How do countries prepare for earthquakes of the magnitude of Haiti earthquake of 2010, the Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami of 2004 the 2005 Kashmir earthquake of Pakistan and India, the 2008 Sichuan earthquake of China, the Peruvian earthquake of 2007, the Guatemala Earthquake of 1976, or the Lisbon earthquake of 1755? And, these are only a few of the most devastating and destructive earthquakes. As one writer wrote, “the Haitian earthquake reminds us that natural disasters do indeed discriminate.” For example, the 1989 San Francisco earthquake was actually stronger than the Haiti earthquake of 2010; 7.1 on the Richter scale versus the 7.0 that hit Haiti. Yet, with respect to the loss of lives and levels of devastation, there was no comparison. In Haiti, although the number of deaths is uncertain, but with announced totals approximating 200,000 or more, only 63 died in the 1989 San Francisco earthquake.
A little perspective is needed if we are going to understand what government and non-government organizations can do in the case of a catastrophic disaster such as experienced by Haiti, described as a country so poor that people buy mud to eat. Haiti is a country in which there has been a lack of investment in infrastructure and agriculture. Haiti is a country in which three quarters of the population lives on less than $2.00 per day, and where half of the population survives on only $1.00 per day. Haiti is a country in which “in the crowded markets, biscuits made of mud and salt that are baked in the sun are sold to the poorest of the poor.
Nevertheless, as I read this article, several thoughts came to the forefront of my mind as I have been thinking about this earthquake since writing my earlier post on the earthquake. Several paragraphs in the article seemed to focus my attention on some of the issues that are important to civil society organizations.
Nearly one month after a powerful earthquake brought this country to a halt. Haiti is tumbling headlong through a crisis that has not begun to abate, with evidence everywhere that current relief efforts are falling short.
Despite the good intentions of the United States and the world community, weary relief workers say the coming weeks will severely test the resolve of those foreign contributors and the resourcefulness of a Haitian government that remains all but invisible.
[Emergency room physician Gene] Gincherman fears that Haiti’s national emergency could get worse as the crisis endures and the world’s attention span ebbs. He said, “We’re so afraid that once it gets unsexy, it will be forgotten.
What else could have been expected from an earthquake of this magnitude, the worse natural disaster in Haiti’s troubled history? Haiti’s history with both natural disasters and human caused disasters has been a tragic history. Although sharing the island of Hispaniola with Dominican Republic, its fate seems to have been far worse than that of the Dominican Republic. However, the Dominican Republic has also had its share of natural disasters not dissimilar to those affecting Haiti. Indeed, while the Haiti earthquake of 10 January 2010 also affected the Dominican Republic, there was little damage to structures and no loss of life there.
As is often the case, once the shock of a disaster wears off, so do the obvious and urgent passionate appeals for funds and assistance seem to disappear from the television screens and front pages of newspapers. Once the cameras are gone and the emotional impulses for responding to a need are gone, where do the victims of this earthquake go for help? This goes to one of the points that I made in my earlier posts of 21 January 2010 and 23 September 2009. I have been thinking of this these past two weeks as I have heard stories from people who went to Haiti to provide rescue and relief assistance.
What has been missing, however, has been the same level of urgency of the appeals for funds. Vital infrastructure necessary for relief and for responding to the devastation, loss of life, medical needs, and food and water requirements was severely damaged or destroyed. Relief supplies and medical aid was delayed because of both enhanced security and the damage to the airport. Violence and looting presented their own problems, especially violence and rape against women and children. With a history and reputation for corruption, there were questions about whether the relief could be properly distributed and provided. Indeed, there were some warnings against providing aid to Haiti because of the allegations of corruption.
As one commentator pointed out, Haiti, like much of the Caribbean, is without industry. Because it has been unsafe and has the reputation of corruption, there has been no tourist trade to speak of. Since the election of 2000 and the return of former priest, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, who has been previously elected in December 1990, there was widespread violence and human rights abuses.
A little context, therefore, might be helpful to our understanding as to what governments and NGOs are facing in Haiti in response to this disaster. As a general statement, Haiti, in its 200 year history, has suffered 32 coups, an unstable government and society, national authority disputed by factions of the military, the elite class and business and commercial class, and increasing immigrant business groups from Germany, the United States, France, and Britain. The United States occupied the island with Army forces stationed in Haiti between 1915 and 1937, and established a boundary between Haiti and Dominican Republic by taking disputed land from the Dominican Republic. French, American, and British forces allegedly claimed large sums of money from the vaults of the National Bank of Haiti. According to some reports, expatriates bankrolled and armed opposing groups. Nevertheless, with infrastructure improvements, particularly road, bridges, irrigation canals, hospitals, schools, and public buildings constructed, Haiti was in much better shape after the US occupation than it was before the occupation.
When the US left Haiti in 1937, Dominican dictator Rafael Trujillo ordered his Army to kill Haitians living in the Dominican Republic. This massacre resulted in the deaths of 10,000 to 20,000 Haitians. A revolt in northern Haiti in 2004 ultimately led to Aristide’s departure from Haiti from the country, leading to the stationing of UN peacekeepers. The United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti or Mission des Nations Unies pour la stabilisation en Haïti (MINUSTAH) has been in Haiti since the rebellion of 2004. The military forces of MINUSTAH are under the leadership of the Brazilian Army. According to the UN mandate, MINUSTAH was to use its forces, including civilian police, on increasing security and protection during the electoral period and to assist with the restoration of the rule of law, public safety, and public order.
Throughout its history, independent human rights organizations have accused MINUSTAH and the Haitian national police of human rights violations and atrocities against civilian. Although the UN repeatedly denied these accusations, it did ultimately admit the civilians may have been killed as a by-product of MINUSTAH’s crackdown on gang violence, especially when UN troops stormed Cité Soleil and engaged in a major gun battle. Politics have been contentious throughout most of Haitian history. There has been a long history of oppression by dictators with adverse consequences to the country. France and the US have repeatedly intervened in Haitian politics.
Transparency International reported in its 2009 Corruptions Perception Index that corruption is endemic in Haitian’s public institutions. The diagnostic study corroborated the score which ranked Haiti among the most corrupt countries in the world, ranking it 168 out of 180 countries surveyed. Transparency International defines “corruption” as “the abuse of entrusted power for private gain.” It distinguishes between corruption based on payment of bribes in order to receive preferential treatment for something that the receiver of the bribe is required to do by law, and corruption based on payment of bribes to obtain services that the receiver of the bribe is prohibited from providing. Both forms of corruption have been rampant in Haitian history.
According to Transparency International, corruption politically is a major obstacle to democracy and to the rule of law, and in democratic systems, officers and institutions lose their legitimacy. Economically, corruption leads to depletion of national wealth and is responsible for funneling scarce public resources to uneconomic high-profile projects at the expense of less spectacular but fundamental infrastructure projects and hinders the development of fair market structures and distorts competition, thereby deterring investment. Socially, corruption undermines people’s trust in the political system, its institutions, and its leadership, leading to undermining the social fabric of a society as frustration and apathy of a generally disillusioned public, results in a weak civil society. Environmentally, corruption results in lack of, or non-enforcement of environmental regulations, careless exploitation of natural resources, from timber to minerals, and ravaged natural environments. Haiti has experienced all of the effects of corruption.
Cité Soleil is a densely populated commune slum located in the Port-au-Prince metropolitan area. Most of its 200,000 to 300,000 inhabitants live in extreme poverty. It is regarded as the poorest and most dangerous area in the Western Hemisphere and is one of the biggest slums in the Northern Hemisphere. There is little or no police presence, no sewers, no stores, little or no electricity. Armed gangs roam and rule the streets. Murder, rape, kidnapping, looting, and shooting are common, with control contested by more than 30 armed factions. Reports of conditions in Cité Soleil, call the area a “microcosm of all the ills in Haitian society, endemic unemployment, illiteracy, non-existent public services, unsanitary conditions, rampant crime, and armed violence.”
After the January 2010 earthquake in Haiti, it took nearly two weeks for any relief aid to arrive in Cité Soleil. While there is no denying the level and scope of corruption noted in Haiti as reported by Transparency International, the 2009 Corruption Perspectives Index reflects that no country reported was completely free of corruption. Moreover, the vast majority of the 180 countries surveyed scored higher levels of corruption than the medium between high levels of corruption and low levels of corruption. That is, 130 countries scored poorly with respect to corruption.
As Transparency International warns, however, the Index is not intended to brand any one country or territory, or to pit the North against the South. It is rather a tool to raise public awareness to the problem of corruption and promote better governance. People are as corrupt as the system allows them to be. One could well come to the conclusion that corruption is inherent in the human condition for reasons that are beyond the scope of this post. But corruption in Haiti is not the only problem facing the people. In 1925, Haiti was lush with 60 percent of its original forests covering its lands and mountains. With oil too expensive, charcoal from burn trees provided 85 percent or more of the energy needs for Haiti. Haiti’s 8 million poor people have relentlessly cut down most of the forests, leaving denuded mountain slopes that allow rainwater to flow down unimpeded. In 1980, Haiti still had 25 percent of its forests. Nevertheless, since 1925, Haitians have cut down 98 percent of its original forests.
Throughout its history, Haiti has suffered cyclones, hurricanes, tropical storms, torrential rains, and earthquakes. Indeed, in just the last 100 years, by my count, there have been three cyclones, 17 hurricanes, untold tropical storms and torrential rains causing extensive flooding, and at least five major earthquakes. The hurricane season of 2008 was one of the worst with four hurricanes, Fay, Gustav, Hanna, and Ike, each dumping heavy rains on this impoverished country. With mountains and rugged hillsides denuded of their forests and vegetation, waters flooded large areas of the country. These hurricanes destroyed over 22,700 homes and damaged another 85,000, and killed or injured thousands of people. About 800,000 people, or 8 percent of Haiti’s population, were affected by the floods which wiped out 70 percent of Haiti’s crops, resulting in deaths of children due to malnourishment. The damage was estimated at over $1 billion, or over 5 percent of the country’s GDP. Hurricanes in 1954, 1994, 1998, and 2004 killed thousands of people and destroyed 80 percent of all the crops in the country.
While it seems that Haiti has suffered a seemingly disproportionate share of natural disasters, some have suggested that these are not really natural disasters, rather they are human caused disasters. There are a number of factors that contribute to Haiti’s vulnerability to these natural disasters. Simply observing the hurricane and tropical storm history in the Atlantic Ocean makes it clear that Haiti is in what is called the hurricane alley or hurricane track. It is this killer combination of geography, tectonics, environmental degradation, poverty, social problems, slipshod building standards, and bad luck.
The reports by Transparency International since the earthquake in January 2010 repeated its conclusions regarding corruption, and the potential for corruption undermining emergency humanitarian relief efforts. In this respect, the report stated that corruption ranged “from the intolerable, such as sexual abuse linked to food aid, to the far murkier issues in the first days after a disaster, when organizations must save lives even as they face a litany of red tape.” As one of the authors of the report said, “It’s a perfect storm for corruption in Haiti.” These problems “could be expected because of Haiti’s endemic corruption before the earthquake, its fragile government and temptations that come as a flood of deep-pocketed aid groups arrive.”
A motto heard frequently in Port-au-Prince is “Build Back Better.”
What does this mean? How is it to be achieved? And how is it to happen in a country where the entire country has been affected by this catastrophic disaster?
I think one place to start conceptually is that we have to separate the humanitarian phase from the reconstruction phase, at least intellectually. If it was not clear before the earthquake, it has certainly been clear since the earthquake that the Haitian government is unable to function for many of the reasons I have discussed above. But, the structures of the Haitian state were destroyed in the earthquake. So, now more than ever, Haiti needs a functioning government.
The immediate need is the humanitarian phase in which foreign participation will be required to meet the immediate rescue, recovery, and relief needs for water, food, shelter, and protection. Hundreds, and maybe thousands of NGOs converging on Haiti to provide direct assistance, such as food, water, shelter, medicine and medical care, and logistical support. I will explore this phase and the roles of the NGOs in a future post.
The reconstruction phase will be much more difficult and will require the active participation of a much stronger and legitimate Haitian government and supporting activity on the part of the international community, and primarily governmental and multinational governmental organizations. Although there has been “nation-building” in Haiti since 2004, Haiti still has an unhappy history with the involvement of foreign governments in its affairs.
Robert Zoelick, the president of the World Bank announced on 19 January 2010, and in an interview with the Financial Times, asserted that international donors need to start preparing for the long-term challenge of reconstructing Haiti even as they ramp up emergency relief; that it was essential that “when the cameras leave, the donors do not leave with them.” He, like a number of others, has suggested that the model for reconstruction is the reconstruction of Aceh in Indonesia after the 2004 tsunami that killed some 160,000 people and caused catastrophic destruction. It seemed clear to me that what Robert Zoelick was addressing here by reference to the international community and international donor was national governments that were going to have to be engaged in rebuilding Haiti over a 10-year or longer period.
World leaders met in Montreal on 25 January 2010, in what was billed as a donors conference to address the immediate humanitarian needs in Haiti and medium and long-range plans for ensuring that governance continues and that socioeconomic needs of the people there are being met as a central purpose to the reconstruction of the country. These leaders, nineteen foreign ministers, and representatives from the UN and the International Monetary Fund (IMF), informally known as the “Group of Friends of Haiti,” agreed to a 10-year effort to rebuild Port-au-Prince and foster the long-term development that had eluded Haiti throughout its history despite decades of aid of foreign assistance.
The conference produced few details as to the scope of the damage to Haiti or the cost of reconstruction. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced plans for a further conference of donor countries in New York in March 2010 at the UN headquarters when the scope of the devastation and estimated costs of reconstruction were better known and understood. The UN Assistant Secretary-General for peacekeeping operations presented a proposal which called for an “international coordination architecture” to manage and organize the “multitude of actors and players” working on the ground to “reconstruct Haiti.”
According to this proposal, there would be a Joint Operations and Tasking Center established that would coordinate all the humanitarian and reconstruction activities in Haiti, integrating the political sphere, with the aid response, and with the military sphere at all levels. Included in this proposal were proposals for the establishment of a single fund in which all “donations” can be collected and which would increase accountability with respect to funding elements of the operation, and debt relief since Haiti owed an estimated $1 billion to foreign lenders and international banks. The world’s leading industrialized nations, the Group of Seven Countries, announced at a summit in Iqualuit, northern Canada, that they would cancel Haiti’s bilateral and multilateral debts. The UK-based civil society organization, Oxfam International, has urged other donor nations and institutions to write off an additional $900 million.
The military forces were seen as critical to the international community’s response to Haiti’s needs, as the military and police forces from United Nations, Canada, United States, and Dominican Republic established their presence in Haiti. The presence of U.S. military personnel in Haiti was set to reach 20,000 by the end of that week in addition to those provided by other nations and by the UN Security Council in addition to its previously established UN peacekeeping force (MINUSTAH) of 10,000 troops. As I wrote above, MINUSTAH has been in the country since the 2004 rebellion. Because of the number of incidents of violence and alleged human rights violations, there has been widespread criticism of its mission and its actions, and calls for its departure.
The UN has asked former president, Bill Clinton, the UN special envoy for Haiti, to assume leadership in coordinating the international aid efforts from emergency response to “reconstructing” Haiti. The former president would work very closely with the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) head in Haiti and the acting head of the UN mission in Haiti. The idea was that there would be coherence at the policy level, with the former president coordinating aid from the corporate world, governments, and NGOs in areas of reconstruction. As former president Clinton said:
The trick is to get the Haitian people back where they can stop living day-to-day and start living from week-to-week, or month to month and then start the long-term efforts.The former president urged global corporate bosses at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland to use the Haiti catastrophe as an opportunity to lift the country out of generations of poverty. Also, President Obama asked former presidents Clinton and Bush to oversee private fundraising in the United States for Haiti’s reconstruction. The basic debate for some time to come will be the public versus private role in both the humanitarian and reconstruction efforts in Haiti. While only countries can provide security through military and civilian police for security and protection, since the emphasis in this blog is on the civil society and third sector accountability, and that will be the major emphasis of my further discussions of the Haiti earthquake.
They, the leaders there, want to build a functioning, modern state for the first time, and I will do what I can to faithfully represent and work with all the agencies of the UN and help them get it done.
There are several fundamental questions that seem to me to be relevant to the role of both governments and of the civil society sector, primarily those that concentrated in the charitable and public benefit nonprofit sector.
1 Is there some fundamental moral principle that obligates a country or individuals to act to alleviate the suffering of people that have experienced a devastating natural disaster, such as the Haiti earthquake of 2010?
2. If so, on what is the moral principle and on what basis does this obligation arise?
3. To whom is this moral obligation owed?
4. In what respect does the moral obligation to provide emergency humanitarian relief, if there is such an obligation, address the respective roles of nations, civil society organizations, and individuals to provide emergency aid to individuals and to Haiti as a country?
4. Is the moral obligation, if any, regarding the provision of emergency humanitarian relief differ from the moral obligation, if any, to provide for the rebuilding of Haiti as a nation.