Monday, October 25, 2010

$1.6 billion aid given to Haiti. Why then is there cholera?

Cholera hits Haiti, 250+dead already, and hospital services are pushed to the limit with coping with cholera cases.

Why, in view of the massive amount of aid given?

After the earthquake on 12th January 2010, much aid money was promised and delivered.
A quick scan shows the following donations from governments.
  • $210m Brazil
  • $131m Canada
  • $104m Netherlands
  •  $48m USA
  • $33 UK
  • $14 France - which is pathetic, given that France imposed a crippling tax on the Haitians to "pay" for their independence.
Total from Governments: $540 million

Then we have the NGO/charity money. 23 major charities have given $1.1 Billion.

The total giving from charities amounts to $37,000 per displaced families.

Yet 95% of the rubble is uncleared, there are still human bodies rotting under the rubble, the displaced persons are still housed under canvas in tents that are now falling apart, and facing up to the hurricane season. And now they are facing cholera. Why?

There are many facets to this question.

One estimate is that only 2% of the promised money has actually been used.

There is also the bottleneck problem: aid effort cannot be delivered if there are no physical facilities to deliver it. This was a problem initially, with a bottleneck at the airport, caused in part by US military prioritising their people over real aid. 

Aid agencies can get in each others' way. There are more aid agencies in Haiti than in any other country on earth.

We need to learn from this problem; in particular, there needs to be standing regional aid coordination authorities.

Preventing Cholera

Let us focus here on the cholera. Not the treatment effort, but on its prevention. Aid agencies always warn of cholera and other water-borne diseases in these disasters. They know how to prevent it - make sure that faeces do not contaminate water supplies. This has not happened.

Why? Why are people still defecating on the open ground, where it runs off into surface water, from whence the cholera vibrio can jump onto skin, food and drinking water every time it rains?

Because there is no sanitation. Most Haitians had no running drinking water before the earthquake, let alone now. But this presupposes the Western, post-Crapper notion that it is a good idea to shit into water. I bet there are plans being drawn up as we speak to theoretically supply, by private contract, a Haiti-wide Western style sewerage system. Plans.

What the displaced Haitians need is low technology sanitation. A slit trench is better than open-ground defecation. It does what it says on the tin. A slit trench, a trench which you straddle, crap into, and then immediately cover the crap with the earth dug out of the trench. No smell, no flies - but there is a risk of groundwater contamination at a later date.

So the slit trench is a second best option. The best option is a compost toilet system. There are many models, but the one I favour and use is Joe Jenkins' Humanure system.

It requires
  1. One 5-gallon (20 litre) bucket, plastic or metal, per person.
  2. One compost heap per family.
That's all.  One bucket, one compost heap. The heap heats up with the theromophilic bacteria from the faeces, and pasteurises all the pathogens (disease causing organisms) within days or weeks. It takes a bit of instruction, a couple of buckets, a bit of carpentry to make the bucket more comfortable, and you're there.

The huge advantage is that after standing for a year, the compost can be recycled to the ground, immensely enhancing soil fertility.

There are Permaculture practitioners out there in Haiti working on this system. However, the problem is - theft of buckets. The answer to this problem is to flood Haiti with 5-gallon buckets, so that there is no scarcity, so no value to be stolen.

This effort would have reduced the probability of the present outbreak of cholera in a major way. It would have cost a miniscule percentage of the available budget. It would have created prosperity in the bucket manufacture industry. Yet it has not happened.

 Why has it not happened?

Because it is a low-technology, people based solution, and our "rulers" for want of a better term, think in terms of top-down, high tech "solutions". Right-wink US think tanks saw Haiti as an "opportunity". They have failed.

This is only one aspect of the Haiti disaster, but other solutions can similarly be brought through by people power, using the money available, delivered through the Haitian Government as part of a rapidly expanded public service sector. This would be flexible, surfing the wave of individual and collective inventiveness.

For instance, instead of living in tents, people could be building stone-wall housing using the rubble from the towns. This would create a social demand for the rubble, causing it to be cannibalised. It could use human power (the aid effort would need to supply thousands of hand carts). Architects could advise on making the walls optimally earthquake proof, but the flat stone construction would be intrinsically able to slip and absorb the lateral movement of an earthquake. The advantage of heavy thick walls would be resistance to hurricanes.

So, in essence, the wrong model has been brought to Haiti. We have not had a green approach, empowering and working with the ingenuity of local people, educating them in low impact technologies. Instead, it seems that we have had the Corporatist, Private Sector, we-will-do-it-for-you, top-down approach. And it has failed.

This blog on Haiti, 4 days after the earthquake.
This blog on  rebuilding a cohesive society in Haiti
Permaculture in Haiti.
Vid of Naomi Klein on the Shock Doctrine
Authoritative report from Partners in Health on Haiti  "great weakness in the public sector makes it exceedingly difficult to deliver basic services at significant scale"


Unknown said...

I imagine the infrastructure didn't happen after the quake as they didn't have any before the quake and some plans, no matter how much money you throw at it, don't work if people don't collectivise, and make it work. They could have had long drop latrines before, away from the water course, but that would involve collective action. Digging a big pit, away from water and throwing poo into it, or pooing into it, is not difficult! You would think? No?

DocRichard said...

Exactly! The key is to collectivise, to collaborate for the common interest.
It is the job of aid agencies to stimulate this work, organising the flow of money - of which there is no lack - and converting money into work.

There is a similar failure in creating democratic structures in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Panchayyat system is an excellent model for achieving this. Trouble is that the managers have a top-down approach.

Panchayyat is a nepali system, where 5 families elect a representative, then those 5 elect a representative, and so on until the rep can talk to Government. That way, information and organisation can flow both up and down.

Totti said...
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DocRichard said...

spam deleted.