Friday, August 10, 2012

Churches, NGOs, US Congresspersons Demand Action For Clean Water and Cholera Accountability

by Roger Annis (Haiti Liberte)

A broad coalition of religious, human rights, and non-governmental organizations has come together in the United States to demand that the United Nations political/military mission in Haiti, and the governments supporting it, take responsibility for the disastrous cholera epidemic brought to Haiti in October 2010.

The group’s concerns are backed by an open letter signed by 104 members of the U.S. Congress. The letter, dated Jul. 18, 2012, is addressed to Susan Rice, the U.S. representative to the UN Security Council. It demands that the UN take the lead in addressing its culpability for the epidemic by facilitating the construction of clean water facilities.

“As cholera was brought to Haiti due to the actions of the UN, we believe that it is imperative for the UN to now act decisively to control the cholera epidemic,” the letter says. “UN authorities should work with Haiti’s government and the international community to confront and, ultimately, eliminate this deadly disease from Haiti and the rest of the island of Hispaniola. A failure to act will not only lead to countless more deaths: it will undermine the crucial effort to reconstruct Haiti and will pose a permanent public health threat to the populations of neighboring nations.”

The letter also calls on Rice “to urge UN authorities to play a central role in addressing the cholera crisis. First, by helping ensure that resources are in place to provide adequate treatment and prevention of the disease in the short term. Secondly, by taking the lead in helping... acquire the necessary funding to develop the water and sanitation infrastructure needed to effectively control the cholera epidemic.”

Similar concerns were expressed in a May 12, 2012 editorial in the New York Times and they are at the heart of a lawsuit by some 5,000 victims of the cholera epidemic that is being spearheaded by the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti (IJDH).

That lawsuit is gathering support in Hollywood, thanks to a 27-minute documentary film “Baseball in the Time of Cholera” by directors David Darg and Bryn Mooser. Ninety celebrities attended a screening of the film last week in Hollywood. Many have urged action on the issue via Twitter, leading the hashtag #undeny to become a top trend on Jul. 18.

The film was screened on Washington’s Capitol Hill earlier in July. An online petition of the “UN Deny“ campaign is gathering signatures.

The coalition includes the IJDH, Church World Service, American Jewish World Service, the Mennonite Central Committee, Trans Africa forum, and Gender Action.

“Although international response was swift and generous after January 2010, there has not been equally urgent action to rid the country of cholera,” said a Jul. 18 statement by Church World Service. “Justice and the need for a fair chance demand that we rally around this call for improved water systems, treatment of patients, and the establishment of a bi-national plan with the Haitian and Dominican governments, ministries and communities.”

Perhaps in response to the controversy surrounding cholera in Haiti, a new document is being discussed in UN committees, entitled “Draft articles on the responsibility of international organizations.” A Jul. 18 report on the Haiti Reconstruction Watch project of the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) says the document has already been approved by the UN's International Law Commission.

As of Jul. 15, 2012, cholera has sickened 580,947 people in Haiti, of whom 7,442 have died, according to Haiti’s Health Ministry.

International culpability for the lack of potable water in Haiti long pre-dates the earthquake. In June 2008, the global health agency Partners In Health published a hard-hitting, 100-page report entitled “The Denial of the Right to Water in Haiti.” The report examined the harmful effects of the aid embargo imposed against Haiti by the U.S., Canada, and Europe following Jean-Bertrand Aristide’s election as president in 2000.

Housing rights

Parallel to the cholera accountability campaign is a housing rights campaign that was launched on Jul. 1. Called ‘Under Tents,’ that campaign has gathered 1,136 signatures to date for an international petition demanding that the Haitian government and its international allies take decisive action to build housing for the hundreds of thousands of Haitians left homeless by the 2010 earthquake.

Until now, details about who is receiving U.S. aid funds in Haiti and what they are doing with them have not been released. Now a 300-page document obtained by The Associated Press under a Freedom of Information Act shows that the U.S. has not built a single new house in Haiti.

The AP story also reveals:

· Of the $988 million spent so far, a quarter went toward debt relief to unburden the hemisphere's poorest nation of repayments. But after Haiti's loans were paid off, the government began borrowing again: $657 million so far, largely for oil imports rather than development projects.

· Less than 12% of the reconstruction money sent to Haiti after the earthquake has gone toward energy, shelter, ports or other infrastructure. At least a third, $329 million, went to projects that were awarded before the 2010 catastrophe and had little to do with the recovery - such as HIV/AIDS programs.

· Half of the $1.8 billion the U.S. promised for rebuilding is still in the Treasury, its disbursement stymied by an understaffed U.S. Embassy in Port-au-Prince in the months after the quake and by a Haitian government that was barely functional for more than a year.

· Despite State Department promises to keep spending public, some members of Congress and watchdogs say they aren't getting detailed information about how the millions are being spent, as dozens of contractors working for the U.S. government in Haiti leave a complex money trail.

The full list of U.S. Congressional signatories of the Jul. 18 letter on UN accountability for cholera includes Representatives Yvette
Clarke (D-NY), Ed Towns (D-NY), Barbara Lee (D-CA), Dennis Kucinich (D-OH), Charles Rangel (D-NY), Maxine Waters (D-CA), Frederica Wilson (D-FL), Jesse Jackson, Jr. (D-IL), Alcee Hastings (D-FL), Barney Frank (D-MA), Edward Markey (D-MA), Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX), Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), and James Himes (CT).

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