Haiti: Horsemen and hoarse women

It’s already bitterly ironic that Bill Clinton is the United Nation’s special envoy to Haiti, after the economic policy he imposed there to transform it into the Caribbean’s sweatshop. Now, President Obama has asked George Bush to lead fundraising efforts for relief in Haiti. After Bush took part in an international coup to overthrow Aristide. It’s like sending in the horsemen of the apocalypse to negotiate peace.

There are, however, more sensible ideas. Here’s some analysis curated by Dan Moshenberg that reinstates that most hidden perspective in disaster – gender. More below the fold.

First, as poet activist Shailja Patel has posted, there’s a progressive action plan for Haiti:

Haiti: 10-point action plan
1) Grants, not loans.
2) Keep corporations and corporatist policies OUT. Stop disaster capitalism in its tracks.
3) Cancel ALL Haiti’s debt to the Inter-American Development Bank.
4) Let Aristide return to Haiti.
5) Lift the ban on Aristide’s Fanmi Lavalas political party.
6) Rip up the neoliberal pre-earthquake Clinton-Obama program for Haiti: tourism, sweatshops, privatization, deregulation.
7) Do not allow US military or UN “peacekeepers” to point guns at desperate Haitians.
8 ) Allow all Haitians in the US to work, and remit money home.
9) Release all 30,000 Haitians held in US jails for deportation, and grant them Temporary Protected Status.
10) Demand that France start repaying the $21 billion it extorted from Haiti in 1825, to “compensate” France for loss of Haiti as a slave colony.”:

Then, a question about what to send to Haiti….

Formula for disaster

In the wake of Tuesday’s catastrophic earthquake, Twitter has been inundatedwith calls for donations of baby formula to send to Haiti. One frequently re-tweeted message relayed an urgent, all-caps plea from a friend on-the-ground: “WE R DESPERATE 4 BABY FORMULA, NIPPLES/BOTTLES … .” Meanwhile, a much smaller rival campaign has been underway: “Please don’t send powdered formula to Haiti!” tweeted a doula in Long Beach, Calif. Later, a breast-feeding activist from Ontario, Canada wrote: “PLEASE! don’t send formula to Haiti! The women&children shouldn’t be victimised twice! Breastfeeding during emergencies is VITAL to health.” Well, which is it? ….The main issue with dry baby formula is fairly intuitive: It has to be mixed with water, which raises the risk of contamination. Access to water is always a concern following major disasters; and it was an issue in Haiti even before the country’s basic infrastructure was flattened. Even given a water source, very few Haitians will have “the place to boil the water to make it safe,” says Marie St. Cyr, an activist and former director of the Haitian Coalition on AIDS, and few will have the resources to sterilize bottles and safely prepare and store the formula. Formula-feeding in such stark conditions can bring about infection, diarrhea, dehydration, malnutrition and death, according to UNICEF….Breast-feeding is not only clean and safe, but formula simply can’t compare to human milk’s nutritious benefits and its ability to fight off illness. “: http://www.salon.com/life/broadsheet/feature/2010/01/15/haiti_baby_formula/index.html.

Finally, the question of who to send your money to….

After the Quake, Depend on Women

New America Media, Commentary, Marie St. Cyr and Yifat Susskind ,
Posted: Jan 15, 2010 Review it on NewsTrust

Editor’s Note: MADRE , an international women’s human rights group, is working with the Haitian relief organization, Zanmi Lasante, to bring humanitarian aid into the country overland from the Dominican Republic.

If you want to help alleviate the suffering in Haiti, give your money to the women.

In the wake of disasters like the catastrophic earthquake that struck Haiti, it can be comforting to see big international agencies taking charge of relief and reconstruction efforts. No doubt international agencies—with their resources, know-how, heavy machinery, and access to government—have a critical role to play. But large-scale relief operations are not always best suited to meet the needs of those who are made most vulnerable by disaster, namely, women and their children.

Women in Haiti have been made vulnerable for a constellation of reasons. First, the Haitian population at large has been buffeted by forces beyond their control for generations. Harmful and manipulative international economic policies, like unfair U.S. agricultural subsidies, disadvantage local farmers and undermine Haitian self-sufficiency. In 2008, Haiti was slammed by a succession of four hurricanes, spreading destruction from which it had yet to fully recover. All this means that Haiti’s infrastructure was weak, poverty was rampant, and people had little access to much-needed social services.

Then, the earthquake struck.

All Haitians are suffering right now. But, women are often hardest hit when disaster strikes because they were at a deficit even before the catastrophe. In Haiti, and in every country, women are the poorest and often have no safety net, leaving them most exposed to violence, homelessness and hunger in the wake of disasters. Women are also overwhelmingly responsible for other vulnerable people, including infants, children, the elderly, and people who are ill or disabled.

Because of their role as caretakers and because of the discrimination they face, women have a disproportionate need for assistance. Yet, they are often overlooked in large-scale aid operations. In the chaos that follows disasters, aid too often reaches those who yell the loudest or push their way to the front of the line. When aid is distributed through the “head of household” approach, women-headed families may not even be recognized, and women within male-headed families may be marginalized when aid is controlled by male relatives.

It is not enough to ensure that women receive aid. Women in communities must also be integral to designing and carrying out relief efforts. When relief is distributed by women, it has the best chance of reaching those most in need. That’s not because women are morally superior. It is because their roles as caretakers in the community means they know where every family lives, which households have new babies or disabled elders, and how to reach remote communities even in disaster conditions.

Moreover, women in the community have expertise about the specific problems women and their families face during disasters.

Unfortunately, in big relief operations, already-marginalized people are usually the ones who “fall through the cracks.” After Hurricane Katrina, for example, many battered women didn’t use missing person registries for fear that they would enable their abusers to find them. Women’s organizations, recognizing the documented trend of a surge in violence against women after a disaster, were able to provide community support services for battered women.

Rather than replicating the work of existing organizations, relief and reconstruction programs should leave resources and training in the hands of community women who therefore become better equipped to rebuild their lives and communities on a stronger foundation. What Haiti needs most in the long-term is the resilience that comes from having responsive democratic government and vibrant health, education and social institutions. We must work with women in the wake of this earthquake to build that resilience.

Marie St. Cyr is a MADRE board member and a longtime NYC-based Haitian human rights advocate. Yifat Susskind is MADRE’s policy and communications director.


7 Replies to “Haiti: Horsemen and hoarse women”

  1. Your link to the site that supports your claim that Bush had a role in Aristide’s overthrow, does not actually support your claim.
    You might want to find another more credible source than wikipedia.

  2. There have been efforts from Congress to open a full enquiry into the coup – they have been stymied. Especially in these times, independent media is the only way to get at the truth. The Wikipedia article has many of those sources, and it doesn’t take much to find more. I have a great deal of faith in Democracy Now!, for instance.

  3. A much appreciated and well-spoken post. I wanted to share this which is similar from a Canadian perspective (our government participated in that coup as well – see the book Canada in Haiti: Waging War on the Poor Majority)

    How to Help Haiti: 10 Things Canadians Should Do by Yves Engler

    Below are 10 things Canada should do to help Haiti overcome Tuesday’s earthquake that has left upwards of a 100 000 people dead. To make sense of the list below, however, it’s necessary to mention some recent political context.

    In February 2004 Canada, the US and France overthrew Haiti’s elected government, which ushered in a terrible wave of political repression and an ongoing UN occupation. Canadian and Haitian non-governmental organizations funded by Ottawa played an important role in destabilizing Jean-Bertrand Aristide’s government and justifying foreign military intervention to the North American public.

    A sort of NGO laboratory, Haiti is a highly vulnerable society where NGOs have a great deal of influence. By one estimate, Haiti has the most development NGOs of any country per capita and the vast majority of the country’s social services are run by domestic or foreign NGOs. In 2005 the Canadian International Development Agency admitted that, “supporting non-governmental actors contributed to the creation of parallel systems of service delivery. … In Haiti’s case, these actors [NGOs] were used as a way to circumvent the frustration of working with the [Aristide] government … this contributed to the establishment of parallel systems of service delivery, eroding legitimacy, capacity and will of the state to deliver key services.” CIDA further explained that, “emphasis on non-governmental actors as development partners also undermined efforts to strengthen good governance.”
    Over the past four days NGOs have been widely promoted as a source of relief for the recent tragedy. Considering the circumstances they are. But, at the same time, foreign funded NGOs have contributed to a process that has undermined Haitian governmental capacity, to the point where it has barely been able to respond to the recent catastrophe.
    Here are 10 things Canada should do to help Haiti:

    10. Focus relief efforts on the poorest neighbourhoods of Port-au-Prince.

    9. Stop deporting Haitians from Canada. Open our border to allow more immigrants from Haiti, especially family members of current Canadians.

    8. Fund a new Haitian government disaster relief ministry to immediately start paying unemployed Haitians, much of the population, to clear up rubble.

    7. Provide the Haitian government with money and expertise to strengthen building codes and government inspection processes to ensure all new construction meets safety standards that would mitigate any future disasters.

    6. Provide funding for the Haitian government to set up a housing ministry that would be responsible for rebuilding destroyed neighborhoods. Make money and expertise available for the construction of apartments, commercial buildings and houses. It is critical that this involve Haitian architects and construction workers. If training is necessary provide it free of charge, in Haiti, so that the know-how and ability to train stays in the country.

    5. Provide the Haitian government with the resources to create a forestry ministry to re-forest the countryside, which has lost almost all of its trees. This ministry could seek funds from around the world to pay poor Haitians to plant trees and reduce erosion in this once verdant country.

    4. Insist Canadian companies in Haiti pay at least three times the minimum wage of $3 per day so that workers can afford to feed, clothe and house their families. $9 a day is hardly an extravagant wage and, with some prodding from Ottawa, Canadian corporations could set an example for other foreign investors.

    3. Shift tens of millions of dollars worth of Canadian “aid” from training police and building prisons to funding human infrastructure programs that provide various levels of government with the expertise and resources to build decent transport, electrical capacity, public health, water and sewer systems.

    2. Understand that the best aid empowers Haitians to control their own affairs. This largely means assisting various levels of Haitian governments to serve the population. Haitians have a right to expect public services from their government just as Canadians do. How would we like it if almost all our schools, medical services, public health, and social services were run by private, foreign charities?

    1. Once this is all done get the heck out and let Haitians run their own country.

    Yves Engler is the co-author of Canada in Haiti: Waging War on the Poor Majority. His most recent book is The Black Book of Canadian Foreign Policy

  4. In regard to premixed formula or breast milk, please remember, if the mother is not getting nutrition herself, there is no breast milk. Then they both starve. It is not an either or situation.

  5. I agree, a myth it is indeed. I believe Nestle tried to make mothers buy in to it, a while ago…

    Thank you Raj, so very very much for bringing these ideas to the surface. Someone eventually had to do it. The solution is very simple indeed, if we only wish to achieve it. Only
    by sharing the world’s resources can we fix this little problem of ours.

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