UN Peacekeepers still not screened for cholera despite causing outbreak | 

Cholera treatment centre in Les Cayes run by International Medical Corps.
Cholera treatment centre in Les Cayes run by International Medical Corps.

It has been four years since an earthquake devastated the small country of Haiti. More than three years have elapsed since a UN peacekeeping unit from Nepal introduced cholera to Haiti.

Despite telling CNN otherwise, the UN is not taking steps to ensure its peacekeepers do not carry cholera from country to country.

A ten year plan costing $2.2 billion is underway to ride the entire island of Hispaniola of cholera, but some are concerned that the UN is not doing enough to avert making the same mistake.

It came as a surprise when  UN spokesman Farhan Haq told CNN in October that the UN was screening peacekeepers for cholera.

“Part of our lessons learned from this has been to screen peacekeepers for cholera,” said Haq.

It would be an important change in UN policy. But it is not true.

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Did Kristof mistake trees for the aid debate forest? | 

SOPUDEP school
SOPUDEP school

The often debated topic of whether or not foreign aid has done good reappeared in this weekend’s column by Nick Kristof for the New York Times.

By featuring the story of one young girl’s struggle to go to school, Kristof shows that aid works. Even in Haiti.

Jonathan Katz, he reported from Haiti during the earthquake and cholera outbreak, says the argument has some major holes.

“When you consider these facts, it gets pretty difficult to argue that whatever is going on right now in Haiti—including aid—is working, and much harder to dispute the claim that “dedicated and ethical” or any other foreigners are doing harm,” wrote Katz for the Beacon Reader. Continue reading

Lies, Damned Lies, Latin America and the Media | 

mediaOn this week’s podcast, I chat with Keane Bhatt about media reporting gone awry with systemic inaccuracies and bias.

And we’re not just talking about Fox News. Bhatt has zeroed in on some of the most prestigious media outlets, like the The New Yorker, The New York Times, and This American Life, and found their coverage of Latin America to be outright misleading.

Many of our readers and listeners travel to developing countries like Guatemala, Honduras and Haiti to work with nonprofits and NGOs. If you’re one of them, you’ll want a full, unvarnished understanding of how U.S. policy impacts these places, rather than news that’s filtered through officialdom. Bhatt, who volunteered with the Peace Corps in the Dominican Republic, has taken a close look at how the media covers these countries – everything from charter cities, to elections, to poverty reduction programs – which we discuss in detail. We also touch on Rwanda. Bhatt is calling for informed and principled efforts to help the poor, not just convenient ones made more politically expedient by warped media portrayals.

Bhatt is an activist and writer in Washington, D.C, who’s worked in the United States and Latin America on a variety of social justice campaigns. His work has appeared on NPR, Al Jazeera English, The Nation, The St. Petersburg Times, and CNN En Español. And he writes the blog Manufacturing Contempt for the North American Congress on Latin America.

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Amid cholera lawsuit, UN’s scandal-ridden presence in Haiti continues | 

A Haitian mother and daughter get treated for cholera.

The United Nations sent its blue-helmeted troops to Haiti nearly a decade ago, but a series of scandals has made it appear as less a force for good than a hostile occupation.

A new, potentially precedent-setting lawsuit filed by Haitians against the UN came the same week the Security Council voted, yesterday, to reauthorize maintaining peacekeeping troops in Haiti for another year.

The only Security Council representative to discuss the decision publicly, from Britain, admitted the decision “makes little sense,” since Haiti has no military conflict.

The UN mission to Haiti has been dogged by scandal since its inception in 2004, including repeated instances of sexual abuse by its troops. Just last month, an 18-year-old Haitian woman came forward with allegations that a Sri Lankan soldier pulled her aside from a roadside checkpoint and raped her.

Perhaps the biggest scandal of all is Haiti’s cholera epidemic. While the UN has denied any connection to the outbreak, scientific studies have pinpointed the UN’s dumping of human waste into Haiti’s waterways as the most likely source for the outbreak. Continue reading

What are our responsibilities towards Haiti? | 

Did you miss us?

The Humanosphere podcast is back, now that I’m back in Seattle.

Earlier this month, I went to Haiti to work on a documentary film about UN peacekeepers who are supposed to protect, rather than sexually exploit, the population. I took the above photo in 2011, after publishing stories about the abuses.

So this week, Tom and I talk a little bit about the film, but we move on to discuss what Haiti is like now, more than three years after a huge earthquake devastated its biggest city. The cholera epidemic continues. (Don’t miss Al Jazeera’s new documentary, where they chase UN officials, trying in vain to get answers about its liability for introducing the disease.)

More than half of all American households donated millions of dollars to aid groups after the earthquake. Do we care about the results? They’re disappointing, for reasons over which we have a lot of control.

What have been the success stories since the quake? Why has Haiti fared worse than Dominican Republic, on the other side of the island? How are the families who lost their homes doing? What about economic growth? And what can foreigners do help in a genuine way? I’ve covered Haiti for a few years and try to offer some insights.

But before all that, we go over the headlines, starting with a quick debate over the conflict in Syria. Then Tom analyzes the global implications of Washington’s pot legalization. And we’re both excited about Al Jazeera’s new bureau in Seattle, part of its brand new American cable news channel.

Tune in below. Subscribe and rate the Humanosphere podcast on iTunes. Find past podcasts here.

The shortcomings of celebrities as humanitarian heroes | 

Secretary-General Meets Actor and Humanitarian Sean Penn at Haiti IDP Camp
Secretary-General Meets Actor and Humanitarian Sean Penn at Haiti IDP Camp

Actor Sean Penn transformed into heroic aid worker Sean Penn in the aftermath of the 2010 earthquake in Haiti. His brash style and celebrity persona conspired to give him quick access to big players and media. In some cases it worked well. The Jenkins-Penn Haitian Relief Organization (J/P HRO) set up shop quickly in the aftermath, Penn declared he was not leaving, he won the respect of many in the aid community and he assumed leadership of a displacement camp.

The same things that worked for Penn worked against him, says Jonathan Katz in Gawker. He is an AP reporter who was in Haiti at the time of the earthquake and stuck around after to track the response.

A doctor at a J/P HRO-run clinic above the Pétionville Club golf course diagnosed a young boy with diphtheria. The fifteen year old, Oriel, arrived at a time when Penn was visiting. The actor sprung into action to save the boy’s life and respond to a potential outbreak.  He set out to get a dose of diphtheria antitoxin (DAT) from a warehouse run by the WHO and the Haitian ministry of health. He was able to get the DAT, despite the warehouse having been already closed.
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Are second hand clothes actually a problem in Haiti? | 

Haitian youth wearing pepe.
Haitian youth wearing pepe.
Paolo Woods

I noted an article yesterday that made the case that second hand clothes are flooding Haitian markets and damaging small businesses.

The twist in the story is that the influx of used clothes is in some part linked to the rise of clothing production in Haiti for consumers in the United States and elsewhere. The clothes that some Haitians are producing for people in other countries are hurting local tailors.

The article took a critical view of the sale of secondhand clothes. Another article published earlier this month sees things differently.

Reporter Tate Watkins writes in Medium about his personal journey from being a critic of the trade of used clothes, known as pepe (pè-pè) in Haiti, to a supporter. He argues that Haitians like the clothing, based on his discussions with people in Haiti. Further, the ability to purchase higher quality clothing and brand names at extremely low prices is advantageous to Haitian consumers. Continue reading

Clothes made in Haiti are potentially causing more harm than good in Haiti | 

The clothes that Haitians are making in large factories for American consumers are making their way back to the country and undercutting local tailors and clothing makers. That is what journalist Isabeau Doucet discovered while investigating the textile industry in Haiti.

The cruel irony of it all is that the growth of Haiti’s textile industry is in large part due to neo-liberal measures applied by major donors to Haiti, such as the United States. Doucet says that the flood of used clothing is harmful in much the same ways that subsidized US farmers flooded Haiti with cheaper food effectively undercutting the nation’s agriculture sector. Continue reading