By Henry Brier
April 29, 2010, 12 a.m. – The U.S.-led relief effort in earthquake-torn Haiti fell under sharp criticism Wednesday eve as two non-government organizations drew down the largest stakeholder’s help, saving their praise for aid contributed by Cuba and Venezuela.
Manager-less refugee camps, sexual violence against women, spreading disease, and lack of drainage and sanitation are running rampant in the Caribbean nation, according to the representatives whose remarks
came from personal experience in Haiti and reports from fellow aid groups on the ground.
“Distribution of aid is not good. Many Haitians haven’t been served,” said Shaina Aber, associate advocacy director for Jesuit Refugee Services, who said she’ll be visiting in June. “Eighty percent of sanctioned camps have no camp managers. Camp residents have been asked to leave, but have not been given an alternative.”
The forum, “Standing in Solidarity with Haiti”, took place at the Embassy of Venezuela, where a photo exhibit also was on display under the auspices of CITGO and the Simon Bolivar Foundation, who have organized delivery of 250 tons of aid in response to the 7.0-magnitude
earthquake in the afternoon of January 12.
President Obama pledged $100 million in emergency relief and U.S. citizens have contributed more than $700 million in response to the natural disaster that has killed more than 230,000 and injured in excess of 300,000, according to TransAfrica Forum.
“There is no adequate distribution of goods,” said Nora Rasman, interim director of Latin America and Caribbean Policy of TransAfrica Forum, specifically citing USAID and the Defense Department. She said she visited in March and will be returning next week.
She said resentment for U.S. efforts is driven by food and shelter needs not being met, noting Meals Ready to Eat typically are not prepared or are over-saturated.
Aber said Cuba and Venezuela implement a different approach. While the U.S. angle is to push aside Haitian involvement in relief efforts, Cuba and Venezuela include Haitians in technical applications of aid.
Rasman said the U.S. agencies are not approaching the Haitians in advance, nor are they treating Haitians with dignity, both of which detract from the effort when compared to how Venezuela and Cuba are contributing to and handling the humanitarian response.
Aber’s suggestions include giving food to Haitians away from refugee camps so they do not end up going to and overpopulating the camps. She encouraged better coordination of distribution, as well as fully integrating Haitian women into management of the response. She also suggested enhancing drainage, sanitation and security needs. She said
lack of privacy is influencing the steady rise of sexual violence victimizing women.
But not everyone at Wednesday’s forum was critical. Bernardo Alvarez, the Venezuela ambassador to the United States, emphasized unity among nations involved in relief efforts. He said natural disasters happen and nations must respond to them.
“Because this is life, there is a need to keep going and to think of ways of keeping healthy in Haiti,” the ambassador said. “We need to work together. We need to really keep our presence there, start the process of gathering together, and try to imagine ways of keeping that
going on. Now is when the big job starts.”