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The death toll from cholera continues to rise in Haiti, even as the nation prepares for a major election November 28. In the latest in our special series on Haiti, we’ll hear about the spread of the disease and how it’s affecting the nation’s health infrastructure. We’ll also look at the politicking and promises being made as Haitians prepare to go to the polls.
- Julie Sell Spokesperson, American Red Cross in Haiti
- Sabri Ben-Achour Reporter, WAMU 88.5 News
- Wesley Laine Program Manager, International Action
- Johanna Mendelson-Forman Senior Associate, Americas Program, Center for Strategic and International Studies
MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood with the world. A week ago, we were in Port-au-Prince reporting on the first cholera cases in the city. One week later, the epidemic is spreading rapidly with more than a thousand deaths and at least 16,000 people who have fallen ill. In response, many Haitians are lashing out at the U.N., whose peacekeepers are being blamed by some for the outbreak, though that has not been confirmed. And many people are calling for a postponement of Haiti's presidential election scheduled for Nov. 28.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIIn this hour, we'll follow up on our special week of programming from Haiti and ask what can be done to prevent the violence that some fear is coming as Haitians deal with yet another crisis. Joining us by telephone from Haiti is Julie Sell, spokesperson for the American Red Cross in Haiti. Julie Sell, thank you for joining us.
MS. JULIE SELLThank you for having me.
NNAMDIAlso joining us by telephone from Haiti is Sabri Ben-Achour, who is a reporter with WAMU 88.5, who accompanied us on our trip there and stayed for a while. Sabri, thank you for joining us. Sabri Ben-Achour, can you hear me? Julie, let me start with you then. When we spoke with you last week in Port-au-Prince, cholera was just beginning to spread in the capital. How have things changed in the last week from your perspective?
SELLWell, the number of deaths and hospitalized cases continues to rise. It seems to have more than a thousand people have now been struck down by this disease, and over 15,000 hospitalized. You know, a week ago, it was still very much concentrated in the Artibonite area, north of Port-au-Prince. Since that time, it has continued to spread to other parts of the country. There are now more than a hundred deaths in Port-au-Prince. So the geographic area affected has grown very dramatically. And we are all continuing to work very hard to try to prevent the further spread.
NNAMDIIndeed, Red Cross workers have been going tent to tent, it's my understanding, to tell people how they can prevent cholera. But many people don't seem to have access to the basic tools -- namely, clean water and soap -- that can help them with this. Is there are way to really ramp up the resources needed to prevent a massive spread of this disease?
SELLWell, you're right. The Red Cross has really been on the frontlines of this response since the very beginning of the outbreak. And we're trying to address this in both short-term and long-term programming. In the short term, we've tried to get urgently needed supplies out most of cholera treatment centers to deal with people who have already been affected, also, very importantly, to work on prevention. As you mentioned, the team is going tent by tent, literally, for months, talking to Haitians in these camps about how to stay healthy and safe. With the cholera outbreak, we've focused our efforts on that messaging.
SELLYou know, just a few weeks ago, most people in Haiti didn't know what cholera was. I was out on a camp yesterday talking to vendors in the market and other people, and they are now all very aware of this. They understand what they need to do. It's not a difficult disease to prevent. We're talking about washing your hands and being careful about what you eat and drink. The Red Cross is supplying clean water. We provide over 660,000 gallons of clean water to people in Port-au-Prince every day. And has made more people in the capital now have access to clean water than did before the earthquake. We're also distributing soap and trying to work very hard on implementing this across the capital city.
SELLSo yes, there continue to be challenges. And I think it's interesting to note that the majority of the cases in Port-au-Prince so far have actually been in slum areas like Cite Soleil, which are not the camps' displaced earthquake victims, where so many NGOs are working. But just desperately poor parts of the city just don't have some of these services. But the NGOs are working so hard to survive.
NNAMDIJulie, has the Red Cross had to take particular security measures in response to some of the violence we've been heard -- we've been hearing about in various parts of Haiti, some of it apparently targeted against the UN and the international community in general?
SELLYou know, we're monitoring the situation very closely as you can imagine. The worst of violence has actually been on the north of the country, in Cap-Haitian, where you see demonstrations in Port-au-Prince in the last few days, but nothing really out of the ordinary for Haiti, particularly on the runoff to a presidential election. So of course we're watching it closely. You know, we are trying to avoid certain parts of the city as things heat up. But for the most part, we have been able to carry on with our programs. We're certainly urging all of our staff to be very vigilant about their own safety and, you know, hygiene in terms of cholera prevention. But as I say, this is not a difficult disease to treat or avoid if you take some simple, sensitive steps.
NNAMDIAny insight at all, Julie Sell, in what's likely to happen with the cholera situation in the weeks to come?
SELLWell, an official with the World Health Organization recently predicted that hundreds of thousands of people could catch this disease in the coming weeks and months. Obviously, we're all hoping that that doesn't occur. I think it's safe to say that this has not peaked, that the spread continues throughout Port-au-Prince, and we are all just working, you know, as hard as we possibly can to try and keep it under control. I will say that there are also are growing number of cholera treatment centers which are dedicated to working with victims. The Red Cross is funding and operating several of those. Because cholera is such a highly contagious disease, the hospitals and clinics are trying to keep cholera patients separated from the others to control the spread, and that's another area where we're working very hard.
NNAMDIJulie Sell is a spokesperson for the American Red Cross in Haiti. We spoke with Julie Sell when we were in Port-au-Prince last week. Julie, thank you for joining us. Joining us now is Sabri Ben-Achour. He's a reporter with WAMU 88.5, who traveled with us to Port-au-Prince, Haiti, and is still there. Sabri, thank you for joining us.
MR. SABRI BEN-ACHOURSure thing, Kojo.
NNAMDISabri, in Port-au-Prince, there are reports of bodies of cholera victims being left on the street in the slum of Cite Soleil in Port-au-Prince. Can you tell us about that?
BEN-ACHOURYeah. I did not see them myself, but I talked to many independent people who saw bodies in the streets in Cite Soleil. And, basically, you know, they're left there by family members who are just terrified of catching cholera, so they, you know, leave them out on the street. And allegedly, even the mayor of that region of Port-au-Prince refused to pick them up. No one would pick them up. And so it was the Ministry of Health -- the National Ministry of Health itself who had to come down with a car, put the people -- put the body in their car and drive them to the morgue themselves, basically, because no one will touch them. I went and talked to someone at the Ministry of Health who -- she couldn't confirm that exact story, but she confirmed that story writ large, and then she said welcome to my life over the past, you know, several weeks. You know, this is constantly happening. You know, even the local government refuse to touch the bodies out of fear, and so it falls to the Ministry of Health to go and do it. And they, you know, she says they're working on a sort of legal framework to make the local jurisdiction take more responsibility on that front.
NNAMDIYou visited several more camps for earthquake survivors after the rest of left Haiti. Describe the living situations in those camps and how people were responding to the concerns over cholera.
BEN-ACHOURWell, there's a variety of conditions. I mean, some people have soap. Some people didn't. Most of the camps had visited -- have been visited by someone with some sort of information on cholera, so many of them had a vague knowledge about the disease, and they need to, you know, watch their hands. And some people have received soap. Some people have not. Some people said, listen, we can't afford soap, and we don't have any. So, you know, it's sort of a mixture on that front. I will contrast that, well, with Cite Soleil, which I visited several times, and, you know, the level of knowledge there, as well as the deaths, I might add, are major issues, more so there. I mean, people don't know. Many people I talked to didn't know. You know, what is cholera? What causes it? Is it bad as AIDS, they asked me? Will, you know, putting toothpaste on my mouth prevent me from the bad air, you know, protect me from the bad air? So, you know, that I think NGOs are looking up to go in there, but they've -- that place is, as Julie said, is much worse off than the camps, I'd say.
NNAMDISabri, there have been outbreaks of violence in various parts of Haiti. Apparently, some of it targeted against the U.N. You sent us a clip this morning after you spoke to somebody about that. Here's what he had to say.
UNIDENTIFIED MANYo. If that's true, that's a crime against humanity. All right? If it's true, something like that happening, they better get ready because us Haitian people were not gonna accept it, man.
NNAMDIGo ahead, Sabri.
BEN-ACHOUROh, sorry. You know, that was Emmanuel Delan (sp?) who I ran into on the street during the protest in Port-au-Prince this morning. There -- it started just a couple of dozen people in front of the Ministry of Health complaining about those for Haiti's -- Haitian government's response to cholera but also, you know, squarely blaming the U.N. for the presence of cholera in the country. That -- they're sort of marching through the streets, and that picked up, I'd say, about 200 people. They ran into a truck full of U.N. soldiers, started pelting them with stones. The U.N. soldiers fired into the air and sort of sped off. Eventually, Haitian police tried to break up this protest. People were throwing rocks, lighting things on fire, just dragging anything they could into the street, lighting it on fire with gas. Haitian police, eventually, broke it up with teargas, which I experienced myself. It is unpleasant and -- anyway, that...
BEN-ACHOUR...it wasn’t a huge part as well.
NNAMDISabri, in the clip, we heard the individual say if this is true, has this risen beyond the level of rumor that somehow the U.N. peacekeepers are responsible for the cholera? Is there any scintilla of evidence indicating that it might be true?
BEN-ACHOURWell, the CDC and the state said they had traced this strain of cholera to a South Asian strain. So, you know, that's something that people point to, but at the same time, I mean, the level of, you know, globalized travel in this place, especially -- you know, who knows where it could have from? But, yeah, there's little slivers to say that it might true but...
NNAMDIYou've had a chance to get out of Port-au-Prince and see some of the countryside of Haiti. Describe, if you would, what life in the parts of the countryside that you visited is like and how it differs from the capital?
BEN-ACHOURWell, the first thing you see, I mean, it's just how -- you know, just realize just how crowded Port-au-Prince is. I mean, it's amazing how you're reminded of the utter density in the capital when you go to a place that, you know, has a normal amount of people or much fewer people. There are about 400 -- I'm sorry. There's about a million farmers in Haiti, most of them live very impoverished existences. I didn't get to see many of them, but that is a -- that's, you know, the poorest regions of Haiti and it's also the part that's suffering the most from cholera.
NNAMDIYou visited Saint-Marc where the cholera outbreak started, but you didn't get a chance there to stay there very long, did you?
BEN-ACHOURNo, I didn't. I didn't. I talked to a few people, you know, who sort of complained about the stress of a lot of people moving into that area after the earthquake. It, you know -- food was short. Money was short. You know, people left Port-au-Prince with very little money, and so when they arrived, they, you know, they had to move in with relatives. And that little bit of money had to be stretched even further, basically.
NNAMDISo there was not a positive economic impact from people moving from Port-au-Prince into the countryside as some may have expected.
BEN-ACHOURRight. Yeah. I know. I talked to some shopkeepers. I asked them that question and they said no, you know? It's the same method of buying power to people who are more...
BEN-ACHOURThat's why a lot of people went back.
NNAMDISabri Ben-Achour, thank you so much for joining us. Be careful.
NNAMDISabri Ben-Achour is a reporter with WAMU 88.5. He is still in Haiti. We're gonna take a short break. When we come back, we will talk about the future prospects for Haiti with our guests in studio. You can call us at 800-433-8850 with your questions or comments. You can go to our website, kojoshow.org. You can see photographs that we took while in Haiti. You can see some of the people we were working with when we were in Haiti and links to all kinds of stories and reports about Haiti. That's at our website, kojoshow.org, where you can also join the conversation. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWe visited Port-au-Prince, Haiti last week. This week, we're providing an update on the situation there and prospects for the future. Joining us in studio now is Johanna Mendelson-Forman, senior associate with the Americas Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. She accompanied us as an adviser on our trip to Haiti last week. Johanna, thank you once again for joining us.
MS. JOHANNA MENDELSON-FORMANThank you, Kojo.
NNAMDIAlso in studio with us is Wesley Laine. He is program manager with International Action, an aide organization working on water issues in Haiti. We interviewed him from Port-au-Prince last week. Good to have you in studio here this week, Wesley. Thank you for joining us.
MR. WESLEY LAINEThank you for having me.
NNAMDIJohanna, when we were in Port-au-Prince, we could feel the tension and frustration over the number of people living in camps and over the fear of cholera. But interestingly enough, we've mostly seen that tension explode into violence in other parts of the country, not Port-au-Prince. Why do you think that is?
MENDELSON-FORMANWell, first of all, I think it's early in the epidemic, and the explosion in the North, I think, is a reflection of the proximity to some of the peacekeeping troops that were actually in that area. There's -- and I think the other issue, which is important, is the proximity to the border with the Dominican Republic in the North. There have been cases reported in the North, and also cases now in the Dominican Republic and even one reported case in Florida confirmed yesterday. So the sense of people in the North who, in many ways, were not affected as greatly by the earthquake but have been affected by the outpouring of people from Port-au-Prince, perhaps this combination of factors in urban migration to (unintelligible) affected them.
NNAMDIAnother possible factor, Wesley, when we were in Port-au-Prince and the main streets were invariably crowded with traffic, a lot of Haitians said, you know why they're crowded? Because all of those NGOs, those 14,000 NGOs here and all of those U.N. peacekeepers, their SUVs and vehicles are what's crowding up. There seems to be a certain, on the one hand, appreciation of help, but on the other hand, a certain resentment about the number of foreigners, in their view, clogging up the roadways.
LAINEWell, I mean, there is a resentment, and that resentment comes from the fact that the Haitian population feels that the NGOs, many NGOs and also the U.N. troops, are out of touch with them, what -- with their needs and their wants. And I always say we should give them a hand up and not a hand out. And all -- the people of Haiti feel that the U.N. also has maybe stepped out of bounds a little bit. I think that the U.N. troops, like we talked with your reporter earlier who said that, there is no sure evidence that the U.N. brought cholera to Haiti, but there are photographs circulating, showing them in the Artibonite River dumping some substance, some foreign substance that we're not sure of. But with that river being the bread basket of Haiti, you can see that the people are furious because for them, that's a line that the U.N. should not have crossed. So we see resentment because the people feel that the troops are not in touch with them. They're not, you know, they're not -- there is no relationship between the U.N. and the Haitian population.
NNAMDIThe U.N. has been the target of a lot of criticism in recent days. The cholera crisis seems to have sparked some of that, as we mentioned earlier, but there also seems to be an underlying tension that may have existed before the outbreak. Johanna, do you think the U.N. could be doing a better job in terms of the way it interacts with Haitians? They seem to be forced into a situation of taking things on the fly.
MENDELSON-FORMANWell, I think the U.N., often, is an easy target for a variety of reasons. This is probably the ninth time they've been back to Haiti. And the U.N. often has a mandate, which not only includes the security, which it is maintaining for the country because there is no army and the police force is not complete, but it also has a development mission if one reads the mandate that was approved by the U.N. Security Council in October. And I think it's this that causes the controversy in that Haitians, I think, are a very self-sufficient people, who would like to get ahead with their lives after this earthquake. And yet, you have a U.N. mandate, which is a mandate of the international community, to help support this development, to help run what is a very fragile government. So it's a situation where the U.N. often is put in a position where it can't win, and yet, it's performing essential services.
NNAMDIWe spoke during our time in Port-au-Prince with Amb. Edmond Mulet, the head of the U.N. peacekeeping mission, and he gave us a sense of the security situation in the Haitian capital since the earthquake.
AMB. EDMOND MULETWell, we have to be reminded that the day of the earthquake, 5,200 inmates from the National Penitentiary escaped. Although the ones we had arrested three years ago gang leaders and we have criminals. And we know that they are not mechanics, nor carpenters. They are bandits and criminals and that's what they do in life. And they've been trying to reorganize themselves to assert control of some neighborhoods, to extort money from people, from businesses. Again, going back to raping and robbing and stealing and assaulting. So we have seen a rise in criminal activities. But not only in the camps, so I'm gonna say, all over the city. But nothing worst than what we saw in 2007, 2008, beginning of 2009. So the numbers are really -- I mean, it’s worse than what we had at the end of 2009, but not much worse than what we had two years ago.
AMB. EDMOND MULETAnd since the earthquake, we have been able to arrest a lot of those escapees from the National Penitentiary, some of the important gang leaders. And the pressure is there. We have these every other day operations, not only in the camps, but also in all the neighborhoods in Port-au-Prince. We have been arresting people collecting arms and we have also established permanent positions in 10 of the most important camps in Port-au-Prince. We have 1,300 camps in Port-au-Prince of all sizes. So you understand that it's very difficult to provide permanent protection to all of them. But in the most important ones, the larger ones, we have a permanent presence of U.N. police and Haitian National Police also.
NNAMDIThat was Amb. Edmond Mulet, head of the U.N. peacekeeping mission. We spoke with him last week in Port-au-Prince. You can see or hear the entirety of that interview if you go to our website, kojoshow.org., where you can also join the conversation. Wesley Laine, you wanted to comment?
LAINEYes. I mean -- now, what I like to say that I know -- understand the ambassador's fears. But the same allegations when I was in Haiti that talking to my own people, they've made the same allegations, again, the U.N. as well. They said that they were stealing the goats and cows from the farmers. They're raping the Haitian women as well. So we can't just say that -- we have to look at both sides not just the Haitian's side, but also the U.N.'s side. I'm not saying that the ambassador himself is responsible, no. But the person there on the ground must be disciplined as well when they act up as well.
NNAMDIAllow me to go to the telephones, to Lavern in Washington, D.C. Lavern, you are on the air. Go ahead, please.
LAVERNYeah. Hi, Kojo. I would like to address the cholera issue and the outbreak and where it started. And I recall about two weeks before this occurred, there was a report on the Al Jazeera Network, where the Nepalis contingent had built their toilet facilities right next to a water source, and it contaminated the water source. They tried to deny it. The Al Jazeera crew went in with their cameras. They described the physical condition. They described the stench, and they described it as a leakage from the toilet facilities into a water source, a water source that people were using. No one has addressed this. No one has that -- this would possibly be aware where it's coming from. Everyone is trying to shove it under the rug. I would love for someone to contact Al Jazeera and see where this investigation came from and what it could have possibly led to.
NNAMDIA couple of things, Lavern, ever since the earthquake, there has been the fear of cholera in Haiti because the lack of appropriate clean water.
NNAMDISo even though there have been these reports, the fact that the fear existed from the very beginning indicated that there were conditions already in existence in Haiti, conditions that could not be properly controlled, which could ultimately lead to cholera. The second aspect of that is, what at this point, do you think should happen if perchance it is revealed that a U.N. peacekeeper may have been the source of the cholera?
NNAMDIYou seem to be suggesting that the U.N. should therefore leave?
LAVERNNo, no, no, no, no. I'm not saying that. I'm just saying take responsibility.
LAVERNIt was not intentional. But if that's the case, it's almost as if accusing the Haitian people of saying something that is not true or is not possible, as if they're crazy for saying that, someone else that...
LAVERNAnd it could possibly be the U.N. that is responsible. But also, I have an issue with -- I have heard nothing positive coming out of Haiti in terms of progress. I have not...
NNAMDIWell, clearly, you didn’t hear our reports last week because we talked a great deal last week about progress coming out of Haiti. Did you actually listen to all of our broadcasts last week?
LAVERNI couldn't. My time doesn't allow it. But, in general, not just from your report, but...
LAVERNI don't hear any...
NNAMDIOur guest, Wesley Laine was in this studio last week. As we mentioned earlier, he works with International Action, which is an aid organization working on water issues in Haiti, and he is anxious to speak.
LAINEWait, oh, Lavern, you're right. The Haitian people have a right to know where this came from. Okay, now, that's one issue. But now, let's also focus on how we can save those folks from dying. I think that should be the number one priority. The second priority, let's not -- we're not putting it under the rug, but we'll address it later. And they have a right and that's their right to know that, and I support that right. But now let's -- the death toll has topped 1,000. Let's stop those folks from dying first before we point a finger.
NNAMDIThank you very much for your call, Lavern. We move on to Gary in Sterling, Va. Gary, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
GARYGood afternoon. I'd like to say that RID-X, if you mix it with water and it's enough to make, like, over 200 gallons of treatment becomes a -- and RID-X is essentially just yeast. And yeast water will turn sewer water -- opaque sewer water that's turbid and everything, in just two or three days, it'll turn it clear and it'll be smelling sweet. And it kill -- and it acts like a bacterial digesting. And it's really cheap. You could...
NNAMDINow, let me...
GARY...backpack sprayers, you know, pump sprayers and have people going around...
NNAMDILet me put you in the hands of the expert, Wesley Laine. He's our water guy. Wesley?
LAINEThank you for your suggestion. But also go to our website, haitiwater.org. That's haitiwater.org. And you can see the chlorine technology we're using and that's the way we're -- that's what we want for the country is a national chlorination of the water in the country.
NNAMDIThank you very much for your call, Gary. Johanna Mendelson and you Wesley, what do you think is the likelihood that we'll see more violence in the coming days? Is it in your view related to the U.N. presence there or more to the upcoming election?
MENDELSON-FORMANWell, I think it's a combination of factors that creates a perfect storm for panic and violence. You have population that was severely affected on January 12th by an earthquake that killed the quarter of million people and left up million and half homeless in Port-au-Prince alone. You see progress, but it's sporadic. It's not consistent. For the most part, you have a government that hasn't been communicating well with its citizens. And the Radio 32 or rumor factory adds to that as they say in Haiti. So you have the potential for much more explosive violence because of the disinformation or misinformation that continues to be a problem that's plagued in Haiti not just in this period but is compounded by the crisis that they're facing at this moment.
NNAMDIWhat do you think, Wesley?
LAINEWell, for once, I'd say that I think my people are protesting not being violent. Because so far, I think two Haitians have died and no U.N. peacekeepers have died. So that's peace -- say that they're protesting. And second, the protest -- the reason why there's a protest because they've given us a reason to protest. The behavior of the peacekeepers and also with the behavior of some NGOs, sure, but also with the election, I think that people in Haiti are also mad about the elections as well. They haven't seen a candidate who is willing to -- who has really been willing to say, okay, let's be -- let's stand us with either with you and the camps and let's rise up and let's put our country -- let's move our country forward from this natural disaster that, you know, that's affected us so well. I mean, but really, it's too many factors, Kojo, to point out one issue. But I think my people have a right to protest. And I think this protest -- this -- the democratic rights, I think, is a good thing for the country that they're protesting.
NNAMDIWell, let's talk about that for a second. Because it seems that there's a real conflict between short-term goals and long-term goals in Haiti. In the short term, the U.N. and aid agencies are -- or seem to be absolutely essential to providing security, water and shelter to Haitians. But in the long term, many people feel that this system has essentially created a parallel state, which means that the Haitian government never gets the resources or the pressure to stand up on its own. How do we work through that?
MENDELSON-FORMANWell, I think this is the essence of a dilemma in the whole system of aid delivery. And it's not only in Haiti but it's in other countries that are developing where there is a recognition that we are so focused on the short term that the sustainability of progress is very much dependent on training and capacity building of Haitians themselves. And that factor has been, of course, affected by the earthquake, but it's not constant. For example, the education system in Haiti that we discussed last week, 80 percent of the school system is private. That eliminates half the school age children in Port-au-Prince, because they have no resources to send children to school, whereas in the past, it was public.
MENDELSON-FORMANSo the basic things that you need to build a nation are not yet in place. And I think that is part of the disillusionment with aid, with NGOs. And, of course, you need to support health systems. Of course, you need to support water. And I wanna remind people that Haiti has no functioning sewerage system. There is no -- in all the money that's been built, there is no sewerage system there. So we have to take that into consideration.
NNAMDIWesley, would -- how crucial do you think are these upcoming elections on November 28th, in terms of dealing with those issues that Johanna just talked about?
LAINEWell, I always taught people that it's the most important election of my generation.
LAINEBecause we've never had -- we've never dealt with such a magnitude of -- this disaster is so big and with Cholera, with the -- before the earthquake, we were already poor, and imagine after the earthquake, in situation that we're in. So this president will have a chance to completely rebuild the whole infrastructure, political infrastructure, the health care infrastructure. He will have a chance to -- he or she will have a chance to do something that's never been done in Haiti before. But at the same time, I'm supporting the voice of some of my colleagues and some of my companions that are calling for a postponement of the election because the people of Haiti right now are not so -- they're not so focus on the election because they're dealing with so much. And there's a greater chance for opacity and fraud if the voices of the people are not heard. It's one thing to go and build this fancy election booth and everything, but it's another thing to get those folks dying of Cholera to come out and vote. So I...
NNAMDISo you're calling for a postponement. You think for how long? Because all of the experts seem to feel it'll take up to a year to stabilize the Cholera epidemic. So you're saying elections in November of 2011?
LAINEI wouldn't say that far long but a few months would do.
NNAMDIJohanna, November 2011? What do you think would be lost or gained by postponing the elections for that long?
MENDELSON-FORMANWell, I don't see the conditions yet to stop the election. So I don't -- I respectfully understand the critical nature of this election, but I also think there's a competition that's going on that is very much alive and active, and people have to take action. If the conditions worsen, if the epidemic gets worse, certainly that's gonna be a call that is made with the Haitian government and with the international community. But right now, you already have a government that really is about to expire. Preval's term will expire in February. A third of the Senate's term is already over and there hasn't been a functioning Senate, the entire House or Assembly has to be elected plus local elections. So, you have a lot of things at stake for a fair and open system that must be respected. And I think one of the features of this election and an important one is you do have real competition. You have 19 candidates. You have a lot of political parties, a lot of diversity of ideas, a youth -- ranging from a young crowd to an older crowd, who is going to vote. And I think this will provide some legitimacy and confidence if you want to achieve, what my colleague says here, a stable government in Haiti that can take over from the NGOs and the U.N.
NNAMDIHere is Michelle in Silver Spring, Md. on the election. Michelle, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
MICHELLEYes. Good afternoon and thank you for taking my call. I want to say that the people are suffering. They have been suffering since January. Anybody think they're ready to go out and to vote right now, they are angry. They're living on the streets and they are dying. Can anybody really care about the election right now? They did not elect Preval for the first time. They never elect anybody, so Preval, you know, doesn't care about them. If Preval -- do we have a leader in Haiti? Can this be (unintelligible)
NNAMDIWell, let me raise this question, Michelle, with -- let me raise this question both with you and with Wesley. If the elections are postponed, are you not in fact keeping the country in the hands of the NGOs and the U.N. for an indefinite period of time?
LAINEWell, I think the election should be postponed with the idea that we need to -- those countries who pledged with Haiti need to start giving some funds to the government to start getting those people from those tents to temporary housing because...
MICHELLEWe cannot have any election. As long as...
LAINEBut I think it's...
NNAMDIOkay, one at a time. Here's Wesley.
LAINEI think it's so ridiculous as people are living under tarps and tents -- sheets, not real tents, sheets -- to go and vote when they're being soaked from rain and dying in cholera...
NNAMDISo you're saying that in that circumstances, the resources should be put in the hands of the Preval government until such time as an election is called.
LAINEWell, none had said in the hands of Preval government, but, for example, more money for the Ministry of Health to deal with this cholera crisis, more money for the entities that are...
NNAMDIYeah, but 28 of 29 Ministries went down after the earthquake. Is there a functioning bureaucracy in place in the absence of an election that can handle this right now? Or do you -- as I suggested earlier -- still have to depend largely on the U.N. and NGOs?
MENDELSON-FORMANThe ministries actually are under this interim Haitian reconstruction commission...
NNAMDIYes. Thank you.
MENDELSON-FORMAN...which was set up for 18 months to provide that gap filling measure. That is into long-term solution, but in fact there are government ministries helped by international communities working. So, it's a misnomer to think that there's nobody home. But a lot of the questions that we've asked people on the ground in Haiti is when are we gonna see these new transitional homes, when are we going to see the use of the aid? And many people, preface that, even with what the politicians just saying, let's wait until after the elections so we can deliver it. Well, that's not hope to people who are sitting without roofs over their head or without food.
LAINEI think I agree because...
LAINEI agree. (unintelligible)
NNAMDIAnd, Michelle, thank you -- well, Michelle, you get the last word. (laugh)
MICHELLEOkay. As long as we have those people on the street dying, they don't have a place to live, we cannot have election.
NNAMDIOkay. Thank you very...
MICHELLEAnd they don't trust anybody, so...
NNAMDIThey don't trust anybody?
MICHELLEWill you trust somebody in such a condition? Would you?
NNAMDIHow about the 19 candidates who are running for President?
MICHELLEWe have too many. Why do we need 19 anyway?
MICHELLEWe have too many.
LAINEThat's a great point. We have too many.
MICHELLEWe have too many.
NNAMDISome people would say, well, that's what competition is all about. We've got to take a short break. When we come back, we will continue our conversation on Haiti with Wesley Laine and Johanna Mendelson-Forman. We'll take your calls at 800-433-8850 or you can go to our website not only to join the conversation, but to see complete interviews that we conducted in Haiti and photos that we took while we're there. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWe visited Port-au-Prince, Haiti last week. This week, we're providing an update on the situation there. Joining us in studio is Wesley Laine, who joined us from the studios last week. He joins us again this week. He is program manager with International Action and Aid Organization working on water issues in Haiti. And Johanna Mendelson-Forman, a senior associate with the Americas Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. She accompanied us as an advisor on our trip to Haiti last week. Let's talk in more detail about water, Wesley, because...
NNAMDI...clean water is so essential, especially now with cholera spreading in Haiti, the outbreak that began in Artibonite, in that region of the country. How do people in that area and other more rural parts of Haiti get access to water?
LAINEWell, first and foremost, I must say that clean water is a fundamental human right. It's the right of the people of Haiti to have access to clean water, not just water because the myth is that clear water is clean water.
LAINERight. That's a myth. So when I was in Haiti, I'll tell you that in the Artibonite region, the Artibonite River is the main source for drinking water in Artibonite, in the whole area, the whole department. But also there are several reservoirs that feed communities of 10,000, 15,000, 20,000 people. And these reservoirs, they go into different communities, and people will actually make the trip maybe two, three, four five miles, and they go get water from those reservoirs. And those reservoirs were actually -- they were not treated by anything. But -- it was just clear water. That's one.
LAINEAnd Port-au-Prince, people were getting water from these water kiosks and also getting them from vendors who are selling them on the street. And lastly, they're getting from people that are -- that own reservoirs in their homes and selling it at a retail price. And -- but the thing is none of these -- we don't know if this water is treated, if it's not treated. All we know is that it's -- there's access to it. But this cholera outbreak has taught us a valuable lesson that clear water is not clean water. So we need to have a national technology -- national chlorination technology for Haiti. Yeah.
NNAMDISo those people that we saw in the camps, who are filling up buckets from big trucks that came by to deliver water, and that, apparently, is the way a lot of people may be most -- people in the camps are getting water. That water may be clear. It is not necessarily clean.
LAINENot necessarily, unless it's been treated before it was put into those trucks. We don't know. It's -- that's inconclusive.
NNAMDIAnd people are often paying for that water.
LAINEOh, they have to pay for it, and that's money that they don't have. So they're pretty much paying for their own deaths by buying water that's not treated.
NNAMDIHere is Kimberly in Washington, D.C. Kimberly, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
KIMBERLYThank you. Good afternoon and thank you so much for having me on. I belong to an organization called Global Sustainable Partnership and we have been trained by CAWST. It's called the certified -- Centre for Affordable Water and Sanitation Technology. And it is a biosand filter that actually cleans 99 percent of the bacteria and the parasites. And we have partnered with Project Handclasp, and the Navy has actually delivered 30 pallets of these biosand filters into Port-au-Prince. Now the problem is, 20 of those pallets have already been earmarked through an organization called Pure Water for the World. But there's an additional 10 pallets of 120 water purifiers that have not been earmarked. I've been trying to get down there because I can actually install those water purification systems, and I've been trying to call everybody that I know. I've actually even talked to some people at International Action. But because I'm not a member, I haven't been able to get through. And I understand that there's a lot of things...
LAINEWell, you didn't speak to me.
KIMBERLY...going on. But, you know, there is a great opportunity to be able to provide clean drinking water just by using these biosand filters down there. And, you know, I really need some help to...
NNAMDIWell, Kimberly, among the people you may not have spoken with at International Action is Wesley Laine. Here he is now.
LAINERight. Right. Well, let me just say that, first and foremost, that we're working directly with the Haitian government's water agency, and that's very important because that's a Haitian issue and it must be worked with the Haitian government's water agency. And International Action is working with them and they're supporting the chlorination technology because, especially during this outbreak, chlorine-treated water is very important. Now, you can always send me an e-mail, email@example.com, and I would love to talk to you. But for the time being -- and I think I'll stretch is about -- stress this fact that we don't wanna build a parallel state in Haiti. We wanna work with the Haitian government for the people of Haiti. So that's very important.
NNAMDII'm glad you mentioned you're working with the Haitian water agency. What's needed to help that agency and actually create a real water infrastructure for Haiti?
LAINEWell, one of the key things that they're lacking is resources -- funds and also personnel, people that are trained in that technology. They need more plumbers, more water experts to go and identify -- for example, the reservoir, it's hard to identify them in those remote locations where, you know, no one has ever been there before. So I think more resources for them and more resources for us would be wonders.
NNAMDIKimberly, did you get Wesley's e-mail address?
KIMBERLYI did not. He said it so fast. Can you give it to me again, please?
LAINEYeah. It's Wesley, W-E-S-L-E-Y, @haitiwater.org.
NNAMDIWesley@haitiwater.org. Kimberly, thank you very much for your call. You, too, can call us at 800-433-8850 with your questions or comments about Haiti. Johanna, let's go back to the upcoming presidential election for a second because it has been mentioned that there are 19 candidates running for president, and both Wesley and our previous caller feel that's too many. Whether that's so or not, we saw all the political posters all over Port-au-Prince last week. Give us a snapshot of the frontrunners in this race and what the outcome would mean both for Haitians and for relations with the rest of the world and the U.S.
MENDELSON-FORMANWell, if we based it on snapshots alone, we'd already know who a winner was because one of the candidates, Jude Celestin, has more posters per mile than anybody else.
MENDELSON-FORMANBut I don't think we can base it just on the weight of posters and the money being spent on them. According to some polls that were done most recently by Economic Forum, one of the polling agencies in Haiti, Mirlande Manigat, the ex-first lady of Haiti, seems to be a frontrunner with a 30 percent lead over Celestin to his 22 percent. Obviously, these are just polls, but that's a nice spread. The other runner is either Alexis, who was a former prime minister, or depending on how you count, someone who is a well-known singer in Haiti, Michel Martelly...
MENDELSON-FORMAN...who is otherwise known as Sweet Micky. But the problem is, in Haiti, the law requires a majority. And with 19 candidates, this assures you to have a runoff. Now, Haiti in the last years since the end of the Duvalier dictatorship has -- the international community has spent $230 million on elections. So for the purposes of doing another runoff, which will also cost the international community money, it's important to move forward. And it's important to have a process which is gonna let these candidates actually speak out and have an opportunity.
MENDELSON-FORMANBut those are the frontrunners. There are many valuable and good candidates. The youth vote, interestingly enough, seems not to be going to Sweet Micky but to Celestin. He's a 48-year-old. On the other hand, Manigat, who is 70 years old, seems to be the Ellen Sirleaf-Johnson of Haiti. She's an older woman, a PhD, vice rector of university, and she inspires confidence. So that tells us a lot about women candidates in general in a country that's been very masculine.
NNAMDIWesley Laine, of course, there are polls and then there is Scuttlebutt on our Politics Hour every Friday. We deal in Scuttlebutt a lot. The Scuttlebutt in Haiti, from what we could gather while we were there, is that if Wyclef Jean had run, he would have won hands down.
LAINEYou just read my mind.
LAINEBut must say that (unintelligible) with Wyclef, so I am biased a little bit, but believe me when I say that Wyclef Jean would have won, not only because he has the support of the youth, but genuinely in his heart. That's one thing we haven't seen. I think most of the politicians have not grasp the concept of public service, what it means to be a public servant. And I think Wyclef would have been the perfect candidate that would have brought this message to the Haitian population. And also let's not forget that Charles Baker, who was a strong businessman in Haiti, he also has some of the youth. And he also has on -- in some polls, they had him leading as well. But hands down, Kojo, Wyclef Jean.
NNAMDIYes, we report Scuttlebutt too. Johanna, this is probably the most challenging moment, as Wesley was saying earlier, the most important election in his generation for president no matter who wins it. If you could write a to-do list, each of you, for the next Haitian leader, where would you start?
MENDELSON-FORMANWell, I'd start with obviously getting legitimacy which has to be by tangible results. And the most tangible results will be to clean up the rubble, to make sure that people are not living in makeshift housing, that they use the resources -- there was close to $5.9 billion pledged in March 2010 at the U.N. Let's start using this resource and put people in housing. Let's give them a government that they can have a confidence in. And let's give them security so the U.N. can lead. Those would be my four priorities. And then I'd go to infrastructure simultaneously because there's enough money to build roads and to purify water.
MENDELSON-FORMANThe good news of this election is that whoever wins will not be coming to a bankrupt state because of the international pledges. The challenge will be to guardian this money to ensure that it's spent and not stolen. And I think that will be the test for everybody.
NNAMDIYour turn, Wesley.
LAINEAs a Haitian, first and foremost, I would like to tell the candidate -- whoever becomes president, please, to stop stealing money from my people. The corruption has to stop, because if they steal the money, then they can't do any other things on my list, which is housing. Please get those folks out of the tents. I'm tired of seeing my people in those tents. Education for the kids. And please include a diaspora in the reconstruction of Haiti because we have a lot to offer. That's something...
NNAMDIYou don't just wanna be an ATM.
LAINEAnd -- oh, and clean water for the people, please. That's a basic fundamental right that should not be lacking in a country that's so -- we are so close to United States that, you know, we should be able to use some of the knowledge we have here and get clean water for the people of Haiti.
NNAMDIIn terms of both the cholera outbreak and the election, the next few weeks promise to be significant ones for Haiti, but since we've talked about the election at some length, any insight that either of you can provide of what you think is going to happen and what you'd like to see happen with the cholera epidemic.
MENDELSON-FORMANWell, obviously the spread of cholera into the Dominican Republic is not a good sign and the spread into Florida is even more devastating. I think the most important things at this point are to ensure that public education is continued in Creole so that people understand the dangers, as our colleague from the Red Cross said at the outset of this hour, it's not a hard disease to control. And that's what we have to focus on right now. We don't want an epidemic, but we also don't wanna waste our time pointing fingers and blame. We wanna save people's lives, and that's the goal.
LAINERight. First thing I would say is that the NGOs on the ground, please start listening to the people of Haiti in what -- in how they would like to take care of the situation, the cholera situation, because they have a lot to offer as well. And second, I like to say that we should emphasize the need for educating the people about cholera, because when I was in Haiti, most people did not know what cholera was. And that's not their fault, because we have not seen this illness in the so long in Haiti. So that -- please educate the folks. And if you're going to do something, for the people of Haiti, for example, and International Action has a soap project that we're launching, buy it in Haiti. You know, don't -- if you bring things that we already have in Haiti onto the market, you're only hurting our local vendors more and economically hurting us. So empower us by buying things in Haiti and doing things with us, not just for us.
NNAMDIWesley Laine is program manager with International Action and NATO organization working on water issues in Haiti. Wesley, thank you for joining us.
LAINEThank you. It's a pleasure.
NNAMDIJohanna Mendelson-Forman is senior associate with the Americas Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. Johanna, always a pleasure. Please go to our website, kojoshow.org, and you can see a lot more about Haiti there. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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