Monday, May 31, 2010

the internationals

It has never been easy to find international staff for Haiti. When I first went there, for Plan, my predecessor had been in place for well over five years. And I know that my successor only left recently, after staying on for almost seven years - unusually long, and no doubt due to the difficulty finding a replacement.

After the earthquake recruitment has only become more difficult, with every agency trying to hire from a relatively small pool of French-speaking international emergency and development professionals. Where on 11 January there were some 1200 NGOs registered in Haiti, already quite a lot for such a small country, now there are over 3000 (!!), and all need expatriate managers to run the business, from general management to sector specific programs.

Save the Children also found it difficult to get the right number of right people. Shortly after the disaster the organisation defined the need for a very large contingent of international staff, some 80-90 of them, but finding them has been another matter. Or keeping them: as a colleague of me pointed out, the prospect of coming to Haiti seems to be very unhealthy for family members. We had an unusual number of last minute contract cancellations of new recruits due to sudden deaths in the family, mostly grand mothers - or so they say.

As a result we still have many openings.

For example, I have been doing three jobs for the last two months because we cannot fill vacancies. Apart from being the Emergency Team Leader, I am also the Program Director - the one responsible for program design, integration, quality and everything else to do with the nature of our interventions -, and at the same time I am doing the job of Operations Director - making sure our sub-offices work, as well as our support functions from logistics and procurement to IT and administration. Both Program Director and Operations Director are supposed to report to me, so at least this way I can stop them from fighting, and make sure they always agree with the Emergency Team Leader, but obviously, doing all three of these senior management jobs, it is impossible to do any of them well (which doesn't seem to worry the organisation that much - but it worries me!).

We also have gaps in other areas, where we simply don't get enough quality people. Short term is no problem, everybody wants to come for a few weeks - so they have been here, too (we should do special T-shirts). We haven't been able to hire a media and communications specialist yet, but every media and communications person in the entire organisation has been here to help out, for a few weeks; we almost never got the same person back... In all fairness, this does not apply to every short term staff member that has come to Haiti. Especially in the beginning many in fact rushed out to come and support the rapid response efforts, under tough and primitive circumstances - far from a holiday, working 7 days a week, 16 hours per day or more. But we are now more than four months after the earthquake, and one would have hoped to have made progress with longer term recruitment, more progress than so far: 20-25% of those international jobs are still open. One also would have expected, perhaps, that - similar to what some UN agencies do - the organisation would lean a little on some of their most competent staff members around the world to convince them to come to Haiti for a while, as a career opportunity. Come to contribute not only to the organisation's largest and most complex operation, but also its most visible at present, and potentially its most vulnerable if things go wrong.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

the big brother

A lot of studies have been carried out, related to Haiti and its post-earthquake situation. It is impossible to follow all of it, but one recent study is so interesting and innovative that I do want to share it here.

There has been a lot of talk about the people that, immediately after the earthquake, left Port-au-Prince to stay with family and friends in 'the province', the term collectively used for everything outside Port-au-Prince, rural areas, mountains, but also the second and the third largest cities in the country. People left because there was nothing anymore, no food, no water and no house to go back to, whilst the emergency aid came on stream only very slowly. The government loved it - remember their eagerness to decongest Port-au-Prince? - and laid on busses to transport anybody who wanted to get to whichever place they choose, for free. Subsequently the discussion has been initiated about what to do for these people, and for the host families with whom they stay, and who have spent their meager savings on providing food for their unexpected guests - and in all honesty, nobody has yet come up with a credible model to support these host families, but that is another subject, for another day.

In order to develop a response to these indirectly affected areas, as they are called, statistics are important, and soon after the earthquake the first estimates on how many people left the capital, and where to, started to go around. Important to know, of course, if you want to do something for these people. I am not sure what the figures were based on, perhaps on bus tickets distributed, but it now transpires that whatever was estimated may not just have been a little wrong, no, appears to be totally and utterly rubbish. If you believe this new study, that is.

This is what they did: Some guys have analysed the location data of SIM cards from mobile phones from before and after the earthquake, to look at differences in movement of people with Digicel phones - Digicel is one of the biggest operators here. All in all, they claim to have access to two million phones, ie phones for around 20% of the total population. They then just extrapolated the data, and came up with an estimate for population movement, and guess what, it is hugely different from the maps and estimates that have been circulating so far - but probably a lot more reliable! Caveat is that they assume that people with a mobile phone have the same movement pattern as people without a phone, but that doesn't worry me too much. Fleurissant, my house boy, had a mobile phone well before he had a job.

What does worry me is the implication: somebody seems to be storing movement data of two million people - and who knows how many more? -, and keeps these data for quite a while. Data from after the earthquake can be compared with pre-disaster data, also still available, on a day-by-day basis, in this study up to 19 March. A major disaster does not seem to affect the ability to capture these data, or access them, never mind that the rest of the country is totally wiped out. There is hell of a Big Brother watching us, and not with the intention to map out population movement patterns after an earthquake - which is, however, a very interesting spin off. Below the two maps, the accepted wisdom for long, and the Digicel-based alternative. I have blown up the tables, too, just to show the huge variations by geographical department.

Guess where I want to start the next Save the Children program? See the big circle just east of Port-au-Prince, without any comparable arrow on the old map? That is where I did my reconnaissance trip to Thiotte, the big adventure a few week ago.

(1) the OCHA map - OCHA is the UN agency for humanitarian assistance, coordinating the disaster response - shows most of the population movement is to Gonaives, in the Artibonite area north of Port-au-Prince, and to Jeremie, in the Grand Anse in the far SW.

(2) the new map, however, suggests that only half as many went to Gonaives, fewer even to Jeremie, but far more people went to Les Cayes, in the department Sud; and it also shows a large movement towards the east of Port-au-Prince, totally absent on the OCHA map. Our own surveys show that this last area is indeed an area with many IDPs, mostly women and children, whose husbands and fathers have stayed behind in the capital, in search for work.
(3) and the figures, per department, compared. They only agree on the North East..... and, funny enough, on the total numbers, 570,000-600,000 had left Port-au-Prince by the end of January - and that is almost a quarter of the population of the city!

Another interesting piece of statistics is that the phone data suggest that some 40% of the people that left, had returned by mid-March; no wonder the camps kept on growing, they had to accommodate another 230,000 people. However, of the people returning, about a third were people that had not previously lived in Port-au-Prince, might this possibly be people looking for work in the devastated capital? So much then for the drive to decongest Port-au-Prince!

Ref.: Internal Population Displacement in Haiti - Linus Bengtsson et al., May 2010.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

the recruitment

From a small agency employing some 160 people before the earthquake, Save the Children has changed into what I suspect must be one of the larger employers in the country. By now we have something like over a 1000 people on the payroll, a rapid scale up by all measures.

Yet for senior positions there is a tendency to bring in foreigners, at least initially, and that is in part understandable. The success of an emergency program rests largely on the ability to get it started as soon as possible - within days, really -, and there are several factors that made that difficult to do without expatriates. Firstly, our own local staff had suffered from the disaster, and many were in shock, traumatised, in no way able to provide that quick response necessary. Mind you, every other agency as well as every government department had the same problem, which contributed to the perceived initially slow response of the international humanitarian community, and of the government. Secondly, there is a local capacity issue, NGO speak for 'there aren't enough good people around'. Haiti is a classic sufferer from the famous brain drain phenomenon, with nearby US and Canada very attractive emigration options for the many smart Haitians that have both initiative and a useful degree. There are probably well over a million Haitians legally living in the US, and who knows how many illegally. Canada especially is actively promoting visas for educated Haitians - a bit silly, as with the other hand it doles out significant amounts of development aid. The sad thing is that many of these Haitians subsequently end up doing low level jobs, way below their professional education levels. I know that many of the taxi drivers in Miami and New York are Haitians, and quite a few of them will have been doctors or lawyers or engineers back home. I hate to think of what has become of all those able program managers I employed ten years ago, many of whom have since emigrated. A friend of mine, a very competent HR manager, is currently training to become a nurse, because she cannot find a job in her field of considerable expertise in Montreal. Sad. Doubly sad because at this moment in time there is a tremendous need for qualified people in Haiti itself, obviously, and there is a tremendous opportunity to earn significant money, as well. All those agencies that bring in expatriates would dearly want to hire Haitians in at least some of the senior positions, and with so few capable, local salaries are on par with what we need to pay internationals.

Another challenge is that not all vacancies that international agencies create are necessarily locally understood. We have been trying to get a radio room operational, to track our vehicles and our staff in Port-au-Prince through our VHF network, but the only applicant so far has been a DJ - he claims to have a lot of experience with radio!

In the absence of sufficient senior Haitian staff the plan is to have for every expatriate a deputy, who will be groomed to take over in three, six, twelve months, whenever possible. We could also go out and search for the right people, but in reality, with so many agencies hiring, the chances to find enough well-trained Haitians at an affordable price are slim. Better to develop them ourselves, then we contribute something extra to this country, something valuable for the long term - as long as they don't emigrate at the first possible opportunity, of course.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

the business

In many previous contributions I have talked about the amazing resilience of Haitian business, however small scale it is. I have collected a number of examples, of typically Haitian business, and of the type of business that has sprung up since the earthquake. Some of it, to be sure, is really sad: people demolishing their own house with a sledge hammer, because it has been damaged beyond repair, that must rank among the cruelest activities on earth, taking down your own biggest physical asset - and for sure it wasn't insured. I saw a sign today advertising what is obviously another new business, "demoliseur des maison" - house demolisher -, so if it gets emotionally too much, you can always hire someone to do it for you. But sad it is.

Here is another sad one: before the earthquake I am sure you couldn't find a wheelchair in Haiti, not easily, now they are for sale in droves on every corner. I have said earlier, Haitians monitise everything, but I sure hope that these are spare ones, not somebody's wheelchair sold in order to access the more basic amenities, like food.

(1) wheelchairs and stretchers and walking aids sold on a street corner, and believe me, crutches are also plentiful available. Since about four months.

Talking about monitising, much of the shelter kits, and the hygiene kits, and the kitchen kits, and the mosquito nets, have found their way to the market.

(2) Tarpaulins for sale on a corner in Petionville, in all sizes and colours that have been imported and distributed in the past four months, and (3, 4, 5) mosquito nets, and all sorts of kitchen gear, all directly out of one of the generously distributed boxes I showed you a few days ago.

Several other 'new' business has been established, or has grown, not in the least the scrap metal dealer. With so many iron bars being salvaged from the demolished houses, and other metal parts, from roofs, fences, doors etc., this is booming business.

(6, 7) another recently thriving business is scrap metal, in all forms, in all sizes, collected with all sorts of transport - quite dangerous, as much of the metal comes in long iron rods, which easily scratch a car or worse, poke your eye out, if swung irresponsibly.

But their is also the business that was there before the quake, and will stay as long as necessary, or at least as long as services do not improve.
(8) This one you should have expected: for the times that fuel shortage is the norm - it is still not entirely back to normal - some will have gotten hold of fuel to sell, quite openly, on the side of the road. The origin is probably siphoning off by drivers from their vehicles, and especially NGOs have poor control systems, and are thus an easy source. This is in fact just another way to support the local entrepreneurs, and our failure to control fuel theft should be part of our livelihood program.

(9) for those who don't have a telephone, the fixed line booth on the corner has long been replaced by a wireless telephone, which can be taken from one corner of the street to the next, or even to another street.

(10) and for those who do have a telephone, but no reliable electricity at home, there is the telephone charger, multiple cables and plugs, attached to a battery. Cost is around 15 Gourdes, or 40 US$ cents, not cheap - to put things in context, abject poverty begins below 1 $/day income, and the slightly less acute poverty line is assumed to be at an income of 2 $/day, and these people have certainly no electricity at home. A daily outside telephone charge then becomes a huge expense!

(11) and my favourite kept for the end: the local pharmacy, most often carried on the head, but here the pills dispenser takes a moment rest. The more different colours of pills, the better the pharmacy, obviously.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

the demonstrations

I have said iy many times in the last few weeks: apart from the rubble in the streets, we the humanitarian community have rehabilitated Haiti to where it was before the earthquake: a dysfunctional state, with a dysfunctional health system and a dysfunctional education system, but with a vibrant, albeit very small scale, entrepreneurial economy.

Of course, saying that we are back to where we were on 11 January is hugely simplistic, and in any case is not the objective of the rebuilding exercise. But my assessment was proven right earlier this week, with the first political demonstrations after the earthquake. You see, Haiti is back to normal!

The issue is president Preval. There is general discontent with the way the government is handling the post-earthquake rehabilitation, the lack of progress, the lack of initiative. But there are also specific complaints. Firstly, the president is being blamed for selling out the country to foreigners through agreeing to the establishment of an oversight committee for the so-called Multi-Donor Trust Fund - the 10 to 11 billion US$ that have been raised for Haiti. This committee consists of 18 members, of which only 9 are Haitian. Right! Would anybody have donated if their money would have been handed over to the Haitian government directly - I don't think so, given the corrupt history of this country. But Haitian pride demands Haitian control. On top of that parliament has just adopted a law allowing Preval a three months extension to his term if, and only if, there are delays in holding the next presidential election, due before February next year. Three months! On a five year term, that in any case started three months late! In a country totally ravaged, which in the best of times had already difficulty organising timely elections, let alone now that election records have been destroyed and well over a million people, perhaps half of them voters, live in camps. I would suggest that the demonstrators do not - yet - have a real issue at hand.

But that has never stopped Haitians from demonstrating. So, true to form, the first tires and old cars went up in flames last Monday, when from two directions angry crowds - mostly able young men, and let me guess: possibly with an abundance of gold chains and dark sunglasses - marched onto the presidential palace to smash it up (not realising that that is not necessary anymore, but never mind). Shots were fired, and police used teargas when demonstators tried to break through a barricade. Opportunistic as ever, innocent passers-by were robbed at gun point, by protesters who helped them off their wallets, mobile phones, anything of minor value even, and then beat them up for good measure. Can you believe this? I can: if you go demonstrating one day, you have no income, so in one way or another you need to rectify that. Just rob the first bystander you see. Well, in fact, many of the protesters will have received an income, these gangs are traditionally being paid to disrupt the city, and somehow they are very good at it. They are also being paid to demand the return of Aristide, a former, controversial president who was ousted in 2004, and to distribute flyers stating that "Heads will be cut and houses will be burnt" and "the White People must be put out". Jolly environment!

And it is not that the gangs haven't got anything else to do: the kidnapping of foreign aid workers is in full swing, with no less that three known incidents last week, and not just in dodgy areas. In full daylight - in fact one of our drivers witnessed the last abduction close to one of our own offices. More demonstrations have been announced for next week, and they may have a "nationalist" flavour to them. Just getting jollier!

Friday, May 14, 2010

the band

I have told you about distributions, and how complex they often are, and how we often need military protection to ensure that they are being conducted in an orderly manner.

Not anymore. I am not sure who was the genius behind the idea, but it must have been one of our Haitian staff, who understand this country so much better than the army of expats we have mobilised so far. We have some 5000 NFI kits - NFIs, in case you have not been paying attention in the past few months, are Non-Food Items, and the kits contain blankets, jerrycans, buckets, rope to tie your plastic sheeting, and in this case also tools, a hammer and nails, to work on your own shelter. Under normal circumstances distributing even a small part of these, say 500, will take well over a morning, and many of the beneficiaries - more NGO speak, self explanatory this time - will need to wait for hours in line until it is their turn to pick up their kit. They have been identified and registered before, but we do need to verify all the relevant information about the - the donors, ie the general public that has been giving to Haiti so generously, expects that level of scrutiny from us, and that takes time. In Haiti, where music is a way of life and rhythm a second nature, what better way to make the waiting palatable then organising a band?

So that's what we did, and by just having the music there, we turned the waiting into a big of moving, shaking and dancing people. Brilliant! They were almost reluctant to pick up their allocation, as then they were expected to move on....

It is just a pity that I am still too naive with a digital camera to immediately identify the potential of recording a short video, with sound and all. So you will have to imagine the rock & roll, or the kompa rather, whilst looking at photos only. But it was quite an experience, and oh so Haitian!

(1) In Haiti these days a large crowd gathering is usually a sign of "distribution" going on,
(2) and indeed, in this case shelter kits - the plastic boxes containing plastic sheeting, ropes, tools like a hammer, nails etc., the carton boxes are hygiene kits, with soap, towels and no doubt a whole lot more.

(3, 4, 5) and in order to entertain the crown during the long waiting times, bring on the band! A classic Haitian Ra Ra band - usually active between carnival and Easter - comes for the altogether very reasonable sum of US$ 25,- per hour, and plays as if there is no tomorrow!

(6, 7) the response is predictable, young and old - believe me, I have many more pictures of the kids in front, but I wish I had used the video function.

(8) one last view of the band and the crowd.

(9) and of the satisfied beneficiary carrying his treasure home - most likely to be sold, rather than used, most products from distributions end up on the market. Perhaps for future emergencies we should consider giving just money, it makes life a whole lot easier for everybody, the donor, the NGO who does not have to guess what people want most, or need most urgently, and the recipient who doesn't have to go through the trouble of selling the stuff.

(10) and less relevant for most of you, but I am sure that some of my readers will be interested to know that I accompanied the German Ambassador to Haiti on this specific trip, who told me in passing that he receives regular individual contributions which he happily distributes on behalf of this particular generous donor.

Monday, May 10, 2010

the decongestion

Yesterday I hinted at the idea to decongest Port-au-Prince. Out of the roughly 10 million population of Haiti, some 2.5 million were living in the capital, before the earthquake, or so say the official statistics. With 200,000 dead, 600,000 who left, and 1.3 million in camps, that doesn't leave a lot of people in houses, right now, but that is not my point. The key is that Port-au-Prince was heavily overpopulated, and far too big in relation to other areas of the country, and the government is determined to change that in the future.

The ambitious Haitian Rehabilitation and Development Plan, presented by the government at the donor conference end March, calls for significant investment in infrastructure development, like two new international airports, a new harbour and 500 km of new roads. In addition there are plans for six "poles de croissance", growth poles, in essence existing towns that will be stimulated to grow and thus take on part of the population that was traditionally living in Port-au-Prince. Unfortunately, the plan is very thin on details how to get people into these growth poles, there is a bit of mumbling about economic free zones, business development and the stimulus from the new port and airports, but little concrete recommendations beyond regional strategy planning whilst fitting in the national context. Vague.

Here is what should be done - a vintage The-World-According-To-Bruno: some 50% of Haitians work in agriculture, and will continue to do so, the vast majority of the rest work in the informal sector, as casual labour, as domestic servants, as very small enterprise entrepreneurs - barbers or tire repair men or whatever super small business -, or as 'petites marchandes', market women turning over a small amount of goods, for a tiny little profit. They will do this wherever the opportunity presents itself, in fact Haitians are extremely mobile. A good example is the current camps, where business has developed in no time, stalls have been picked up from street corners and have been brought into the settlements. In short, they will do whatever they do where the people are, who can afford to buy their services.

I reckon that the state is the only stable employer in the country, there are hardly any big businesses, a few banks perhaps, and the telephone companies, in numbers they don't come close to the civil service. Civil service largely concentrated in Port-au-Prince, of course, thanks to a tendency to centralize whatever can be centralized. So in order to promote decongestion of the capital, what better initiative than devolve power to the provinces, and for instance relocate some of the ministries to the growth poles? Now is the time, many ministries have been totally destroyed in the earthquake, why not build the education ministry in St Marc, and the tax office in Cap Haitien? This brings civil servants to the province, and will automatically attract the casual labour that feeds of these relatively middle class incomes, the shoe polishers and the house boys, the market women and the cooks. No better way to scatter the population then to scatter the livelihood opportunities.

Sadly, it is not going to happen: Haitian politicians have all read their history books, and they know that political rivals have staged coups d'etat and revolutions from strongholds in the province in the past. Better to keep your competitors within eyesight, within Port-au-Prince, where you can more easily out-maneuver them. Better to rebuild these ministries here, just in case you have accidentally appointed a strong minister whose loyalty cannot be trusted, and hope that this decongestion will, somehow, occur spontaneously. Fat chance!

(photo) business as usual, except that the business has been moved from the street corner to the camp entrance - but not different from the past.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

the adventure

You all now know what IDPs are, and in Haiti we have two types, really, we have the ones in the camps - I have written about those quite a lot - and then we have the ones that have left Port-au-Prince after the earthquake. Immediately after the disaster many people had no place to stay and nothing to eat, and decided to look up family or friends in the country side, or in other towns, undamaged. The government encouraged this, and laid on free bus services to transport these people, some 600,000 in total, to wherever they wanted to go, in an attempt to decongest Port-au-Prince. More about that in a future episode, today I want to talk about Save the Children's response to this situation.

We have long recognised - mind you, "long" is a few months, in this context - that we need to do not only programs for people that are living in the so-called directly affected areas, the areas where buildings have collapsed and services interrupted, but also in what we call the indirectly affected areas. All those people that moved to the country side put an enormous strain not only on their family, who are usually just as poor as their visitors - and hospitality demands that they provide food and lodging, even though they have nothing to spare, and even though this then goes at the expense of buying seeds for the next planting seasons: you can already see the spiral pushing everybody into even more dire poverty. The IDPs also put a burden on local services, like schools and clinics that are not prepared for the extra influx of people, and collapse under the additional demand. We can do something about that, but, to be honest, we have been so busy with our direct response program - ad so understaffed - that we have not done much yet.

If you think that I am now going to elaborate on what we are going to do, you are wrong. The only thing we have done so far is identifying areas where there are many IDPs that have left Port-au-Prince, and one of these is the South East Department, close to the border with the Dominican Republic. There is a small village called Thiotte, where we are contemplating setting up a sub-office for such program, but nobody has really been there, to decide what would be logistically most efficient. The perfect job for me, over the weekend: try to reach remote Thiotte to see what is the best supply route, either a grueling 5-6 hours drive across the high mountains from Port-au-Prince, or an even longer, 7 hours drive over impassable tracks to Jacmel, also in the South East.

So we equipped a heavy-duty 4x4 vehicle, with sat-phone, GPS receiver, extra tires, mosquito nets, plenty of food and water - and a bottle of wine, peanuts and olives for the Saturday evening in a remote village. And then we set off, on Saturday morning, for the adventure trip. Right! Get a map of Haiti, and follow the tarmac road from Port-au-Prince north and east to the DR border, a good road into the Cul-de-Sac. This is a flat sugercane growing area in between the mountain ranges, with a few shallow lakes, and for the rest mostly semi-desert-like vegetation, low scrubs and cactusses. Just before the border we turn right, and the real trip starts, into the mountains. In fact we drove on a good, no, excellent earth road, part of it a dry river bed, beautiful scenery on all sides, with bare mountains, the occasional waterfall. Plenty of people around. Funny enough they don't call you 'blanc' here, so close to the Dominican Republic, but 'blanco', they have obviously picked up some Spanish. After a while we do get higher, and we get a view of the plains to the east - it looks like the mountains are Haiti, the low land is DR. Still plenty of people, plenty of supplies if we would have needed any: in the event we are just on our first energy bars, even before we have touched the thermos with coffee, when we pass Fond Verettes, the town around half-way. OK, village, in fact we almost missed it. The next village, Foret de Pins, was hard to miss, not only because we did find ourselves suddenly surrounded by pine trees - calling it a forest would be pushing it, but there were still plenty of trees - but also because of the major Saturday market. The dominant means of transport here is donkeys, and it showed! But where all these people were coming from beats me! Anyhow, still an excellent road, no difficulties negotiating the mountains, at over 6000 ft, driving in the mist, and then, before we realised it we were down again, in the banana vegetation and the coffee plantations of Thiotte. Less then four hours drive, easy, with multiple stops on the way.

Are you still on the map? According to the local police officer in Thiotte the grueling seven hour drive to Jacmel, initially on the program for Sunday, would take us no more than four hours. So, having arrived so early, we decided to set off for Jacmel, knowing that there were plentyful places to stay overnight, in case we got stranded before dark. Belle Anse, at the southern coast, was in fact two hours, Marigot, indeed over a pretty bad road - the first time today that I would have been uncomfortable if I had taken a saloon car - took us another two hours, and 20 minutes later we arrived in Jacmel. Comfortable, air-conditioned hotel, with excellent restaurant, hot showers and swimming pool. Adventure? Anti-climax!

But it was a nice trip, with an incredible variation in vegetation over such a short distance, and a changing landscape every hour, or so. And plenty of food and water, and even energy bars, left for the leisurely trip back to Port-au-Prince the next day - the three hours direct route, tarmac all the way.

(1) the start of the adventure, the turn off from tarmac into the mountains!

(2) the scenery in the beginning, dry river beds and bare hills

(3) the adventurers, next to their well equipped 4x4, ready to rough it! Next to me is Johnny, my flat mate and our security adviser (there were rumours that the gangs that escaped from the Titanic prison had holed up in the mountains here...) . The driver, who took the picture, was still shaking from the road.

(4) agriculture in the mountains is an incredible effort on steep, terraced slopes.
(5) market in Foret de Pins, at around 2000 m high a really cool place, literally - which is why so many people are wearing warm cloths.

(6) the market dos not only attract people, donkeys and horses are also present in large numbers - the preferred means of transport.

(7) unfortunately, not all of the Foret will survive - it is in any case already amazing that this forest still exists, in a country that has been 98% deforested in a drive to produce ever more charcoal, and the pressure is on.

(8) a typical rural house in the Thiotte area, and in fact the houses look very similar in the entire South East. And the road doesn't look that bad, no?

(9) this looked to be the only restaurant in Thiotte, a really small and sleepy village with very little in terms of amenities. Dinner is walking in front of the restaurant.

(10) the boats on the beach of Belle Anse, the first time we reached the coast after the mountain crossing

(11) view from the mountains to the coast of Jacmel, very pretty and quite unexpected after a really bumpy ride on a very bad road.

Friday, May 7, 2010

the camps

I have written about the shelter situation before, soon after I arrived, because it was one of the most visible results of the earthquake. It still is, and it is incredibly complex. I already addressed the issue of IDPs in school yards, but all in all there are estimated to be some 1.3 mln people in camps in Port-au-Prince, and their numbers are actually growing.

Who are these people? Firstly, there are a lot of people who actually lost their house, and everything else, and have nothing left: they have now found a place in the one of the camps. And that's right. But then there are also people who have a house, which may be safe to return to, but they are too scared to do so. Or they say they are too scared, but in reality they are hoping that, by being in one of the camps, they may benefit from further distributions, you never know. And if there is a chance to benefit from distributions in one camp, you might as well set up your tent in more than one camp, you never know, so there are an increasing number of so-called ghost tents. Difficult to check, though, as they may also belong to people who work during the day - and most camp management agencies don't work at night. Then there is the persistent rumour - which I know for a fact is wrong -that people in camps will get a house and perhaps a piece of land, so, hey, let's hang on a little longer, you never know. Others in the camps were originally renters, and their rented accommodation was destroyed. In Haiti it is customary to pay rent 6 or 12 months in advance, so if these people paid on the 1st of January, hey, they have little option but stay in the camp - little chance they are getting their money back, and for sure they haven't got any spare cash. Even if they haven't paid all their rent upfront, many have no money anymore to pay for 6 or 12 months, and the laws haven't changed yet. In any case, why pay rent if you can stay in a tent for free? And you know what, the services, like health care and water, are free in the camp, you don't have to pay, unlike in pre-earthquake times when people paid a small user fee for the clinics, so that the health workers could be paid - the ministry didn't have money for that -, and were also used to pay for their water from a tanker or a water kiosk, 5 Gourdes (12.5 US$ cents) for a bucket-full, as running water in houses is a rarity in the poorer neighbourhoods. No wonder the camp services are so popular, also with people who do not live in the camps!

So provide the same free services in the neighbourhoods where people need to return, you would say, and they will move out of the camps. Ah, but then we are undercutting the government health services, which rely on user fees - there is nothing like free services, you either pay a user fee, or you pay taxes which pay for your services. But tax collection is not easy in an economy where 70% of the workforce survives on casual labour or is a small-scale 'petit marchand', an unregistered entrepreneur who sells whatever he or she can make a very small profit on. We also would kill the water business, which in the short term would not be a problem, but once we return to normal, who is going to provide the free water, in, say, a year's time, or two? So stop the free services all together, then, that's te solution! Ah, but what about these people who really don't have anything anymore after the earthquake, helping them is what this was all about initially, remember? And there are still a lot of them around, believe me!

There is a strategy to relieve the pressure on the camps. It consists of five options: (1) have people return to their homes; houses are being assessed, using the so-called traffic light approach, green is OK, yellow may need repairs, and red is demolish, but the assessments are going very slow because the government has not certified anybody else then their own engineers to carry out the surveys, despite many agencies having many capable people. But then, it is quite a decision to take, no, whether you tell people it is safe to return to their houses - what a responsibility! -, or that you tell them their house, their biggest asset, has to be demolished. No wonder many houses turn out yellow. (option 2) People return to proximity sites, either a park in their neighbourhood, or to their original plot, once cleared from rubble. But this is really only a very small percentage, and is being complicated by land tenure questions, and who would own a transitional shelter put on that piece of land, the land owner or the inhabitant of the shelter? (3) People move in with host families, families who do have a house and are prepared to share - for the appropriate incentive. But it is as yet unclear what would happen after the full incentive has been paid, whether the guests are still welcome or not. (4) Or people can stay where they are: as long as not everybody does that, we can improve the camps, improve facilities and make the place less risky. (5) Lastly, people can relocate, to far-off peri-urban sites like Coreil in Cabaret, which I have described before - I will have to go and have a look there, one of these days, so I can report more expertly on this phenomenon, but so far I understand it is a piece of desert land, with nothing, no livelihood opportunities, no transport, no means of survival, really, and still, there are some 7000 people there already.

None of those options have yet seriously been applied. The idea is that people can choose. But with over 600 camp sites, large and small, and only 20% of those managed by a professional agency, registration is poor, and messaging to people almost non-existent. If you ask me, the only way to see some real movement is to wait for some really heavy rain, which makes staying in the camp really miserable, to the effect that those who have an alternative - those with a house to go back to, or a host family - will indeed move out. Failing that, we will have to wait until the Worldcup starts (Football, or Soccer, you know what I mean). This country goes bananas for football, and if we would just place big TV screens in the neighbourhoods, but not in the camps, everybody will move out every time a match of Brazil or Argentina is being broadcasted live!

Apologies for the length, today, but it is really a very complex issue.

(1) this boy may well want to move, from a pretty miserable camp.

(2) and so may he, if it rains a bit more, quite a bit more.

(3) but these people seem to be quite comfortable.

(4) and these have no intention to move, after having invested so heavily in their porch!

Sunday, May 2, 2010

the schools (photos)

Last time I wrote about schools I promised to get some better photos, and I had the opportunity to do exactly that when I accompanied a BBC Panorama crew, earlier this week. Panorama is making a documentary about vulnerable children in Haiti, and they were interested in seeing what Save the Children was doing, so I showed them some of our programs, including a school in Carrefour, one of the most notorious slum areas in Port-au-Prince. And I took some pictures myself.
(1) early morning parents bring their children - immaculately dressed and squeekingly clean, no matter what the environment looks like - to school. White socks!

(2, 3, 4) the emergency schools we support consist of tents and tarpaulins, providing some shelter for the children. Obviously, with a television crew visiting we make the most of branding opportunities, with all SC staff wearing the red T-shirts and a banner or two attached to tents and trees. That is, if we think we are doing a good job, which is the case here.....
(5, 6) the schools have been given materials, like blackboards, and the children have received a school kit each, containing note books, pens, pencils etc, things to get them started again. After all, they had lost whatever they had in their houses that collapsed. Perhaps we need to adjust the height of the blackboards for the youngest kids, though!

(7) in the interval the children enjoy a fresco, shaven ice in a plastic cup, with lemonade or syrup to give it some taste

(8, 9) or they play games, like we all did in school. And let nobody say that Haitian children aren't cute!

(10, 11) reporter Raphael Rowe talking to a group of very young children, who - unusually - are in fact somewhat intimidated when getting on camera

(12) and at the end of the hot day - it is 11.30 am - interest in waning, even a film crew can't change that.