CBC News reports (mostly doesn't report) on Haiti earthquake anniversary

By website editors, January 16, 2013

The three most important programs on CBC Radio--The Sunday Edition, As It Happens, and The Current--did not report on Haiti on the three year anniversary of the earthquake. Some local CBC radio did report briefly on the controversy surrounding Canada's off-the-cuff announcement on January 3 that it would freeze new aid (CIDA) programs in Haiti.

CBC News Network broadcast a ten-minute television report by veteran correspondent Paul Hunter. Hunter says little about the current situation. He hints at some major stories of Haiti since the earthquake--the cholera epidemic, and the "fraudulent" election of 2010/11–-but neglects to mention many other issues, notably the housing and shelter crisis.

A lengthy print report on the CBC News website is enclosed below. The report begins: "Three years after the worst natural disaster in the history of the Americas - the Jan. 12, 2010, earthquake in Haiti - reconstruction has barely begun. So far, the promise by aid groups to "Build Haiti back, better" remains just that, with hope fading."

The late-night television program on CBC 'George Strombopoulos Tonight' has a lengthy print report on its website, mixed with video clips. The story is titled, 'Three Years After The Massive Earthquake, People In Haiti Are Said To Be No Better Off.' The principal video clip is a three-minute interview with author Jonathan Katz. The story includes a link to the news article below that appears in the web version of the Vancouver print daily Georgia Straight on January 11.

Strombopoulos’ only Haiti-broadcast story is a brief interview on January 16, 2013 with discredited Haiti aid operator Wyclef Jean. The two discuss the "mistakes" that the musician made with his charity in Haiti.

Michaëlle Jean appears on television

Former Governor General Michaëlle Jean appeared on CBC television in an eight-minute interview in which she defended, and did not defend, the post-earthquake record.

"Haiti has a plan" for earthquake recovery, she told the interviewer. This claim would surprise the many Haitians waiting for the slightest sign of a government program to build housing or create a public education system. "There are some interesting results happening," she affirms. But in a nod to unstated difficulties, Mme. Jean also said that Canadians need to be "realistic" about what is possible.

Again intimating that there may, indeed, be problems with Haiti aid and reconstruction, Mme. Jean says "We need to change the (aid) paradigm (in Haiti)." She notes that "less than one percent" of aid to Haiti went to the government or other institutions of Haitian society. [Actually, that describes the several billions in emergency aid. The corresponding figure for reconstruction aid is close to ten percent.] She says, "It's not enough to build a school here, a clinic there."

“Let's work with the ministries of the government," she says, and help to strengthen them. Why has the aid effort failed to do so, she is asked? She replies that it's due to "past patterns" of aid that are still in place.

Like many Hollywood personalities in Haiti, such as Sean Penn, Ms. Jean is an ardent defender of the Martelly/Lamothe government, including its "open for business" private enterprise "plan" for rebuilding the country. She gave an interview to the Caribbean Journal on December 4, 2012 during a visit to Haiti in her capacity as Special Envoy to Haiti of UNESCO in which she stated, "Right now, Haiti has a government that is very eager to see results, and very patient, and very eager to come in with what some would say is an entrepreneurial approach, which is probably a good one for a country that needs to be rebuilt. And so we are holding our fingers crossed that stability remains, the political stability that Haiti needs to really take that important step in its history."

The Don Cherry farce

On January 3, Canada’s Minister of International Cooperation, Julian Fantino, announced a freeze on future aid projects to Haiti during an off-the-cuff interview with a Montreal journalist. He and his government did not even do the courtesy of informing the Government of Haiti. You can read that story here. The minister said Haitians are lazy and don't appreicate or merit the large volumes of aid that he says have been directed their way. 

The minister’s pronouncement was a jumping off point for a prejudiced Twitter campaign by CBC Television’s most well-known personality, professional hockey commentator Don Cherry. Below is a commentary on Cherry’s tirade published in the Halifax daily Chronicle Herald.

Appendix: Three articles enclosed:

1. Haiti continues to face housing crisis three years after earthquake, says Vancouver advocate

By Yolande Cole, Georgia Straight, Jan 9, 2013

Nearly three years after a devastating earthquake struck Haiti, a Canadian group is raising concerns about living conditions for residents in the Caribbean country, where many remain without homes.

According to Roger Annis, a Vancouver-based coordinator with the Canada Haiti Action Network, official counts indicate almost 360,000 people in Haiti are still living in emergency camps that were established following the earthquake. He noted that tally doesn't include "hundreds of thousands" who are living in other unofficial camps, or temporary and inadequate shelter.

Annis noted that since the June 2010 disaster, international aid has provided emergency relief, cleared rubble from the streets, and improved health-care services. However, he called the overall picture in the nation "very troubling and negative".

A delegation with the network travelled to Haiti in March 2012, and described the living conditions in one of the camps as "deplorable".

"The services that were there a year and two years ago simply aren't there anymore-clean water, medical services, schools for the kids to go to-it's all gotten worse," Annis told the Straight by phone. "So that remains a very big concern in the camps."

In addition to the organization's concerns about housing conditions, Annis noted the country continues to deal with a recurrent cholera epidemic. "These are big and very troubling questions that point to…a failed international relief effort in Haiti," he said.

In a news release dated January 8, Doctors Without Borders said Haiti's healthcare system remains "devastated".

"The majority of the population lacks access to drinking water and proper sanitation, but cholera treatment has still not been properly integrated into the few existing public health facilities," said Joan Arnan, the head of mission for Doctors Without Borders in Haiti.

Annis noted that while there are organizations in Haiti that are building new housing, their efforts don't come close to meeting the need.

"There are these efforts happening, but on the scale of what's required, it's still a very small scale," he said. "It really requires a commitment by the government and by its international allies.

"There's only one solution to the housing crisis in Haiti, and that is to have a vast program of building public housing."

Canada's Minister of International Cooperation, Julian Fantino, told Montreal newspaper La Presse on January 4 that Canada has frozen funding destined for new projects in Haiti as it determines its next steps.

The minister has since issued a statement indicating the Government of Canada is reviewing its "long-term engagement strategy" with Haiti. Fantino noted Canada has provided more than $1 billion in assistance to Haiti since 2006.

"We continue to make progress on areas of long-term development that we have previously committed to, and we stand ready to offer our support for the people of Haiti should future humanitarian crises arrive," he said in the statement dated January 8.

The Canada Haiti Action Network is hosting a screening of the documentary "Haiti: Where Did the Money Go?" with director Michele Mitchell at VanCity Theatre tonight (January 9), followed by a panel discussion.


2. Haitians still await rebuilding after 2010 quake

CBC News, Jan. 12, 2013

The following story includes a ten-minute video report by veteran CBC news correspondent Paul hunter. Hunter says little about the current situation. He hints at some major stories of Haiti since the earthquake-the cholera epidemic, the "fraudulent" election of 2010/11-but neglects to mention many others, notably the housing and shelter crisis. Overall, the report is a reminder of the poor job that CBC has done during the past year in informing Canadians about the ongoing humanitarian and political crisis in Haiti.

Three years after the worst natural disaster in the history of the Americas - the Jan. 12, 2010, earthquake in Haiti - reconstruction has barely begun. So far, the promise by aid groups to "Build Haiti back, better" remains just that, with hope fading.

That's the feeling that emerges from interviews with two journalists who have written books about what's happened since the earthquake. The titles of their books hint at why.

Farewell, Fred Voodoo, by Amy Wilentz

Farewell, Fred Voodoo: A Letter from Haiti, gets its title from a conversation author Amy Wilentz had in 1986, the first year she reported from Haiti. Fred Voodoo was foreign correspondents' jargon for what might now be called a streeter (from the old phrase, "man in the street interview").

For Wilentz, the name "sums up outsider attitudes that are ongoing to this day, of lumping all Haitians together and considering them as one downtrodden mass that is superstitious and weird and alien to the outside world."

That Fred Voodoo attitude, she tells CBC News, leads to many decisions being made by aid organizations without input from Haitians, and to the problems that then result.

'The big truck that went by', by Jonathan Katz

A number of things led to Jonathan Katz titling his book, The Big Truck That Went By: How the World Came to Save Haiti and Left Behind a Disaster. He wants the title to resonate with readers as an image of aid caravans driving by and continuing on their way but it's also from an early name for the 2010 earthquake in Creole that translates as 'the big truck went by.'

In the very first moments, "a lot of us mistook it for a big truck going by," he tells CBC News. The sounds and sensations of trucks were part of life in Port-au-Prince, Haiti's capital, before the quake devastated the city, he says. Katz was The Associated Press correspondent in Haiti from 2007 to 2012, when he left staff to write his book.

Of course, there has been some progress. The UN Office for Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) says in 2012 about 161,000 left the camps and 262 camps were closed. However 358,000 people are still living in camps in conditions that are rapidly deteriorating, according to OCHA.

Some families left camps because aid agencies gave them $500 in payments called "return cash grants," to pay rent to live somewhere else. That money can cover the cost of non-camp housing for about a year.

Appalling conditions in camps

Wilentz, who recently returned from Haiti, writes heartbreakingly about conditions in a camp in downtown Port-au-Prince that is still home to about 600 families.

People were angry and confused, she writes in the current issue of The Nation magazine, because the $500 grants were offered to residents in some camps but not others. "So the St. Anne residents are hanging on, unwilling to start up a new life elsewhere for fear of missing out on that $500, to which they understandably feel entitled, if only for the incredible suffering they've endured."

About $7.5 billion has been disbursed but what there is to show for such a huge sum in Port-au-Prince and the other hardest hits areas is at best disappointing. Half of that money went to relief aid, which of course is important but that only sustains, and does not build. And nearly $500 million of the relief funds went to the Pentagon (for security and relief transport) more than double what went to Haiti's government.

A large amount of the other half went to things other than post-quake reconstruction, including highways, industrial parks, schools and hospitals and a university outside the earthquake zone, and even hotels in Port-au-Prince. The number of hotel rooms in Port-au-Prince will soon be double the number from before the quake, according to Wilentz.

Little spent on permanent housing

Only $215 million has gone to building safe, permanent housing.

"One area where the reconstruction money didn't go is into actual reconstruction," Jessica Faieta, the senior country director for the UN Development Program in Haiti for two years, told the New York Times in December, shortly after leaving that post.

A significant portion of the $7.5 billion that has been disbursed has not been spent yet, especially the funds set aside for housing. According to the Times, the U.S. Treasury still has more than $1 billion allocated for Haiti.

Wilentz and Katz describe a pattern at the root of the problem that for both the Haitian government and the aid agencies, existed before the earthquake. "The path since the earthquake is not substantially different from beforehand," Katz says.

Wilentz says that for nearly a century the Haitian government has been a "dysfunctional organization that has basically been turned into a corruption sieve."

"Money goes into it and disappears and that's why the international community was reluctant to deal with the Haitian government, but in order to fix Haiti the Haitian government has to become a responsible entity."

Then there's that Fred Voodoo attitude that has a led to what little housing is getting built being done so without consultation from Haitians. "You get camp depopulations without really the input of the Haitians who are being repositioned, you get these now outlying townships outside of the areas hit by the earthquake that are not the kinds of places that Haitians want to live in - but they're living in them now," Wilentz says.

Fantino blames Haiti

Julian Fantino, Canada's Minister of International Co-operation, expressed concern in a Jan. 8 statement about "the slow progress of development in Haiti, in large part due to weaknesses in their governing institutions," adding that there needs to be "greater leadership, accountability and transparency from the Government of Haiti."

Katz takes issue with Fantino, saying, "it's much easier to say at the end of the day, 'well, you know whose fault it is, it's them, it's the ones we were giving this stuff to, they must have misspent it, maybe they stole it.'"

Katz then adds, "You aren't spending as much as you think, they aren't receiving as much as you think and the people who really are responsible for the failures aren't allowing themselves to be held accountable."

With Haiti, he noted that "in the humanitarian relief phase, so much of the money went for logistics, for jet fuel and hotel rooms, repairs to helicopters and ships." Katz estimates that in the year after the earthquake, only seven per cent of the humanitarian relief money went to Haiti.

"Foreign aid is not given to foreign countries. Foreign aid is usually spent in our own countries on stuff that we then send to them. Or don't send," Katz explains.

For Wilentz, the root problem in Haiti, before and after the earthquake, has been the lack of jobs, an issue the aid programs have failed to give much consideration.

There have been commendable efforts on the aid front. Wilentz mentions the U.S.-based Partners in Health, which has a substantial history in Haiti and a mostly Haitian staff on the ground. The group is also building what's considered the biggest reconstruction project in the health sector, what will become a public, not private, teaching hospital 50 kilometres outside Port-au-Prince.

American actor Sean Penn's work in Haiti has also impressed Wilentz. "He's become a dedicated development worker, so I'm hoping he'll prove that, by staying for a long time in Haiti and keeping his interest there and not flitting from one disaster to another."


3. Don Cherry pitiful in bashing foreign aid

Commentary by Laurent Le Pierrès, Chronicle Herald (Halifax NS), January 10, 2013

The NHL in all its gory glory won’t be back for another week. But happily, we already have our first hockey-style act of goonery to report on. Don Cherry, everybody’s favourite Ugly Canadian, took a swing, not at foreign players but at foreign aid in a slapdash series of Twitter slapshots this week.

The Hockey Fight in Canada commentator is hot under his high collar about Haiti. He thinks it’s “nuts” that this country is spending money in that country while “we got people waiting 7, 8, 10 hours, if they’re lucky, in a waiting room with one doctor for a zillion people ... We nickel and dime our doctors, nurses and veterans plus a million other services. Yet we can send almost 50 million to Haiti.”

Personally, I find all this a bit rich coming from a guy who makes an estimated $800,000 a year to cherry-pick plays for the highlight reel and spout off about the finer points of our national pastime on the CBC. Is this the wisest use of taxpayers’ money? I wonder. Surely, in the grand scheme of things, every dime invested in Haiti feeding schoolchildren or housing the homeless is better spent, is it not?

Which is not to say delivering effective aid to Haiti isn’t a problem. Clearly, it is. It’ll be three years tomorrow since an earthquake tore the place to pieces, killing and injuring 600,000 and leaving 1.5 million souls without shelter. To this day, 300,000 are living in tent cities.

It’s not just Don Cherry who seems to be suffering from compassion fatigue lately. His friend Julian Fantino, the cabinet minister now in charge of the Canadian International Development Agency, is in a fit of pique over the lack of progress on the rebuilding front.

He’s been complaining that Canada cannot take care of Haiti forever, and muttering about not signing any more blank cheques.

Frankly, I wasn’t aware that we were. So far, Canadian aid has been funnelled through non-governmental organizations and Canadian firms because the Haitian government is perceived as too weak or corrupt.

The minister should make up his mind. On the one hand, he makes it sound like our money is going down a black hole; on the other, he praises some of the “excellent” programs we’ve put in place. So if we’ve had some successes, why can’t we build on them? How does freezing funding for future endeavours in Haiti, while Ottawa figures out better delivery mechanisms, help speed up the recovery?

Back to Coach’s Corner — for what really riles me is not the Fantinos of the world wanting more bang for their bucks. Who doesn’t? It’s the Cherrys among us who attack the very premise of foreign aid. In my experience, people who make a virtue of the “charity begins at home” ethic are the least charitable of all toward their fellow man.

This notion of “at home” tends to shrink in the wash. Like the Grinch’s heart, it starts out two sizes too small. Unlike the Grinch’s heart, it keeps on dwindling. There are always worthier and worthier causes closer and closer to home, until the noblest thing in the end is to take care of No. 1.

All kinds of Canadians play this lousy game — not just with foreigners, but with our fellow citizens. Sooner or later, of course, you’re the one who ends up with the short end of the stick. For every Maritimer who thinks the $1 billion Canada has spent in Haiti since 2006 would have been better invested here “at home,” there is an Ontarian who thinks exactly the same thing about equalization.

You know the refrain. The pipeline of money flowing east should have been cut off a long time ago. The Maritimes are a basket case and always will be. Federal tax dollars should stay “at home” in Ontario or Alberta, where they will do much more good. Maritimers should be cured of their dependency on federal aid, just like Haitians should be cured of their addiction to foreign aid.

How long must I be my brother’s keeper? Ultimately, that is the question when it comes right down to it.

I prefer to ask a different one. What kind of country do I want to live in? One in which some provinces can’t afford decent hospitals, roads and schools because nobody cares to share the wealth, wherever it may be?

What kind of world do I want to live in? One in which far more Haitians die of hunger and disease because we are tired of their plight? Plus, we have bigger priorities and needs of our own up here, don’t you know?

Cherryism is cheap and easy. Charity is costly and hard.

Laurent Le Pierrès is a Chronicle Herald editorial writer and columnist