On Friday, April 16th the Humpty Dumpty Institute (HDI), with support from the United Nations Foundation, hosted a senior Congressional staff delegation (see participant list) to Haiti to observe the UN’s relief efforts following the devastating earthquake of January 12, 2010. Upon arrival, the delegation was escorted to the UN logistics base in Port-au-Prince, where a series of briefings were held with officials from the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH).
The first group to brief the delegation included Directors of the Political and Civil Affairs units of MINUSTAH and the Chief of the Joint Mission Analysis Center (JMAC). Camps created for the internally displaced persons (IDPs) presented a major issue discussed during the briefing. A reality of the IDP camps is that only half of the people being provided for are ones whose homes and livelihoods were directly affected by the earthquake. The other half are poor Haitians who have suffered for years and are now migrating towards the camps to access clean water, free medical clinics, and food distribution. The UN aid money coming in must address this issue.
The second briefing to take place was on the subject of rule of law in Haiti and how the police forces, prisons, and prisoners have been affected by the devastating earthquake. The police coordinator and directors of the Justice and Corrections Unit briefed the delegation on issues faced with collapsed prisons, approximately 5000 escaped prisoners and what is being done to capture these prisoners. Mrs. Danielle Bouvoir from the Corrections Unit also went over priorities faced before the earthquake, among them were ways to deal with the pre-trial detention inmates, space inside the prison which had been deemed inhumane, and the lack of staffing inside prisons, which ultimately only allowed prisoners 20 minutes of time outside of their 5 square meter cell each day. The Corrections Unit is working on ways to rebuild better prisons. A representative of the Community Violence Reduction program also briefed the delegation about the program, which is in its third year. Mostly active in the slum areas, the program organizes activities such as dancing and theatre events to bring the community together, works toward preventing violence, and is helping to develop a legal aid program. This section is also working on a program to take prisoners outside their small cells.
A humanitarian briefing was the final morning meeting held at the UN logistics base. Issues that the humanitarian section faces with the IDP camps are overcrowding, sanitation, and preparations for potential floods with the beginning of the rainy season. Food distribution and free medical clinics, while necessary at first, could be harmful to the local economy if continued over time by putting local food markets and doctors out of business. Months after the earthquake, people are still coming to the camps to take advantage of these services and are afraid to return to their houses.
Following the MINUSTAH briefings, the delegation proceeded to the U.S. Embassy where a lunch briefing was held with the Counselors for Political Affairs and Public Diplomacy. The Acting Political Counselor discussed the upcoming elections as a crucial element for the reconstruction and rehabilitation of Haiti. Counselors from the Press Office discussed the importance of outreach to the Haitian press and that the United States needs to effectively communicate what the U.S. would like to see in the way of economic, political, and social development. The Deputy Director for the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and members of his staff also briefed the delegation on the continuing relief efforts.
The delegation visited the Tabarre Issa Camp after lunch, which had just been completed and people were to be moved into the camp the day after the delegation’s visit. At the camp, the delegation was greeted by a member of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) and an engineer from Concern Worldwide who went over the process of building the tents for a camp.
Prior to departing for the airport, the delegation was transported in UN vehicles through some of the destruction sites left in the aftermath of the earthquake, as well as several of the camps that continue to suffer from overcrowding.
Ms. LaVerne Alexander Office of Rep. Payne (D-NJ)
Ms. Stephanie Gidigbi Office of Rep. Payne (D-NJ)
Ms. Anna Gonzalez Office of Rep. Hastings (D-FL)
Ms. La’Tanta D. McCrimmon Office of Rep. Etheridge (D-NC)
Mr. Jason Steinbaum Office of Rep. Engel (D-NY)
Ms. Jennifer Van der Heide Office of Rep. Honda (D-CA)
Ms. Ann Vaughan Office of Rep. Lowey (D-NY)
Ms. Minh-Thu Pham UN Foundation
Mr. William Davis UN Information Center
Mr. Joseph Merante Executive Director, HDI
Ms. Capera Clement Program Manager, HDI
Ven. Miaohong Buddha’s Light International Association (BLIA)