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September 16, 2011

Growing impatience and anger in Haiti with earthquake reconstruction and UN military occupation, reports Canadian observers

By Roger Annis

Help Haiti

Three Canadians conducted a ten-day fact-finding and solidarity mission to Haiti from June 20 to 30. The delegation was organized by Haiti Solidarity BC, the Vancouver affiliate of the Canada Haiti Action Network. We traveled throughout the earthquake zone and met with residents of survivor camps, Haitian social organizations and international aid providers.

Housing and shelter concerns

More than 600,000 people are still living in harsh conditions in displaced-persons camps. A rough estimate drawn from a May, 2011 survey of all 1,000 survivor camps by the International Organization of Migration shows only one quarter to one third of camp residents have access to medical services, potable water, toilets and bathing facilities.

According to our observations, some camps have school facilities for children, most do not. Some have medical services, many do not. Income-earning prospects for residents are few. Acts or threats of sexual violence against women in the camps are widespread, as documented in a disturbing, just-released study by Human Rights Watch that takes a comprehensive look at the living conditions of women and girls in Haiti.

Approximately half the 400,000 buildings in the earthquake zone were destroyed, are condemned or require major, structural repair before they can be safe to re-inhabit. We were disturbed to learn that because of the slow pace of shelter and housing construction, people are moving back into damaged homes in very large numbers. They are also creating vast, unofficial settlements on vacant land outside the pre-earthquake city limits of Port au Prince.

According to a just-released study by Haiti Grassroots Watch, international agencies say they have built 90,000 temporary shelters. Another 30,000 are scheduled to be built. We did not see such numbers, but regardless, the operative word for these shelters is “temporary”, and they still leave hundreds of thousands in need.

There is still no coordinated national plan for housing by the Haitian government and international agencies. This fact is being widely reported internationally, though not in Canada.

Health care and education

Provision of health care has been one of the more successful post-earthquake stories. This is due to the fact that agencies had robust, pre-earthquake services already in place with a good record of partnership with Haiti’s Ministry of Health, including the government of Cuba, Partners In Health and Doctors Without Borders. All have significantly boosted their assistance since the earthquake.

But health provision by Haiti’s Ministry of Health is in regression as international funding begins to dry up or fails to meet the new, post-earthquake demands. This is especially concerning because the threat of cholera is ongoing. Since its outbreak in October 2010, it has claimed more than 6,000 victims.

The opening of the school year has been delayed until October. Before the earthquake, only half of Haiti’s children attended school and most schools were private. Little has changed.

Overall, we saw little evidence of Canadian contribution to building Haitian and public health care and education systems.

Human rights

The human rights situation in Haiti is unstable and troubling. One third of the remaining 1,000 camps of earthquake survivors are threatened with forced closure by purported landowners or government and police officials, notwithstanding sharp condemnations of this practice by Haitian and international human rights agencies.

The former tyrant Jean Claude Duvalier is comfortably resettled in Haiti and has so far avoided prosecution by the Haitian or international justice system.

The Canadian government is financing the construction of prisons and police stations, but has done little to assist the chronically under-funded Haitian justice system. The rate of preventive detention in Haiti’s Canadian-assisted prisons is 80%.

Four months following a two-round, exclusionary national election that was financed by the U.S., Europe and Canada, Haiti has no functioning government. That’s because the victorious presidential candidate, the neo-Duvalierist Michel Martelly, and his national and international advisers are embarked on a course of weakening and discrediting the institutions of elected government in the country.

There are growing demands by Haitians on the UN Security Council-sanctioned military occupation force known as MINUSTAH to leave the country following new cases of sexual violence or abuse by UN soldiers and conclusive proof that the devastating cholera epidemic was caused by UN soldiers from Nepal.

Haitians expect better

Agriculture, said most Haitian and international observers following the earthquake, must become the focus of the country’s economic development. The peasant organization with which we met, Haiti’s largest, says little has been done to match the fine words.

Only 40% of the aid funding promised for 2010/11 has been delivered or committed. Poor and displaced Haitians are everywhere suffering terrible hardship and expecting much, much better from the international aid effort. They want a plan to move the country forward. They want to build safe and sturdy housing; they want to create public education and health services; they want the foundations laid for productive jobs in agriculture, industry, tourism and social services.

Our delegation has written a 17-page report of our findings, with recommendations to legislators and media outlets in Canada. You can read in English here and in French here. It has been mailed to members of Parliament and the Senate, seeking responses. We will also be reporting on our visit at public meetings across Canada, including in Winnipeg, Halifax, Charlottetown, Toronto and Hamilton. For details, go to the events page on the Canada Haiti Action Network website.

Roger Annis resides in Vancouver and directed the Canadian delegation to Haiti that also included Sandra Gessler, professor of nursing at the University of Manitoba, and Rosena Joseph, a language coach in Toronto and member of Local 3393 of the Canadian Union of Public Employees. You can contact the author at rogerannis(at) For more information on Haiti visit the Canada Haiti Action Network.