Another Slow Motion Disaster for Haiti?

This one is scientifically weird. Unlike most of the Islands in the Caribbean, the Island of Hispaniola was formed by the Tectonic Plats pushing it up from the bottom of the ocean. As such, the Island is principally made up of Basalt and Granite. That is very very good from an agricultural standpoint, as the soil is very rich. As the collapse of thousands of buildings in Haiti during the earthquake demonstrates – that is not so good in terms of making concrete as it winds up weak and falls apart easily. The Northern and Southern “arms” of Haiti are mountain ridges. The center of their part of the Island is a valley, not much above sea level. The city of Port au Prince sits in this valley where it meets the sea and forms a deep water port. At one time this valley was some of the richest agricultural land in the world, and it still produces an excess of fruits and vegetables for the country’s people. At the western edge of this valley, on the border between Haiti and the Dominican Republic, are two conjoined lakes, with, in days past – good fisheries. The lakes are filled with brackish water, and were formed by being cut off from the ocean millions of years ago when the Island rose from the bottom of the sea. To my knowledge, these lakes are no longer connected to the sea, and historically have been maintained by the plentiful tropical rains.

If these lakes are indeed rising, or the Island is sinking – then the City of Port au Prince could conceivably wind up underwater.

 

Fishermen in Lake Enriquillo among a sea of dead trees where farmers formerly reaped bountiful harvests.

 

Rising Tide Is a Mystery That Sinks Island Hopes

LAGO ENRIQUILLO, Dominican Republic — Steadily, mysteriously, like in an especially slow science fiction movie, the largest lake in the Caribbean has been rising and rising, devouring tens of thousands of acres of farmland, ranches and whatever else stands in its way.

Lago Enriquillo swallowed Juan Malmolejos’s banana grove. It swamped Teodoro Peña’s yucas and mango trees. In the low-lying city of Boca de Cachon, the lake so threatens to subsume the entire town that the government has sent the army to rebuild it from scratch on a dusty plain several miles away.

Harvesting the Banana crop, a common site in Haiti and the DR

Jose Joaquin Diaz believes that the lake took the life of his brother, Victor. Victor committed suicide, he said, shortly after returning from a life abroad to see the family cattle farm, the one begun by his grandfather, underwater.

“He could not believe it was all gone, and the sadness was too much,” Mr. Diaz said, as a couple of men rowed a fishing boat over what had been a pasture.

Theories abound, but a conclusive answer remains elusive as to why the lake — as well as its nearby sibling in Haiti, Lac Azuei, which now spills over the border between the two on the island of Hispaniola — has risen so much. Researchers say the surge may have few if any precedents worldwide.

“There are no records, to the best of our knowledge, of such sudden growth of lakes of similar size,” said Jorge E. Gonzalez, a City College of New York engineering professor who is helping to lead a consortium of scientists from the United States and the Dominican Republic studying the phenomenon.

Other lakes have grown, from melting glaciers and other factors, Mr. Gonzalez said, but “the growth rates of these two lakes in Hispaniola has no precedent.”

The lakes, salty vestiges of an ancient oceanic channel known for their crocodiles and iguanas, have always had high and low periods, but researchers believe they have never before gotten this large. The waters began rising a decade ago, and now Enriquillo has nearly doubled in size to about 135 square miles, Mr. Gonzalez said, roughly the size of Atlanta, though relatively light rains in the past year have slowed its expansion. Azuei has grown nearly 40 percent in that time, to about 52 square miles, according to the consortium.

The scientists, partly financed by the National Science Foundation, are focusing on changing climate patterns as the main culprit, with a noted rise in rainfall in the area attributed to warming in the Caribbean Sea.

In reports, they have noted a series of particularly heavy storms in 2007 and 2008 that swamped the lakes and the watersheds that feed them, though other possible contributing factors are also being studied, including whether new underground springs have emerged.

“People talk about climate change adaptation, well, this is what’s coming, if it’s coming,” said Yolanda Leon, a Dominican scientist working on the lake research.

A Satellite Topographic view of  Lake Azuei (bottommost), Largo Enriquillo, and the location of Port au Prince. The arrow points to the major fault line which caused the recent earthquake.

The rise has taken a toll, particularly around Enriquillo, an area more populated than that around Azuei.

The government estimates that 40,000 acres of agricultural land have been lost, affecting several thousand families who have lost all or part of their only livelihood of yuca, banana and cattle farming. The town of Boca de Cachon at the lake’s edge is in particular peril, with some houses already lost, and the government is bulldozing acres of land for new farms.

A main highway to the Haitian border was flooded and had to be diverted, while another road around the perimeter of the lake now ends abruptly in the water.

Local residents are skeptical that the government will follow through, and they question whether the soil will be as good as the parcels near the lake that drew generations of farmers in the first place.

Some of the Island’s rich produce at a Veggie stand in Haiti

Olgo Fernandez, the director of the country’s hydraulic resources institute, waved off the criticism and said the government had carefully planned the new community and plots to ensure the area remains an agriculture hotbed. It will be completed this year, officials said, though on a recent afternoon there was much work left to be done.

“These will be lands that will produce as well as, if not better than, the lands they previously had,” Mr. Fernandez said.

Row upon row of cookie-cutter, three-bedroom, cinder-block houses — 537 in all — are being built in the new town, which will include a baseball field, church, schools, community center, parks, even a helicopter landing pad (“for visiting dignitaries,” an official explained). Environmental controls will make it “the greenest town in the Dominican Republic,” said Maj. Gen. Rafael Emilio de Luna, who is overseeing the work.

For now, though, at the ever-creeping edge of the lake, the ghostly trunks of dead palm trees mark submerged farms.

Junior Moral Medina, 27, who lives in Boca, plans to move to the new community. He looked out on a recent day on an area where his 10-acre farm had been, now a pool of lake water studded with dead palms.

“We have been worried the whole town would disappear,” said Mr. Medina, who now works on the construction site for the new town. “Some people at first did not want to leave this area, but the water kept rising and made everybody scared.”

Residents in other communities are growing impatient and worry they will not be compensated for their losses.

Enrique Diaz Mendez has run a small grocery stand in Jaragua since losing half of his six acres of yuca and plantain crops to Enriquillo. “We are down to almost nothing,” he said.

Jose Joaquin Diaz and his brother, Victor, grew up tending to the sheep, goats and cows of the family farm, but both left the Dominican Republic for the United States for better opportunity. Jose returned first, and three years ago Victor arrived, looking forward to the slower pace of life after working an array of jobs over 18 years in Brooklyn.

“We told him about the lake, but he was shocked when he saw it,” Jose recalled, tears welling with the memory.

Later that night, Victor called his mother to express his dismay. The next morning he was found hanging in a relative’s apartment in Santo Domingo where he was staying. “It is strange to see people fishing where we had the cows,” Mr. Diaz said. “Victor could not bear it.”

 

Modern Slavery – Haiti

Slavery exists in Haiti. Worse – not infrequently the children enslaved under restavèk are sold into the child sex trade in the Dominican Republic on the other side of the island.

The Dominican Republic is a source, transit, and destination country for men, women, and children subjected to sex trafficking and forced labor. Reports indicate that large numbers of Dominican women and children are subjected to sex trafficking throughout the Dominican Republic, the Caribbean, Europe, South America, the Middle East, and the United States. A recent study conducted by the United Nations Population Fund revealed that tens of thousands of Dominican women are presently victims of trafficking worldwide. Additionally, the commercial sexual exploitation of local children by foreign tourists is a problem, particularly in coastal resort areas of the Dominican Republic, with these child sex tourists arriving year-round from the United States, Canada, and European countries.

Haiti’s child slaves land country high on new global slavery index

But many of the 29 million modern day slaves might challenge your concept of who is a slave. It might be an indebted laborer, a victim of human trafficking, or, in the case of Haiti, the child working in the kitchen.

Walk Free Foundation used an expanded definition of slavery to produce what it says is a first-of-its-kind look at the practice in the modern world.

“It would be comforting to think that slavery is a relic of history, but it remains a scar on humanity on every continent,” says Nick Grono, CEO the Australia-based foundation that produced the Global Slavery Index 2013, the first of a planned annual publication.

Nearly half of the world’s slaves lives in India. But the index ranked 162 countries according to the percentage of enslaved people in the general population. Western Africa’s Mauritania, Haiti and Pakistan had the three highest rates of slavery, respectively, according to the index.

While Mauritania’s 140,000 to 160,000 enslaved people fit more closely with the historical perception of who is a slave, Haiti provides a different face to the practice.

Haiti’s 200,000 to 220,000 enslaved people are mostly children who live with families not their own, working as household servants in the Caribbean country’s complex and long-standing restavèk system.

Under restavèk (a Haitian creole word derived from French meaning “one who stays with”), poor, often

rural, families send their children to live with a family of better means, usually in urban areas. The children are sent with the understanding that the family will clothe, feed, quarter and educate them in exchange for their work.

But inside the homes, “many of these children suffer the cruelest form of neglect – denied food, water, a bed to sleep in, and constant physical and emotional abuse,” the report says.

The group estimates that between 300,000 and 500,000 children are in a similar circumstance, according to information it gathered on the ground. It is unclear why they counted some, but not all, restavèk children as slaves.

In compiling the index, researchers defined slavery as “the possession and control of a person … with the intent of exploiting that person through their use, management, profit, transfer, or disposal.”

Some have argued against defining slavery so broadly, based in part on its historic significance.

In The Haitian Times last year, columnist Max Joseph wrote, “For Haitians, or any member of the African Diaspora for that matter, the word ‘slavery’ is distinctively associated with the transatlantic slave trade in which millions of Africans were forcibly uprooted from their villages and sold like domesticated animals in faraway lands.

“The notion of associating the restavèk phenomenon with slavery is a naked attempt at trivializing one of the most grotesque episodes in human history,” Joseph wrote.

In its report, the foundation says it’s important to focus on “hidden” enslaved people, such asrestavèk children.

“Since hidden slaves can’t be counted it is easy to pretend they don’t exist. The Index aims to change that,” Kevin Bales, the lead researcher on the index, said in a statement.

More Questions About Wyclef’s Yele Haiti Charity

Met Wyclef a few months ago, and was quite impressed with his planning knowledge around his charity. This was a stand around over some coffee informal chat – so to be honest it certainly wasn’t some sort of in-depth talk like an investigative reporter might do. He’s a bit on the shy side, and I was rather shocked when he walked up to me and introduced himself. I had seen him in the airport lounge a half dozen times, but he was always surrounded by security. I don’t approach celebrities when I see them, because I feel that is a violation of their privacy.

I see all the stuff Yele is doing in Haiti with local people while travelling from place to place. One of their ongoing campaigns is to keep the drains along the streets clear so that runoff doesn’t pool and form potential locations for cholera to fester. They also hire crews of locals to sweep the streets, collecting some of the millions of bottles and water containers which seem to cover Port au Prince. Their bright yellow shirts are likely to appear anywhere, but I don’t know enough about all they are working on to say whether there is any overall strategy to it – or what other things they may be working on.

I suspect that when they are down to picking on Wyclef’s charity, there is a bit of cover up on how badly some of the International and US Governmental AID organizations have effed up. Almost everywhere you turn, little of the money promised has come through. Even money supposedly committed winds up being diverted, sometimes for nefarious reasons. Worse, there continues to be a massive level of confusion as to how to prioritize projects – despite the needs being pretty straightforward. Lastly, there is apparent collusion between some of those very same “Aid” and “US Governmental” organizations and the criminal drug cartels. If the Cartels are big enough to buy whole governments – they certainly can buy their own AID agency to promote and assist with moving their merchandise.

There was supposed to be $12 billion in International and US AID money… How that never got spent could well make the boys at Enron blush with envy. They are picking on Wyclef’s $16 million… But what about the $3.2 billion donated to the Clinton/Bush fund? As far as I know, none of the Clinton/Bush money has been “disappeared”, but there certainly are other fruitful areas to audit.

Wyclef Jean Defends Yele Charity, Again

The Washington Post is reporting that musician and activist Wyclef Jean is responding to a recent report by the New York Post questioning the spending of Jean’s charitable organization, the Yele Haiti Foundation, again. The New York Post reported that the foundation collected $16 million in 2010, but less than a third of that went to emergency efforts. The Post also says that $1 million was paid to a Florida firm that doesn’t appear to exist.

Jean says that he is proud of what the foundation has accomplished after the earthquake almost two years ago. He says his Yele Haiti Foundation rebuilt an orphanage and set up a system of outdoor toilet and shower facilities in one of the largest shanties in the Haitian capital.

The star told the Miami Herald:

“The Post [New York Post] conveniently fails to acknowledge that the decisions that Yele made were a response to one of the world’s most catastrophic natural disasters in modern history and required an immediate humanitarian response,” Jean said in a written statement. “We made decisions that enabled us to provide emergency assistance in the midst of chaos and we stand by those decisions.”

We find it interesting that media outlets are so focused on following Jean’s paper trail while ignoring others. What about countries that pledged to send aid to Haiti and still have yet to do so — including the United States, because of congressional shenanigans? The lesson here should be that people should actually donate money to organizations that are in the business of rebuilding after disaster relief, not just famous faces that are known for being musical geniuses. The two don’t translate, much like the numbers.

Read more at the Washington Post.

Medika Mamba – Saving Haiti’s Children From Starvation and Malnourishment

A Haitian child is given Nutributter, a supplementary food rich in nutrients.Working in Haiti is one of the most frustrating things I’ve ever done… And rewarding. 19 Months and 19 trips to the country after the earthquake which devastated the country, a hell of a lot hasn’t changed – or is worse. A hell of a lot has changed for the better as well  – much due to the perspicacity of the Haitian people, the hard work of independent charities and churches from other countries, the blood sweat and tears of the relief agencies…

Which I guess defines the “bipolar frustration” felt by many Haitians and AID workers.

The failures in the country include 19 months later, little to no progress has been made in fixing any of the very basic infrastructure systems in the country.  It hits you in the face as soon as you land in the country – the airport is in shambles. The main terminal which suffered severe damage during the earthquake is exactly in the same condition as it was 15 months ago, the Air Traffic Control Tower which collapsed during the earthquake has been replaced by a “temporary tower” – a Winnebago parked in the middle of the airfield…

That is the only way in and out of the country for emergency relief supplies such as medicines and food.

There was supposed to be a major project to correct the basic problems with the airport – it hasn’t happened.

Cholera made it’s reappearance last year killing over 6,500 people. It’s back again this year, spreading into Port au Prince. The country does not have a sewer treatment system, so raw sewage is pumped into the ocean, or in some recently documented cases just dumped right on the ground. Don’t even think about the sanitary conditions in the tent cities where roughly 600,000 Haitians still live, or the rivers where raw sewage is dumped to flow out to the ocean, but which get clogged with millions of plastic bottles causing overflow into entire neighborhoods, despite the frantic efforts of local authorities to clear the debris.

There was supposed to be a new sewer treatment plant – it hasn’t happened.

And that is just the “short list”.

One of the victims of the situation appears to be trash collection. Someone donated dumpsters to collect local trash – but the company which emptied them stopped emptying them (I assume because they ran out of money). So residents now burn the trash in the dumpsters sitting along the streets adding to the already serious air pollution issues (One of the principal killers in Haiti is Tuberculosis, and the average lifespan is only 59).

These issues have to do with the billions of dollars in aid promised by various governmental and international financial agencies – which never got spent to fix the very basic problems in the country. Now – if anyone ever got around to writing a book about why that happened, and continues to happen, parts of it would come out like those international thrillers by a Coyle or Ludnum. The rest like a slow motion disaster movie. The fact of the matter is, both the domestic government under Preval, and the international agencies share the blame. Most people believe corruption is only on the part of the historically corrupt Haitian Government. That’s not entirely true – although the Preval administration was undeniably corrupt to the core – there has been plenty of corruption, bureaucratic incompetence and foot dragging at the international agencies, including by our own US governmental agencies as well. The result has been little progress.

If our conservative friends really gave a damn about government incompetence, malfeasance, corruption, waste, and inability to work together toward a common goal… This would be Herman Cain’s new “bookend” speech. But they don’t – so I expect little to change for the better, regardless of who takes office in 2013. Besides – it’s a black country, and we know damn well where those rank on the hierarchy of conservative concerns.

So I guess, it is uplifting when you hear about something that is working. Here is one, very important case of a treatment that I believe, was initially developed in Africa (Although George Washington Carver could have told them about this 100 years ago), having success in Haiti, and creating an industry.

Thanks for making my day, Meds and Food for Kids!

‘Peanut butter medicine’ giving hope to Haiti’s hungry

 With his ribs showing and his skin practically hanging off him, Pierre Wisny is painfully thin.

The 11-month-old Haitian weighs just 11 pounds, and it’s no surprise that he is severely malnourished.

The same applies for 3-year-old Alcincord Guerviscon, although it’s clear — even without measurements — to see that his growth has been stunted by the same condition. He weighs only 15 pounds.

In most of these cases, the children got this way because of poverty and a lack of access to good food. If they’re not given emergency treatment, they could die or suffer more effects of malnutrition, including reduced brain development.

For staff members at one clinic in northern Haiti, intervention comes in bright green packets: Medika Mamba, which means “peanut butter medicine” in Creole. It’s a ready-to-eat paste packed with nutritious ingredients that — over a period of weeks — gives a jolt to the system and puts children back on track. Made by a U.S.-based nonprofit called Meds and Food for Kids, it’s one of several brands of ready-to-use therapeutic foods.

“You can’t rehabilitate a child who has severe malnutrition with a plate of beans and rice. There’s just no way,” said Thomas Stehl, the nonprofit’s director of operations. “Their stomachs are too small and their nutritional requirements are too great to ever be satisfied in that way. So the quality and the density of food is really important. And that is why ready-to-use therapeutic food and Medika Mamba is such a great answer.” Continue reading

Haiti (Finally) Gets a New Prime Minister

The most powerful man in Haiti is not the President – it is the Prime Minister. Under the Haitian Constitution, the Prime Minister holds absolute control of the purse strings, appointment of members of the Cabinet, and control over lower level Government appointments.

In a battle reminiscent of Republicans holding up Democrat appointments in the US – the Haiti Senate has roadblocked President Martelly’s appointments to the Prime Minister position since President Martlelly took office in May. Two candidates have been outright rejected.

What this has meant for the country is that reconstruction of the major infrastructure has been at a complete standstill. There has been virtually no work done on any of the critical systems in the country, other than that done by the sheer guts and perspicacity of the local citizenry. Announcements of various projects, or international investments and aid have been largely symbolic, as since the resignation of the previous Prime Minister there has be no one in the Haitian Government with the authority to sign a contract on behalf of the Government of Haiti.

So the appointment and ratification by the Haitian Congress of Dr. Cornille is being greeted warmly by the international and local Haitian communities. Hopefully – nearly 2 years after the devastating earthquake.

Bill Clinton aide confirmed as Haitian prime minister

Haiti’s Senate confirmed the nomination of Garry Conille, an advisor to former US president Bill Clinton, to be the country’s prime minister.

Conille, a 45-year-old physician by training, was the third candidate put forward by President Michel Martelly for the post in a bid to end a three-month long impasse over the makeup of his fledgling government.

Seventeen senators voted in favor of Conille’s candidacy, three voted against it and nine abstained during the hours-long session.

Conille’s selection was approved by the lower house of parliament last month.

Senate president Rodolphe Joazile announced that the candidacy had been ratified, but Senator Joseph Lambert of the opposition UNITE party said the body had not given Conille a “blank check” and that he should also seek a vote of confidence from the two chambers of parliament.

The prime minister in Haiti is appointed by the president and mainly serves as cabinet chief.

Conille has been serving as chief of staff to Clinton who, as the UN special envoy for Haiti, is a key player in deciding how the impoverished country will spend millions of dollars in international reconstruction aid.

Conille was educated in Haiti and received graduate training in health administration at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill as a Fulbright scholar.

He has also worked as the United Nations Development Program’s (UNDP) resident representative for Niger.

Martelly, a popular former singer elected by a wide margin, was sworn in as president of Haiti on May 14 but has not yet put his government in place amid resistance from the opposition-dominated parliament.

Martelly vowed to “change Haiti” upon taking office, promising to restore order and confidence in a country struggling to emerge from one of the most destructive earthquakes of modern times.

Much of the capital was leveled in a 7.0-magnitude quake in January 2010 that killed more than 225,000 people and left one in seven homeless in a nation that was already the poorest in the Americas.

The pace of reconstruction has been painfully slow for hundreds of thousands of traumatized survivors who lost everything and are forced to live in squalid tent cities around the still-ruined capital.

UN aid chief Valerie Amos called for continued humanitarian assistance to Haiti on Thursday, stressing that it was still a country in crisis.

Visiting the country during a two-day evaluation mission, Amos said the 600,000 people still living in camps have urgent needs for basic food, water, sanitation and housing services.

The humanitarian situation has been further aggravated by a cholera epidemic that has killed more than 5,000 people, food insecurity for 4.5 million and an active hurricane season that has already destroyed homes and crops.

American Kidnapped in Haiti

Unfortunately this is a reality in Haiti…

Let’s hope they get him back safe and sound. No idea whether the motive is political or financial at this point.

Haitian anti-kidnap unit working to free US citizen abducted from home

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — The head of the Haiti’s anti-kidnapping unit says an American has been kidnapped from his home in the capital.

Francois Dossous says the U.S. citizen was seized by men posing as employees of a package delivery service. The victim was identified as Frank Jean-Baptiste. He is married to the director of a prestigious private school for the children of diplomats and wealthy Haitians. Dossous said Monday that authorities are working to secure the man’s release. Police and U.N. peacekeepers have increased checkpoints throughout Port-au-Prince in recent days.

The U.S. Embassy has warned Americans working in Haiti to remain alert and has provided tips on what to do if kidnapped.

 

Site Visit – Haiti

Been out of country for a few days working on several projects. One of my stops was to Haiti, where I attended a conference by the new President elect, Mickey Martelli on his administrations plans to move forward…

Haiti's President-Elect - "Sweet Mickey" Martelli

BTX3 made all 3 of the local channel’s news shows, and apparently CNN according to the locals.

Good thing I brought along a suit and tie!

Hope is running really high here for the new Government. Here’s hoping that the new government can finally get things moving in the right direction.

Back in the US (maybe) tomorrow.

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