Progress has been made but participation by grassroots Haitian groups and U.S. and Haitian oversight are needed to fully overcome the devastation
NEW YORK, NY- American Jewish World Service (AJWS), the leading Jewish international human rights and development organization, released the following statement on the fourth anniversary of the earthquake that devastated Haiti on January 12, 2010. Since the earthquake, AJWS has granted more than $5.3 million to 66 Haitian and international organizations working in Haiti.
“Haitians are still suffering from the incalculable damage caused by the earthquake that struck Haiti four years ago,” said Ruth Messinger, president of AJWS. “Tragically, there are hundreds of thousands living in tent camps, with little or no access to potable water or basic health services, and Haiti is facing an impending food crisis.
“Grassroots Haitian organizations, which understand the problems of Haiti, hold the key to success, yet they have been almost uniformly excluded from the decision-making processes governing the post-earthquake international humanitarian response. That the opinions of these grassroots organizations have largely been ignored is a great failure by the international community. It is these local heroes who can help the country overcome seemingly insurmountable devastation.
“While a significant amount of U.S. government resources were committed to help the country rebuild, a lack of transparency has created barriers to understanding how the government funds are being used and how recovery is truly progressing in Haiti. We applaud Congresswoman Barbara Lee for introducing the Assessing Progress in Haiti Act and urge the Senate to follow the House in quickly passing this critical piece of legislation to ensure that U.S. dollars are spent in responsible ways that create long-term, positive change in Haiti. AJWS is committed to standing with our grantees and the Haitian people as they work to build a Haiti where the rights of those living in poverty are respected,” said Messinger.
If passed, the bi-partisan Assessing Progress in Haiti Act would assist Congress in overseeing U.S. assistance in Haiti by providing lawmakers, the U.S. public and Haitians with key details on the manner in which U.S. reconstruction funds are being spent, in order to create long-term, positive changes in Haiti.
In the six months after the earthquake, AJWS raised $6.2 million from more than 28,000 donors to support recovery in Haiti, $5.3 million of which has been disbursed to date. These funds supported projects that strengthen infrastructure, empower marginalized communities, develop Haitian leadership and build the capacity of grassroots organizations. It also supported rapid response efforts to emergencies like the cholera epidemic by bolstering organizations with long-standing ties and experience in their communities. Specifically, AJWS supported:
- Defenders of the Oppressed (Défenseurs des Opprimées, DOP) and Force for Reflection and Action on Housing (Fos Refleksyon ak Aksyon sou Koze Kay, FRAKKA), which worked in the internally displaced persons camps to bring claims against forced evictions, and to support camp residents in organizing and advocating for their rights. DOP and FRAKKA continue to organize displaced people, document violations and advocate for the rights of those living in displacement camps.
- Fanm Deside (Women Decide), which organized meetings in the displacement camps to provide psychological support to earthquake survivors. A year after the earthquake, Fanm Deside commenced construction of the Centre Magalie pour la vie (Magalie Center for Life), a safehouse for women in Jacmel, one of the areas hit hardest by the earthquake. The first of its kind in the southeast area of Haiti and one of only a few safe houses in the whole country, the facility provides temporary shelter to 20 women and children.
- Partnership for Local Development (PDL), which helped rural communities set up a cash-for-work program whereby families displaced by the earthquake were paid to learn and implement new agricultural, ecological and disaster risk reduction techniques for farming in the communities that received more than 600,000 people displaced by the earthquake.
- Fondation SEROvie, which was the only lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) organization in Haiti in 2010. Its office was destroyed and 14 members and staff were killed during the earthquake. AJWS provided initial funds for SEROvie to rebuild its office and to support to LGBT people who lost their homes during the earthquake. SEROvie continues to provide employment training and critical health services to LGBT people in the displacement camps through its clinic.
In addition to working for the passage of the Assessing Progress in Haiti Act, AJWS’s advocacy over the past four years has contributed to increased government funding for relief and reconstruction in Haiti, and connected Haitian organizations with U.S. and international humanitarian and government decision-makers. AJWS has promoted practices that will advance Haiti’s development in ways that are focused on benefiting the most marginalized members of society. AJWS is currently working with other Haiti advocacy organizations to:
- Encourage funders to spend more of their resources in Haiti to create jobs, build Haitian capacity and spur other Haitian employment opportunities
- Urge the United Nations to take responsibility for the outbreak of cholera, ensure that the cholera elimination plan is fully funded, and provide a just solution for the over 8,500 Haitians who have already died from the epidemic
- Ensure that the international community and Haitian government protect the rights of Haitian workers by complying with minimum wage laws and safeguarding advocates for human rights, many of whom have been subject to violence and intimidation.
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David L. Marcus