Thursday, January 21, 2010

DC DIARY: Hope for Haiti —Zeeshan Suhail

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How Western Domination Has Undermined Haiti’s Ability to Recover from...


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via Main RSS Feed by Amy Goodman, Democracy Now! on 1/21/10

An interview with journalist Kim Ives about Washington's domination of Haiti.


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Haiti and Dr. Shah’s First Test


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Over the last week, the world has been watching the brutal aftermath of a 7.0 earthquake, which struck Haiti last Tuesday afternoon. For Rajiv Shah, the execution and delivery of relief efforts are to be his first test since taking over the US Agency for International Development (USAID) this past Christmas Eve. However, in the coming weeks ahead, after the initial nutritional, shelter and hygienic needs of Haiti are met – a real development plan for Haiti must be made.


Supplies being unloaded onto Haiti's airport tarmac photo/Google Earth

While this seismic tragedy was unexpected, the knowledge that Haiti was a fragile and poor nation with a struggling government was not. It has had a United Nations peacekeeping force and developmental presence in Haiti since 1993. In the first hours after the earthquake struck the county's flimsy structure was easily apparent and swift action was taken by the US government to provide basic logistical services that the Haitian government could not. Many other governments have pledged support, but the US has essentially taken over the command and control functions of the entire relief operation, with the US Federal Aviation Administration dictating all air traffic into Port-au-Prince's airport and the Pentagon coordinating every supply airlift and sea delivery.

One bright spot is the outpouring of civilian assistance and humanitarian aid from all parts of the world. Boosted by new donation streams such as mobile text messages and online social networking sites, these contributions have generated tens of millions of dollars with The American Red Cross alone reporting over $10 million in mobile txt donations late Friday evening. At the same time, aid workers armed with technology are using their mobile phones to pin point their locations as trouble spots on Google Maps and share this geographical information with command and distribution centers. However, while these and other factors such as Haiti's proximity to the US are in its favor, years of abject poverty, ignored development, UN bureaucracy and weak state institutions are compounding the earthquake's tremors.

As USAID's Administrator, Dr. Shah is a competent professional, with previous stints at the US Department of Agriculture and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. According to his official USAID bio he earned his M.D. from the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine and M.Sc. in Health Economics at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. He is a graduate of the University of Michigan and also attended the London School of Economics. Not too shabby…but Haiti will be harder than any other test he has had to face.

The relief efforts will go on for some time, but when the US leaves, albeit probably not any time soon, Haiti's people need to be able to hold up their own economy and communities again. As USAID marshals its own plan for Haiti's recovery, job creation, exportable goods and outsourced services must be the end goal of any development scheme. Good luck Dr.


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U.N. officials reject criticism of Haiti relief efforts


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via Turtle Bay by Colum Lynch on 1/21/10

Facing criticism over the sluggish international relief effort in Haiti, top U.N. officials have mounted a vigorous defense of the organization's handling of the crisis, and asserted that Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has acted decisively to address the needs of suffering U.N. staff and Haitians.

U.N. officials say that they are still struggling to unblock a clogged operational bottleneck that has delayed the delivery of relief to Haitian civilians, but are now feeding hundreds of thousands of people and expect to reach more than one million in two weeks. And they are trying to raise $40 million to fund a program to provide cash and food to Haitians in exchange for work, they say.

The U.N.'s top emergency relief coordinator, John Holmes, said the U.N. is working closely with major relief agencies to step up assistance, but voiced concern about the possible arrival of a second "tsunami-like" wave of fringe relief organizations that "don't really have much capacity but want to be seen on the ground producing loads of Teddy Bears or whatever, which people don't need."

U.N. officials said media reports of widespread looting in Haiti were overblown and that the security situation remained relatively calm. "It's clear that it is happening," said Alain Le Roy, the U.N.'s top peacekeeping official. "But it has happened in Haiti for decades. There was always looting here and there."

U.N. officials also pushed back on recent Turtle Bay reporting suggesting that Secretary-General Ban appeared slow to grasp the seriousness of the calamity, telling journalists some 14 hours after the earthquake that that the death toll could rise into the hundreds, a figure that contrasted with the thousands predicted by Haitians and another U.N. envoy. Ban had also initially announced that it might take a full two days before his special envoy would arrive in Haiti, though his schedule was accelerated later in the day.


At a luncheon with a small number of reporters hosted by the U.N. Foundation, Ban said he immediately set up a Haitian task force to manage the crisis and phoned former President Bill Clinton, his special envoy for Haiti, and U.S. ambassador Susan E. Rice within hours after the earthquake hit, asking for American transport helicopters and for the U.S. to repair the damaged air control tower to enable relief supplies to come into the country. Within days, he said, he had secured support from the Security Council to authorize the dispatch of 3,500 peacekeepers to reinforce the U.N. mission.

Ban acknowledged problems in the initial days following the earthquake, including a chaotic period at the airport that prevented the arrival of relief planes. But he said that airport traffic had improved, that the U.N. has since opened five land corridors to deliver aid, and that the U.S. has agreed to take on the costly reconstruction of the Haitian port.

"I think we have been managing this situation well," said Ban. "The U.N. took up this issue immediately. We assembled the best people at headquarters; we dispatched the best people on the ground. You should understand the magnitude, the enormity, of this situation." But he cautioned that "we still have to address the bottleneck to delivery" and that "there should be no illusion that this will be over in a week, or even a month."

Ban urged Haitians to show patience, saying the flow of aid will begin to increase over the coming days, and that he would work to provide immediate jobs for Haiti's young. "I was struck by so many young people just wonder[ing] around aimlessly without knowing what to do," Ban recalled from his weekend tour of Port-au-Prince. "'We want jobs, we want jobs': this is what they were shouting."

U.N. officials in New York have also sought to underscore what they see as the many acts of heroism performed by U.N. officials in Haiti, including many who lost family members and friends in the earthquake.

Logan Abassi, a U.N. photographer, helped rescue a Haitian man who was trapped under a phone company building, according to a U.N. account. Abbasi was following a group of U.N. peacekeepers in order to capture photos of the looting in Port-au-Prince when he heard the voice of Pierre-Louis Ronny, a 43-year-old employee who worked at the building. Abassi flagged down a Russian search-and-rescue team that pulled Ronny alive from the rubble.

Officials also cited the bravery of Kim Bolduc, a Canadian relief worker who temporarily took charge after the mission's two leaders, Hedi Annabi and Luiz Carlos da Costa, were killed. Bolduc, who has asked to stay on in Haiti, had previously served in the U.N. mission in Baghdad in 2003, when a suicide bomber attacked U.N. headquarters, killing 22 officials and guests. Her colleague died at their shared conference table.

In this month's earthquake, Bolduc was sitting in her second-floor office when another building threatened to collapse. "It was extremely violent," she recalled. "I didn't have time to seek cover. I was sitting on my chair and holding on to the table. Everything collapsed around me. I saw the wall in front of me opening up with a very large crack ... It lasted a long time."

David Wimhurst, another Canadian national who survived the collapse of the U.N. headquarters building in Haiti, went back to work immediately.

"David Wimhurst got his whole team out of a third-story window by screaming down to the people on the street to 'get a ladder, get a ladder,'" said Nick Birnback, the U.N. spokesman for the department of peacekeeping, who served under Wimhurst during the 1999 siege of the U.N. compound in East Timor. "The next day he went to the logistics base to get the U.N. information center up and running. The staff in Minustah never stopped working despite the conditions, despite what they had been through."

Birnback said the response both inside Haiti and at U.N. headquarters has been made all the more difficult by the emotional impact the earthquake has had on staff, most of whom have worked long hours, with little time to stop and grieve for lost friends.

Birnback accompanied Ban on his trip to Haiti this weekend. As he surveyed the wreckage of the Christopher Hotel, the U.N.'s headquarters building, he received confirmation that his former assistant, Renee Carrier, had been killed there. "Every single one of us in peacekeeping has friends who were killed," he said.


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Will Haiti need donated can openers to open all that donated food?


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via Slate Magazine by Jessica Dweck on 1/21/10

Following the massive earthquake that rocked Port-au-Prince last week, relief organizations have begun shipping canned goods such as Spam, tuna, evaporated milk, and baby formula to the Dominican Republic and the northern shores of Haiti. Do these donations pose a problem in a country where more than half of the population lives on less than $1 a day and lacks access to basic household supplies like can openers?

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Inside the Haiti response situation room


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via The Cable by Josh Rogin on 1/21/10

On the ninth floor of the Ronald Reagan building in downtown Washington, the lights are on 24 hours a day in the room where the massive U.S. government response effort to the Haiti crisis is being coordinated.

The first conference call is at 7:30 each morning, after which a series of issue teams that make up the interagency task force on Haiti get their assignments for the day. They regroup around 5 p.m. to prepare for another call in the early evening. But the desks are manned throughout the night.

"People have been working flat out 24/7. Some folks have been up until 5 a.m.," Susan Reichle, the USAID official who heads the coordination effort, told The Cable.

Reichle is not in charge of the entire relief effort -- her boss, USAID chief Rajiv Shah is -- but her shop is the clearinghouse through which the information is channeled up and down the chain within the U.S. government.

"It's a way for all that information at Port-au-Prince to come up to the interagency and a way for us to get messages back to Port-au-Prince from here," she said. "We deconflict issues and problems all day."

The interagency team is led by USAID's Office for Disaster Assistance, but has representation from an alphabet soup of government entities, including DHS, FEMA, the Coast Guard, DOD, the Joints Chiefs, OSD, OCHA, HHS, the State Department, U.S. Southern Command, and U.S. Transportation Command.

Shah isn't in the room. He's busy interfacing with top officials and lawmakers. Shah met with national security advisor Jim Jones yesterday, speaks with people like State Department counselor Cheryl Mills and Joint Chiefs Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen regularly, and went to Capitol Hill today to brief House appropriators.

But Shah "is the decision maker," Reichle emphasized.

The interagency team coordinated by USAID doesn't have complete control over every aspect of the mission. For example, Southcom still makes the decisions about how to vet the 1,400 daily requests for planes to land at the lone Haiti airport. There are only about 140 landing spots to offer, and only about 50 percent of those go to humanitarian missions. The rest are divided between foreign government flights and military missions.

And the coordination mission has been a mix of successes and failures. In one example, a team of experts from Health and Human Services sat idle for days in Port-au-Prince because there were no vehicles or security personnel to move them and they had no direction as to what to do.

"Every team has had to go through some struggles to get into countries and then when they are in the country to do their jobs," Reichle acknowledged.

In the long term, it's not clear that USAID will remain in charge. Although President Obama announced an initial $100 million for Haiti relief, a long-term budget is being put together at State's Bureau of Foreign Assistance, the "F" Bureau, led by Rob Goldberg.

In the past, USAID administrators have supervised the F Bureau, but under the current arrangement its money (as well as USAID's) is controlled by Deputy Secretary of State Jack Lew, rather than Shah.

For now, the search-and-rescue mission continues, but the interagency team is beginning to shift some of its focus to longer-term needs like shelter, food, water, and health. Eventually, Reichle said, the center of gravity will move back from USAID to State.

"It always transitions over to the regional bureau. They're the ones with the lead over the long term," she said.

The administration completed a Haiti policy review recently and the crux of the review will still be implemented. The goal is to build Haiti better than it was before the quake.

The goal, Reichle said, is "decreased dependency over the long term on foreign assistance," and to "build a foundation for a more stable, resilient, and market orientated Haiti."


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Filling Another Need for Haiti - Information


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As the Bank and others prepare their response plans for Haiti, it is worthwhile taking a moment to stress the importance of media and communication in the aftermath of the disaster, as well as in the more long-term post-crisis reconstruction period.

In both post-conflict and natural disaster situations, donors focus on filling people's basic needs: shelter, sustenance, medical care. But there is another basic need that people have in emergencies: information. People need to find out if their loved ones are safe, and if so, how they can communicate with them. They need to find out where they can access basic services. They need to find out if it is safe to go back to their homes, and if not, where they can stay. And in the longer term, they need to reconnect with others in society, to come together to rebuild a nation.


What happens to Haitian earthquake victims whose limbs were crushed?


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via Slate Magazine by Brian Palmer on 1/21/10

Doctors have swarmed to Haiti from around the world to tend to the victims of last week's earthquake, including many whose arms or legs were pinned under steel beams or slabs of concrete. Can you die from a crushed limb?

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Why did U.S. aid focus on securing Haiti rather than helping Haitians?


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via Slate Magazine by Ben Ehrenreich on 1/21/10

By the weekend, it was clear that something perverse was going on in Haiti, something savage and bestial in its lack of concern for human life. I'm not talking about the earthquake, and certainly not about the so-called "looting," which I prefer to think of as the autonomously organized distribution of unjustly hoarded goods. I'm talking about the U.S. relief effort.

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Op-Ed Columnist: Some Frank Talk About Haiti


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via NYT > Opinion by By NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF on 1/20/10

Just because Haiti is poor, it does not mean it always will be. Far more than most other impoverished countries, Haiti could plausibly turn itself around.


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New PSA for Rapid Disaster Relief


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via (title unknown) by Mark Leon Goldberg on 1/21/10

Two new public service announcements for the United Nations recovery and relief efforts in Haiti.

Two new public service announcements for the United Nations recovery and relief efforts in Haiti.  Via, the UN Foundation:


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