Haiti's post-earthquake suffering outlined in report by Canadian delegation

| August 30, 2011
Haiti, June 2011: Unofficial settlements like this one are springing up on barren land outside of Port au Prince as Haiti's poor or those left homeless by the earthquake lose faith in reconstruction. Photo: Roger Annis

Three Canadians, Roger Annis, coordinator of the Canada Haiti Action Network, 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, conducted a 10-day fact-finding and solidarity mission to Haiti from at the end of June.

The delegation, in the country from June 20 to 30, was organized by Haiti Solidarity BC, the Vancouver affiliate of the Canada Haiti Action Network. We traveled throughout the earthquake zone and met with resident survivors in camps, Haitian social organizations, and international aid providers.

We witnessed the dedication and hard work of Haitians, government officials and ministries, and international agencies and volunteers, notwithstanding the immense scale of the recovery and the shortages of resources. But poor and displaced Haitians are everywhere suffering terrible hardship and expecting much, much better.

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-third of camp residents have access to 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.

Approximately half of the 400,000 buildings in the earthquake zone had been destroyed, are now condemned or require major, structural repair before they can be safe to reinhabit. We were disturbed to learn that because of the slow pace of shelter and housing construction, people are moving back into these 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.

Healthcare and education

Provision of healthcare 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.

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

We saw little evidence of Canadian contribution to building a Haitian and public health care system or public education system.

Human rights

The human rights situation in Haiti is unstable and troubling. Growing numbers of survivor camps are threatened with forced dislocation, 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 escaped 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 of prisoners in Haiti's Canadian-assisted prisons is 80 per cent.

Four months following a two-round, exclusion national election that was financed by the U.S., Europe and Canada, Haiti has no 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.

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.

The message our delegation received from most of the Haitians we met was that they await impatiently a more robust relief and reconstruction 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 it here. We will be mailing the report to members of Parliament and the Senate in the coming weeks and seeking responses.

We will also be reporting on our visit at public meetings across Canada in the months to come. For details, click here.

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. For interviews with members of the Canadian Delegation to Haiti, or to invite a member of the delegation to speak, contact Roger Annis by email, or phone 778-858-5179 (Vancouver).

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