's a reference to Canada's First Nations, and their insistence on fighting for their own rights.
There's so much more to cover. But one of the things that has stood out in all of this is how the international development community has treated Haiti's current crisis: Frankly, they treat it as fun. An adventure. Slumming.
It's the dilettante's approach: They can don their do-gooder's cloak for a few months, or even a couple of years, and play at hardship, all the while knowing they will return to the luxury and comfort of their American (and other first-world) lives. They can polish their resumes and burnish their altruism credentials . . . and then return to their iPods and iPads and SUVs and air conditioning and filtered water and plumbing and a roof over the heads instead of a torn shred of plastic.
As Tatiana Wah on said this morning on the Melissa Harris-Perry show: "The only thing we can track right now is the growth in disaster tourism in Haiti."
And that's obscene.