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Haiti Crisis Needs an Immediate Response

It has been more than ten months since the 7.0 earthquake devastated Haiti and leveled much of the capital of Port-au-Prince and more than one and half million people are still homeless. They are living in makeshift camps of tarps and bed sheets, and exposed not only to the searing sun and pounding rain, but now extremely vulnerable to the rapidly spreading cholera epidemic.

Despite billions of dollars raised during the urgent relief phase earlier this year, only 15% of the promised transitional shelters have been built as of today. The target number of less than 125,000 “t-shelters” has been criticized by many as a pathetic and underwhelming response to the desperate needs of homeless earthquake survivors.

The United States pledged to help Haiti, but when will we deliver? Secretary of State Hillary Clinton promised $1.15 billion in reconstruction money, but a recent investigation by the Associated Press found that not one cent of these funds has arrived in Haiti  “due to a combination of bureaucracy, disorganization and a lack of urgency in Washington.” Now about 10% of the promised funds are en route to Haiti, but it is not enough. These funds were supposed to build homes and assist in resolving long-term issues like rubble removal and sustainable water and sanitation solutions.

Instead Haitians are living in an environment that is perfect for the spread of cholera. Nearly all the euphemistically named “camps” of earthquake survivors continue to rely on non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to provide water which is often not potable and inadequate sanitary conditions characterized by drastically small numbers of available latrines have not been ameliorated. More than a million people are stranded in standing water as cholera is tearing through the country, and even those who know how to prevent cholera are powerless to take the necessary steps to protect their families.

During a briefing hosted by the Congressional Black Caucus on November 10, Paul Weisenfeld of USAID stated that although USAID’s partners had been asked to focus on the cholera outbreak, no new funds are being used and additional stockpiled supplies are not yet needed. However, Stefano Zannini, the Head of Mission for Médecins Sans Frontières in Haiti shared this prognosis for the escalating cholera epidemic:

“If the number of cases continues to increase at the same rate, then we’re going to have to adopt some drastic measures to be able to treat people. We’re going to have to use public spaces and even streets. I can easily see this situation deteriorating to the point where patients are lying in the street, waiting for treatment. At the moment, we just don’t have that many options.”

Do the streets of Haiti need to be strewn with bodies again for Washington to sense the urgency? Denial equals death and in light of the terrifying specter raised by those treating cholera patients on the ground, we must act now. Today the United Nations appealed for additional funds to fight cholera and the spokesman of the World Health Organization is predicting 200,000 cases in the six to twelve months.

These are the immediate, urgent life-saving steps that the U.S. State Department and USAID must take on behalf of the vulnerable earthquake survivors in Haiti: 

1.     Make money available NOW. Despite the fact that USAID and the State Department publicly commend the Government of Haiti for leading the response to the cholera epidemic, less than 1% of funds have gone directly to Haiti’s government to date. The U.S. Congress recently slowed funding for Haiti again by applying an appalling double standard for funds that would go through the Government of Haiti versus those that are channeled through NGOs and for profit organizations that are accountable to no one. While asking for proof that funds won’t be misused or stolen by Haitian authorities, Chemonics, a for-profit company, has received $172 million in U.S. money.

2.     Construct and relocate Haitians into transitional shelters. USAID/OFDA reported that the Camp Coordination (CCCM) Cluster has begun documenting the distribution of replacement emergency materials and that “NGOs have noted the high quality of USAID/OFDA plastic sheeting, which has not deteriorated and does not require replacement.”   Ten months after the quake, it is inconceivable that Haitians are being provided short-term, unsafe shelter constructed from tarps. The construction of transitional shelters must also incentivize movement from the capital to regional departments through the guarantee of additional job and educational opportunities. 

3.     Require partners funded by USAID to move quickly to provide long-term sustainable solutions for development.  These include the construction of secure and sustainable water, sanitation and housing facilities. Pit latrines and water deliveries for water and sanitation and tarps and tents for housing are not adequate solutions for Haitians.  The current cholera outbreak dramatically highlights how the response to date has fallen far short of what is needed on the ground.  With a history of temporary fixes becoming permanent realities, prompt action must be taken to remedy the current situation.

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    Melinda Miles started this petition with a single signature, and now has 786 supporters. Start a petition today to change something you care about.