Voices of Haiti: Foreign Aid and Cholera

Cholera Prevention: A sound-truck spreads the word about dangers of cholera earlier this month. Image courtesy of Let Haiti LiveCholera Prevention: A sound-truck spreads the word about dangers of cholera earlier this month. Image courtesy of Let Haiti Live(Port-au-Prince)— No one was surprised to hear that Haiti is confronting an epidemic of cholera, because to date, neither the government nor the non-governmental organizations (NGOs) have been successfully executing programs to help the population in Haiti. The cholera epidemic is a clear sign of failure and evidence of the way the United Nations system and NGOs function – or rather don’t function.

It was already well known that the Government of Haiti lacks adequate resources and has more interest in holding elections than in the lives of the people, but now we are beginning to see the stark contradiction between the mission statements of the international humanitarian community and their actions.

Almost a year after the earthquake, it is becoming harder to believe that the United Nations and the big players in the international humanitarian community are serious about helping the people of Haiti. It was nearly a week after the outbreak of deadly diarrhea began before they started a campaign to raise awareness among the population, and this campaign seems to be a masquerade.
Before the humanitarian community pleads that they needed time to prepare (ten months after the earthquake first raised the specter of a water-borne epidemic), or that they didn’t want to create unnecessary panic, or any other possible excuse, let’s take a simple example of what is possible.

The alternative Haitian media project Bri Kouri Nouvèl Gaye (Noise Travels, News Spreads) worked together with the Bureau des Avocats Internationaux (International Lawyers Office), International Action Ties and Let Haiti Live, a project of TransAfrica Forum during the last two weeks. On a shoestring budget, these organizations carried out an effective grassroots education campaign to prevent the spread of cholera, distributing a total of 300,000 educational flyers in more than fifty major camps and heavily populated communities. With a rented pick up truck and sound system, the team was able to reach hundreds of thousands.

At the same time, the American Red Cross, which has hundreds of millions of dollars, didn’t distribute even 50,000 in that first week. They have huge logistical capacity and the economic means, but are they working to help Haitians or to help themselves? When an organization like the American Red Cross, which prides itself on expertise in water and sanitation, is still delivering water ten months after the earthquake, one has to ask: why haven’t they invested in long-term solutions for water treatment? Are they seeking sustainable solutions for Haiti, or only to sustain their own programs?

Haiti is at the crossroads of truth and propaganda. What have the United Nations and the NGOs working with them since the earthquake really done for the Haitian people? It is time to stop supporting NGOs that don’t produce results, who maintain the politics of exclusion in the way they are aiding in the reconstruction of the country.

Imagine this cholera epidemic coupled with a political crisis and the kind of catastrophe that would be. While politicians are occupied with the elections, who will hold NGOs accountable? The message to all who have the will to really help Haiti is this: don’t give your money to NGOs who act like thieves, taking money in the name of Haitians to finance their own functioning, but without producing results to help the population. If we let these organizations profit off the misfortunes of the Haitian people, we become accomplices in the misery they are suffering.

Etant Dupain is the director of Bri Kouri Nouvèl Gaye, an alternative Haitian media project. Supported by Let Haiti Live, a project of TransAfrica Forum, BKNG prints and distributes a free monthly newspaper to residents of camps and popular neighborhoods. Learn more at http://brikourinouvelgaye.com