Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti

Nigel Fisher Can’t Seem to Get the Facts Right

By Roger Annis, Haiti Liberte
September 30, 2010

As Deputy Special Representative on Haiti to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, Nigel Fisher’s inattention to the post-earthquake tragedy there is disturbing. It underscores other concerns about his prejudices against the national sovereignty of the country whose interests he is supposed to assist.

Mr. Fisher gave a keynote speech to the “First Annual Neglected Diseases Conference” at the University of British Columbia on Sep. 18. His talk reviewed conditions in Haiti eight months after the earthquake. Several hundred people were in attendance, including medical students and professionals and university professors. It was a largely upbeat presentation sounding out of whack with the realities on the ground as widely reported by journalists and medical professionals (including a doctor recently returned from Haiti to whom I spoke in preparing this report).

According to Mr. Fisher, food shortages and malnutrition in Haiti have been greatly overcome. But there are opposing and persistent reports from Haiti to the contrary – the occurrence of orange hair in children, for example, which is a telltale sign of malnourishment, is being reported; and there are published reports of ongoing malnutrition, including by Partners In Health and the French NGO, Action contre la faim.

A new report (http://ijdh.org/archives/14678) by the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti (IJDH) says that a recent survey of 52 families in six camps showed that 75% had at least one member who went without food for an entire day in the preceding week and 50% had at least one child similarly deprived. Some 44% of the families surveyed by the IJDH drank untreated water.

Entitled “‘We’ve Been Forgotten': Conditions in Haiti’s Displacement Camps Eight Months After the Earthquake,” the report says there are 1.3 million people living in 1,300 makeshift camps in and around Port au Prince. It outlines the legal and humanitarian duties of donor states. “At minimum, donor states have a duty to respect the human rights of all Haitians by adopting a rights-based approach to assistance,” the report says. “Instead, the July survey confirmed piecemeal coordination, sluggish aid, and inadequate protection of displaced Haitians… Aid has trickled to a halt in most camps.”

Mr. Fisher showed photos that accompanied his assertion that progress in establishing shelter for earthquake victims is being made. But his assertion is belied by the reports of many journalists and other observers in Haiti. He showed a photo of tent installations close to the Parc Jean Marie Vincent camp, a former sports stadium in the vicinity of Cité Soleil that is Haiti’s largest Internally Displaced Persons camp. Most of the estimated 75,000 residents in that camp do not have tents and have complained bitterly to authorities about this and other inadequacies. The tents that Mr. Fisher showed in his photo of a nearby camp are of poor quality, a serious problem throughout the earthquake zone.

The IJDH found that 78% of the families it surveyed in July did not have enclosed shelter.

In answer to a question from a student, following his conference presentation, Mr. Fisher said the average life expectancy in Haiti is 45 years. Wrong, it is 61 years. He also said that Haiti has the highest rate of HIV infection outside of Africa, at 2.2%. Wrong again – Suriname, Guyana and Barbados, at least, rank higher in the Western Hemisphere.

Unfortunately, getting the facts wrong on Haiti is not new for Mr. Fisher. As the President and CEO of UNICEF Canada, he has often been an interviewee of choice for opinion on Haiti by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC), before and after the earthquake. Mr. Fisher always sounds the refrain that “political instability” in Haiti is the main reason for its poverty and underdevelopment. This, of course, suggests that Haitians themselves are to blame for their plight. But any high school student with a minimum of research skills, let alone the head of a major UN agency or director of news programming for a national news broadcaster, can easily discern the reason for instability and poverty. It is none other than the decades, nay centuries, of brutal interference and exploitation of Haiti by its foreign overseers, starting with the colonial empires of France, Britain and Spain, then followed by the United States and, more recently, the latter’s junior partner, Canada.

A variant of Mr. Fisher’s outlook on Haiti is voiced by Paul Collier, another of the CBC’s favored commentators on Haiti. Mr. Collier says that the regime of near-starvation wages suffered by Haitian wage laborers is the key to the country’s potential for “progress.”

Mr. Fisher is no doubt pinning much hope for “stability” on the national “election/selection” (to use the term employed by many Haitians) to take place on Nov. 28 for Haiti’s presidency and legislature. The dire post-earthquake conditions as well as the banning of Haiti’s only large and representative political party, the Fanmi Lavalas of exiled President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, may well ensure scant voter turnout. Such was the case in the two-round partial senate election in April and June 2009 where Fanmi Lavalas was also banned. Voter turnout was less than 5%.

But that’s proving of no concern to the UN agencies in Haiti, nor to the other foreign powers, including Canada, that are presently directing Haiti’s future. With some honorable exceptions (though none in Canada), the election is nowhere mentioned in the mainstream media of those powers. This silence must end, and therein lies a considerable responsibility for all friends of Haiti in the coming weeks and months.

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