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Saturday, May 08, 2010

Haiti's Next Disaster?


(Port au Prince, May 8 2010)

Here's an interesting problem -- a great example of the "politics of aid" in Haiti, even though you didn't heard much about it from the mass media, let alone Bill Clinton or Michelle Obama.

Three months after the January 12th earthquake, you've still got at least 1 mm people "living" in Port au Prince, Haiti's capital city, in crowded camps of tents and makeshift shacks.

Furthermore, hurricane season is fast approaching: it lasts from June to November here. And NOAA, the US weather agency, says there could be at least a dozen Caribbean hurricanes this year. While they don't predict land fall more than a few days in advance, we know that Haiti is clearly at risk --
In 2008, it was hit by 4 hurricanes that were Class 3 or stronger.

And that was before the quake, when most people were living in concrete houses. Now those are mostly all gone.

The real problem, in other words, is not just "the rainy season;" it is the hurricane season.

The Preval government has recently received nearly $1 billion from foreign donors. But it is not spending nearly enough of that money on new housing or relocation.

Indeed, not long ago, President Preval was quoted as warning people to stay where they are, because, he said, there was a danger of "new earthquakes."

Of course earthquakes are much more unpredictable than hurricanes. But Preval evidently doesn't want to admit that to relocate a million people to better housing and safer land, he's have to have already started --- mandating relocation to rural areas where people came from, and putting up stronger shelters on gov and private lands near Port au Prince, or in the existing camps, for those who have nowhere to go.

The problem is that such a move was politically unpopular. Preval, a lame duck President, has been fighting for an extension of his term, which was supposed to expire in November. Yesterday he got at least a three month extension -- but in the interim, very little has been done about relocation.

Nor has any one else taken charge of this issue. There's been lots of bold talk from the international community about "reconstructing Haiti," and some efforts to rebuild "places that can be named after donors," like hospitals and government buildings.

But none of this really addresses the looming hurricane threat. Unfortunately, many of the hundreds of NGOs that are still here are still focused on "fighting the last war" -- dealing with the continuing dire impacts of the earthquake.

Of course the Obama Administration has had its hands, but to some extent it has also glossed over this looming hurricane threat. In a tough election year, with many Americans facing tough times, providing more aid to Haiti is not exactly popular -- although dealing with thousands of Haitian "boat people" would also be a nightmare.

Apparently the USG also doesn't want to be perceived as "intervening in internal Haitian affairs" by telling Preval to step it up. The US military, which has been helping with aid, is slated to leave the island in June.

Well, Earth to Obama: the US already crossed the Haitian intervention bridge long ago. (... Just to pick a few examples: the US trade boycott with Haiti in the 1820s-1860s; occupying the island with thousands of Marines in 1915-1930; supporting Papa Doc Duvalier and his son in the 1950s-1980s; supporting Gen. Cedras' 1991 ouster of Aristede, Aristede's first return to power in 1994, and his ouster again in 2004...)

So right now may actually be the time for another US intervention -- a humanitarian one, in the interests of saving lives, perhaps as many as were lost in the earthquake.

There's still time -- not much, but maybe just enough to get some of those empty thousands of FEMA trailers down here for people who can't go bsck to the countryside, plus mount a serious effort, mainly through incentives, to get folks able to move to do so. And right now, before it is too late.

We know that the world's donor community has "Haiti fatigue." It feels that it has already done as much as it can do for Haiti, and that the patient has stabilized. Indeed, the International Red Cross and most its affiliates have already moved on, and many other NGOs are also in the process of withdrawing.

Unfortunely the weather gods didn't get the memo about Haiti's "stabilization"....

Sent via BlackBerry by AT&T

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May 8, 2010 at 04:48 PM | Permalink

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