After Two Bans, Styrofoam Trash Still Plagues Haiti

Port-au-Prince, HAITI, 13 August 2013 – Despite two decrees making their import and usage illegal, styrofoam cups and plates are used and littered all over the capital, as well as bought and sold, wholesale and retail, completely out in the open.

 The first decree, dated August 9, 2012, went into effect on October 1, 2012, as part of a decree that also outlawed “black plastic bags,” used by street vendors (called “ti machann” or “little merchants”) as well as in greenhouses all over the country.

The Environment Minister at that time, Ronald Toussaint, did not sign the 2012 decree, which was announced and lauded by various media and environmental websites as a big step forward for Haiti.

“Because of my experience in this domain, I did not sign the document," Toussaint told Haiti Grassroots Watch (HGW). "The concerned parties – the polluters, the importers, and the business people – were not part of its elaboration. The government’s decree offered a very reductionist approach to dealing with plastic waste.”

Styrofoam containers for sale on August 6, 2013, on a street
in Pétion-ville, Haiti.
Photo: HGW/Marc Schindler Saint-Val

In spite of the obvious failure of the 2012 decree, the government of President Michel Martelly and Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe recently adopted a new one, dated July 10, 2013 and written in much the same language.

There is an “interdiction on producing, importing, commercializing, and using, in any form whatsoever, plastic bags and objects made of styrofoam for food purposes, such as trays, bottles, bags, cups, and plates,” according to the July 10 issue of the government's official journal of record, Le Moniteur.

“As soon as this decree becomes applicable, beginning on August 1, 2013, all arriving packages that contain these objects will be confiscated by customs authorities and the owners will be sanctioned according to customs regulations,” the decree reads.

In addition to being a bit demagogic in nature – given that the first decree was completely ignored – the new decree has also angered the Dominican Republic's industries, Haiti’s principal suppliers of styrofoam plates and cups for take-out food.

A package of 100 styrofoam containers from the Dominican Republic.
Photo: HGW/Marc Schindler Saint-Val

A Sea of Styrofoam

If the last ten months are any indication, there is little reason to think the new decree will bring about any change. The streets of the capital region are awash in styrofoam. Any passerby, police officer, or state official can see bright white products, as well as the illegal black plastic bags, being used and discarded everywhere.

Plastic trash can be catastrophic for the environment. In addition to clogging drains and causing flooding, rivers and then sea currents carry the trash all over the world.

One of the many drainage canals in the Port-au-Prince metropolitain area.
Most dump into the Caribbean Sea after passing through poor neighborhoods,
like this one in Cité Soleil, where the human and animal fecal matter, styrofoam,
and other trash regularly flood the zone after heavy rains.

Photo: HGW/Marc Schindler Saint-Val

“Plastic trash is a real problem, in my opinion,” Toussaint said. “It is a sanitation problem and a public health problem. It is also a problem because of the damage it causes to coral and marine ecosystems.”

Because Haiti has not worked out a way to deal with styrofoam and plastic trash, some people solve the problem themselves via incineration. Speaking to AlterPresse in 2003, the head of environmental group Fédération des Amis de la Nature (Federation of Friends of Nature) spoke about plastic’s toxicity.

“Plastic is a synthetic produce made of chemicals like oxygen, hydrogen, nitrogen, and carbon,” said Pierre Chauvet Fils on June 12, 2003. “Incineration or burning plastic has serious consequences on the natural environment. The smoke produced is very toxic.”

Easy to see and to buy

In spite of its dangers, and in spite of the two decrees, styrofoam products are everywhere.

An investigation by HGW in downtown Port-au-Prince and in Pétion-ville in May and June 2013 found that almost all of the street-food vendors were using the illegal products. Downtown, on four streets studies, 28 of 28 vendors – 100 percent – used styrofoam dishes and cups. In six streets of Pétion-ville, journalists tallied 20 of 26 vendors – 77 percent – using the illegal products. A visit last week, after the new decree went into effect, revealed that nothing had changed.

A typical meal on the run in Petion-ville, Haiti, on July 25, 2013. 
Photo: HGW/Marc Schindler Saint-Val

Two very popular Pétion-ville restaurants, Contigo Bar Resto Club et Mac Epi, were also using styrofoam products, both before and after August 1. 

And many – perhaps even all – of the nearly a dozen franchises and restaurants of the popular Epi d'Or chain, owned by Thierry Attié, use styrofoam take-out containers. Many also use styrofoam cups and styrofoam plates for those "eating in." (HGW was not able to check all of its many locations.)

A meal in a take-out container at one of Epi d’Or’s many restaurants. This one is
in Delmas, Haiti. Diners eating in are often given styrofoam plates instead of
“clamshells.”  Photo: HGW/Marc Schindler Saint-Val

On its website, Epi d'Or says it works "with strict respect for laws and for the public interest."

Asked via email why the chain has been using the products, which have been illegal for over ten months, Attié responded that his outlets had replaced the cups but not the “clamshells.” However, HGW observed styrofoam cups in use at Epi d’Or’s Pétion-ville outlet on August 9, the day of Mr. Attié’s message.

“We're in the process of getting rid of all Styrofoam products,” Attié wrote. “My desk is full of samples from all over, but I have yet to find an alternative to Styrofoam that will work with my low prices.”

It is not difficult to buy styrofoam products wholesale. Of 11 food and general supply stores or stands visited in June and July, ten openly sold the illegal products. On August 5, five days after the new decree made the “trays, bottles, bags, cups, and plates” illegal for a second time, these products were for sale almost everywhere they had been earlier in the summer.

Speaking in June, one businessman told HGW that nobody really paid attention to the first degree.

“The ban was not applied," said the merchant while working at his store on Rue Rigaud. "We heard about it on the radio.” (The HGW journalist did not reveal his identity and instead pretended to be a client. He did not ask most businesspeople for their names, but HGW has meticulous records of the stores visited.)

A delivery in Pétion-ville. Photo: HGW/Marc Schindler Saint-Val

A businesswoman supervising a team unloading merchandise from a truck at her Rue Rigaud store told HGW, as did at least two other businesspeople, that she bought her styrofoam products at SHODECOSA, one of the city’s industrial parks housing assembly industries which receives regular deliveries from the Dominican Republic in big container trucks.

SHODECOSA (Superior Housing Development Corporation S.A.) is the country’s biggest private industrial part. It belongs to the WIN Group, the conglomerate owned by the Mevs family, which also has interests in maritime transport, assembly industries, and ethanol. WIN also runs the country’s largest private port, TEVASA, in the Varreux area of Cité Soleil.

“Ever since Lamothe became prime minister, I stopped going to the Haitian-Dominican border because only the bourgeois have the containers that are authorized to cross the border with merchandise,” the businesswoman claimed.

A Rue Geffard businessman said he buys a “packet” of 200 styrofoam plates for 575 gourdes (US$ 13.37) and resells it for 650 gourdes ($US 15.12). 

“It is not easy to import plates,” he said. “You have to work really hard to get them at SHODECOSA for an exorbitant price.”

Another wholesaler on Rue Rigaud said he buys at SHODECOSA and also buys them by the container at the border towns Elias Pinas and Malpasse.

HGW did not speak with WIN Group about the allegations. However, the fact that various Pétion-Ville store told matching stories about where they got their products indicates that during the ten months of the first decree, and perhaps still, styrofoam plates, cups, and other items were for sale somewhere inside the park.

New Decree, New Anger

The new decree banning plastic and styrofoam products angered many businesspeople and associations in the Dominican Republic. It came just a few weeks after the Haitian government announced a ban on certain Dominican products on Jun. 6, 2013, supposedly in order to protect Haitians from avian flu (H5N1).

Dominican authorities maintained that their country had no cases of H5N1, only influenza A (H1N1). Dominican chickens and eggs were blocked for over a month but now appear to be crossing the border without problem. Much of the chicken and most of the eggs consumed in Haiti come from her neighbor. [See HGW Dossier 24].

Immediately after the anti-plastic and anti-styrofoam decree, the Asociación de Industrias de la República Dominicana (AIRD or Dominican Republic Industries Association) called on Dominican authorities to defend the national interest. The government statistics agency puts the value of plastics exported to Haiti at US$67.3 million per year, according to Listin Diario.

A package of 200 styrofoam containers from the Dominican Republic.
The label says they are "oxo-biodegradable." Oxo-biodegradable plastics
break down much more quickly than standard plastics.

Photo: HGW/Marc Schindler Saint-Val.

“We believe the steps taken by Haiti are not those normally taken by two countries that have a trade relationship, and that such acts should be founded on internationally solid and acceptable reasons,” said AIRD president Ligia Bonetti.

Many other Dominican business associations have also denounced the decree.

Quoted in Listin Diario, Sandy Filpo, head of the Asociación de Comerciantes e Industriales de Santiago (Association of Santiago Businesses and Industries) noted that Dominican products are made to international norms.

“It’s clear that [our products] do not have substances that are harmful to health, the way Haiti claims,” he said. “This is all an excuse to try to justify what they are doing to our country.”

The Association of Dominican Exporters says Dominican plastic products are exported to over 70 countries.

A Plastic Decree vs. a Rigid Policy?

In the second decree, the Haitian government promised, “the Ministry of Economy and Finances will take the steps necessary to facilitate the import of inputs, recipients, and paper products or cardboard that are 100% biodegradable such as bags made of fiber or sisal.”

To date, no “steps” have been announced.

In a recent Nouvelliste article, Environment Minister Jean-François Thomas said: “The decree will be applied gradually, in a rigorous and organized manner.”

To date, no confiscation or arrests appear to have been carried out, except to seize the merchandise of wholesalers in the poor neighborhood of Marché Salomon. Restaurants like Epi d'Or and street sellers are still using styrofoam cups and plates that will eventually end up in ravines and canals.

Another law makes tree-cutting illegal, but piles of planks cut from Haitian trees are for sale on city streets all over Haiti. Just like that law, the new anti-plastics decree appears destined to be ignored.

The Martelly government baptized 2013 the “year of the environment.” But Haiti, according to another government slogan, is also “open for business,” which generally means, low or no tariffs, and open borders, at least for merchandise.



Haitian Grassroots Groups Wary of “Attractive” Mining Law

Port-au-Prince, Haiti, 1 August 2013 – As the government works on preparing “an attractive law that will entice investors,” Haitian popular organizations are mobilizing and forming networks to resist mining in their country.

Already one-third of the north of Haiti is under research, exploration, or exploitation license to foreign companies. Some 2,400 square kilometers have been parceled out to Haitian firms fronting for U.S. and Canadian concerns. Some estimate that Haiti’s mineral wealth – mostly gold, copper, and silver – could be worth as much as US$ 20 billion.

The awarding of permits behind closed doors, with no independent or community oversight, has angered many in Haiti, who fear that the government is opening the country up to systematic pillage.

But the head of the government mining agency does not appear concerned. To the contrary, he told Haiti Grassroots Watch (HGW) that Haiti must be made more “attractive” to potential investors.

“We need an attractive mining law," Ludner Remarais, head of the Bureau des mines et de l’énergie (BME - Mining and Energy Agency). "A mining law that will entice investors. That’s what we need.”

The current law is obsolete, according to Remarais.

The “gold rush” in Haiti has been going on for the past five years or so, since the price of gold and other minerals rose. Until last year, the government and the companies cut their deals behind closed doors. After an investigation revealed that 15 percent of the county was under contract, on February 20, 2013 the Haitian Senate adopted a resolution demanding all activities cease in order to allow for a national debate and for analysis of all contracts.

According to the BME, all mining activities are currently suspended.

“The parliamentary commission voted a resolution,” Remarais said. “We are scrupulously respecting the decision,” but, he added, the resolution does not annul the rights already acquired.

Mobilizations in the gold-rich regions

Peasant, human rights, food sovereignty, and environmental organizations are worried about the disastrous effects the mining industry could have on water quality, farmland, and on the affected regions in general.

Tèt Kole Ti Peyizan Ayisyen (“Small Peasants Working Together”), the Défenseurs des opprimés (DOP or “Defenders of the Oppressed”), the Mouvement démocratique populaire (“Democratic Popular Movement”), the Plateforme des organisations de défense des droits humains ("Haitian Human Rights Platform"), the Plateforme haïtienne de plaidoyer pour un développement alternatif (PAPDA or “Haitian Platform for an Alternative Development”) and the labor organization Batay Ouvriye have formed the Collective Against Mining. The network assists local associations with information and consciousness-raising sessions.

On July 5, over 200 farmers from the area around the Grand Bois deposit – about 11 kilometers south of Limbé, in the North department – got together at Machabiel to discuss the mining operation and their futures. They spoke of their worries for three hours in sweltering tin-roofed church.

Participants at the July 5 2013 meeting near Grand Bois discuss concerns
at a sweltering tin-roofed church.
Source: HGW/Lafontaine Orvild

“When someone talks about mining, our history makes us think of slavery, of the take-over of our farmlands,” said Willy Pierre, a social sciences teacher from a nearby school. “We could lose our fertile fields. We will be forced off our land. Where will we live?”

The Grand Bois deposit is rich in gold and copper, according to tests carried out by the Canadian mining company Eurasian Minerals. Eurasian owns the license given by the BME to its Haitian subsidiary, Société Minière Citadelle S.A., which works with the Haitian firm Ayiti Gold.

A 2011 map of the Grand Bois project. Source: Eurasian

In June, unidentified persons broke into and sacked Ayiti Gold’s office at Camp Coq, near the deposit.

During the July 5 meeting, many people said they were nervous. The prospect of open pit gold mines reminded them of the hundreds of thousands, or perhaps millions, of indigenous people who died in the Spanish gold mines or from diseases brought by Spaniards in the 16th century.

“This mining business should be a lesson for all of us," warned Jean Vilmé, a farmer from the Bogé region of Grand Bois. "Not only will those of us who live around the mineral deposit perish; the entire country will be swallowed up!”

Batay Ouvriye member Emmanuel Dalès shouted: “Let’s pledge to say ‘no to mining, yes to life!’”

Two weeks earlier about 50 members of local and national organizations met in Jean Rabel, an impoverished town in the Northwest department with poor roads, and no water system or health facilities. Participants watched and debated a video on mining in Haiti and discussed their next steps.

Earlier that month, some 60 representatives of the associations in the Collective Against Mining organized a day-long meeting at Montrouis, northeast of the capital, to plan out the main strategies of their mobilization. Of particular concern are the protection of ground water, food sovereignty, agricultural land, biodiversity, health, and land ownership.

Clébért Duval, a member of Tèt Kole from Port-de-Paix, noted that a state that is working in favor of its people could use mineral resources to “change the conditions of the popular masses, peasants, vulnerable people, and could give this country a new face.”

However, he added: “If the state is a predator that is working for the multinationals, for the capitalist system which, since it is in crisis, is taking over the riches of poor countries to fight the crisis, then that state will always encourage mining. All the money that should go to the people will go to the foreign firms, except for a few crumbs for the local guys who are serving as go-betweens. The mining companies will get all the riches, just as they have in the past.”

Many rejected the officials’ arguments that mining is important for the country’s development and economy.

“In 2012, some companies did prospecting," said Vernicia Phillus, a member of the Tèt Kole women’s coordination in Baie de Henne. "They took away soil and rock samples. Each person who worked for them got between 200 and 250 gourdes (US$4.65-US$5.81) a day. We in Baie de Henne are against any eventual mining because we will not profit one bit. It will have harmful impacts that destroy our fertile lands and our fruit trees and dry up our aquifers.”

Government and World Bank also Organizing

To accomplish what the BME head called “leaps forward” with its plan to encourage foreign mining companies, the Haitian government together with the World Bank organized a “Mining Forum” on June 3-4, 2013 aimed at developing “the mining sector in a way that makes it a motor for the country’s economic takeoff.” Some Haitian media lauded the event.

One of its principle objectives was to sketch out the general contours of a new mining law for the country, even though in May, the bank had announced it was already working on the law’s rewrite.

Haitian media coverage neglected this calendar issue and also failed to note that the involvement of the World Bank in writing Haitian mining law appears to be a conflict of interest.

In 2010, the International Finance Commission (IFC), a branch of the bank, invested about US$5 million in Eurasian Mineral’s Haiti operations, receiving Eurasian shares in exchange. Thus, the bank is helping to write a law that is meant to regulate it and protect Haiti.

The World Bank is often criticized by organizations like Mining Watch Canada, Earthworks, and others for being lax where the protection of poor countries is concerned, and for its role in the “continuation of colonialism” in Africa, Asia, and Latin America through its important loans to mining companies.

In March, the U.S. government representative to the World Bank abstained in a vote to approve a Bank loan for US$12 billion to a mining operation in the Gobi Desert, citing concerns over potential negative environmental impacts. The bank loans were approved anyway, according to Inter Press Service.

During the June 3-4 forum, Haitian authorities said that the new law should “allow for transparent contracts.” And, according to the Associated Press, Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe said his government was working with "competent experts who have [Haiti's] national interests at heart."

But the Bank is a Eurasian shareholder. Also, most of the speakers at the conference were from foreign institutions and companies. Parliamentarians, local elected officials, independent geologists and researchers, representatives of the people from the regions concerned, and grassroots organizations did not address the room.

The Yanacocha open pit mine in Peru. The World Bank’s IFC is an investor.
It is about 250 square kilometers.
Source: Elbuenminero

The BME is moving forward, despite the fact that its "forum" was more like an "insider’s club" meeting.

“Our mining law is preventing us from making a leap forward,” Remarais said a few days after the meeting, without hesitation. “Through the forum, the Haitian government has decided to rewrite the mining law. That is what is happening at this moment.”

(Remember that the Bank announced it was already involved in rewriting the law before the conference took place.)

Asked about an eventual new law that would be “attractive” and capable of “enticing investors,” the director of DOP, a member of the Collective Against Mining, said he was concerned.

“Mining legislation that is ‘attractive’ will open the country up for ‘business,’” wrote attorney Patrice Florvilus on July 14, 2013, making reference to the government's slogan "Haiti - Open for business.”

“Business, without considering the deleterious effects on community life and on the environment which is already deteriorating at a worrying pace,” he added.

In a July 22, 2013 note, the Collective wrote the following: “We want a truly national law and international conventions that protect life, water, land, and the environment, and that outlaw mining which brings with it pollution, destruction, contamination, and more hunger.”

Please also see Dossier #18 and Dossier #27


Haiti Grassroots Watch Spearheads Bradley Manning Solidarity

Port-au-Prince, HAITI, 25 July 2013 – Journalists, professors and others participated in a video and signed a petition supporting Bradley Manning, the US Army private currently facing multiple charges, including “aiding the enemy,” for leaking thousands of documents to the Wikileaks media organization.

“We support Bradley Manning” is the title of a petition signed by over 50 people and sent to the solidarity organization “Support Bradley Manning” – ­http://www.bradleymanning.org/ – on Thursday. In addition to the petition, the Haitian Grassroots Watch investigative journalism partnership also made a three-minute video in two languages: one in the original Creole and second, with English subtitles.

The video has interviews with professors, human rights advocates and others about the Manning trial, Wikileaks and about the importance of transparency and access to information in a democratic society.

“We believe in the truth. We ask the US government for transparency,” the petition notes, adding: “We oppose all form of US occupation.” Sunday, July 28, is the 98th anniversary of the beginning of the US occupation of Haiti in 1915. Lasting until 1934, it was longest US occupation in the hemisphere.

In the video, Professor Ary Régis, director of the Social Communications department at the State University of Haiti’s Faculty of Human Sciences, asks himself: “If they had such a reaction to Wikileaks, and especially towards Bradley Manning… I wonder, can we really say that US society is based on a democracy, as they claim and as they impose on others?”

Both versions of the video are on the Haiti Grassroots Watch (Ayiti Kale Je, in Creole) Youtube page at: http://www.youtube.com/user/AyitiKaleJe. The video has also been distributed to some Port-au-Prince television stations.

In the US, journalists, artists and academics have strongly supported Manning and denounced the trail by signing petitions, speaking out in the media and participating in various events. A petition signed by Alice Walker, Daniel Ellsberg, Russell Brand, Noam Chomsky, Joan Baez, Graham Nash and hundreds of others is scheduled to run in the New York Times this week.

Amnesty International recently issued a statement on the trial, saying: “The charge of ‘aiding the enemy’ is ludicrous,” in a July 18 press release. http://www.amnesty.org/fr/node/41203

 Manning sent over 700,000 secret documents to the anti-secret website Wikileaks. He was an intelligence analyst in Iraq at the time. He has pleaded “guilty” to ten of 22 charges.

The US magazine The Nation and the weekly Haïti Liberté used some of the documents to expose US meddling in Haitian political affairs.


The fight against cholera: “In deep shit?”

Port-au-Prince, Haiti, 24 July 2013 – Lack of financing for a ten-year cholera eradication plan means that the disease will likely be endemic to Haiti for years to come.

Cholera bacteria are spread by contaminated food, water and fecal matter. One of the essential parts of the US$2.2 billion National Plan for the Elimination of Cholera in Haiti is the financing for sanitation systems nationwide.

The majority of Haitians – about eight million people – do not have access to a hygienic sanitation system. They defecate in the open, in fields, in ravines and on riverbanks. The capital region produces over 900 tons of human excreta every day, according to the United Nations Office for Project Services (UNOPS).

“Haiti is the only country in the entire world whose sanitation coverage decreased in the last decade,” said Dr. Rishi Rattan, a member of Physicians for Haiti, an association of doctors and health professionals based in Boston that works with Partners in Health and other Haitian groups.

A pig forages amidst plastic, organic waste and human excreta in one of
Cité Soleil’s canals.
Photo: HGW/Marc Schindler Saint Val

“Before the cholera outbreak or the earthquake, diarrhea was the number one killer of children under 5 and the second leading cause of all death in Haiti. Given that cholera is a water-borne illness that relies upon lack of access to clean water, it is highly likely that cholera will become endemic in Haiti without full funding of Haiti's cholera elimination plan by entities such as the United Nations (UN),” Rattan told Haiti Grassroots Watch (HGW) in an email.

Cholera, brought to Haiti in October 2010 by soldiers from the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH), quickly spread throughout the country. To date, over 600,000 people have been infected and at least 8,190 have died, according to a government report dated July 21, 2013. Almost 3,000 people are infected each month.

The death rate is on the rise in the countryside. Today, more than four percent of those infected die due to the lack of cholera treatment centers. At the epidemic’s peak, there were 285. Today, there are only 28. Once financing ran out, most humanitarian agencies abandoned the country.

Worse, one of the two large waste treatment facilities built following the earthquake recently went out of service.

The cholera-excrement connection

Written by the Pan-American Health Organization (PAHO), the US and Haitian governments and UNICEF, and published in November 2012, the cholera elimination plan has as one of its chief targets human excrement. The plan sets as its objective that by 2022, “90 percent of the population has access [to] and uses a functional sanitary facility” and that “100 percent of drained excreta are treated before being discharged into the natural environment.”

The sanitation budget alone tops US$467 million.

“According to our figures, less than 30 percent of the population has access to what we might call basic sanitation,” Edwige Petit, head of sanitation for the government’s National Agency of Water and Sanitation (in French, Direction nationale de l’eau potable et de l’assainissement - DINEPA), told HGW. “In neighboring countries, 92 to 98 percent have basic sanitation.”

By DINEPA’s count, about one half of households in the countryside, and 10 to 20 percent in the cities, lack access to a proper toilet or latrine. Everyone else uses rivers, ravines or almost any open space to take care of their needs.

In Cité Soleil, a slum that is part of the metropolitan area, some people are forced to use open patch of ground they can find.

“As far as latrines are concerned, we ‘go’ wherever we can, do you understand?" explained resident Wisly Bellevue, without a blink.

“In other words, we go in the wild, nearby.”

“When our children have to take a poop, we put them on a little bowl,” he added. “We put a little water in there. Once they are done, we throw it into an empty lot.”

A man crosses a bridge over one of Cité Soleil’s waste canals that lead
to the Port-au-Prince harbor.
Photo: HGW/Marc Schindler Saint Val

Big institutions with septic systems are serviced by excreta trucks managed by the state, UNICEF or other agencies, or by private companies. In 2010 and 2011, for example, humanitarian agencies emptied the thousands of portable toilets (“Johnny-on-the-spot” or “Porta Potty”) in the refugee camps for the 1.3 million people made homeless by the 2010 earthquake.

Those who cannot pay for the luxury provided by the trucks have to hire a more economical service: the men called “bayakou” in Haiti, who empty latrines and septic systems by hand.

The bayakou work at night. Most of them do not take their excreta to the DINEPA’s new waste treatment centers, and instead dump their cargos in rivers, canals and ravines. The workers sometimes even dump their human output on the ground nearby if the rising sun catches them at work, because, at all costs, they try to avoid being identified by the population.

Before the cholera epidemic, even the trucks used to dump their “black water” (feces mixed with urine) into the ravines that drain into the Caribbean Sea. Since the outbreak, the government and other authorities have been trying to convince all the sanitation actors to empty their loads at locations that do not put people’s health in danger.

In late 2010, DINEPA and UNICEF opened a giant temporary site in Trutier, north of the capital, to receive all of the material collected from the refugee camp portable toilets as well as from other locations. At the time, a DINEPA representative told HGW that the giant pool of excreta was “the start of at least some form of excreta management” for Haiti.

Advances and Challenges

Since then, DINEPA and its partners have made considerable advances in sanitation. With assistance from the Spanish government, UNICEF and others, DINEPA built two treatment centers for the capital region’s black water, and hopes to build 22 others for a total budget of US$159 million. To date however, only three have been started: near St. Marc, in Les Cayes in the south, and in Limonade in the north.

Trucks empty “black water” at DINEPA’s Morne à Cabri waste treatment center,
shortly after it was opened in late 2011.
Source: DINEPA

One of the three waste treatment pools at DINEPA’s Morne à Cabri site. This photo taken
just after the site opened in late 2011.
Source: DINEPA

The impressive Morne à Cabri waste treatment center, costing about US$2.5 million and inaugurated in September 2011, “has the capacity to treat 500 cubic meters of excreta per day, which is the equivalent of what 500,000 produce,” according to DINEPA.

But there is already a problem.

Today, the center is closed down. The excreta are not being delivered. The gates are locked. Lack of financing is one reason. The fees paid by excreta trucking companies don’t generate enough revenue.

Also, after the humanitarian agencies stopped managing the refugee camps, because they said they had no more financing, deliveries from the portable toilets became problematic.

“We went from having latrine matter being made up of 10 to 20 percent trash, to 70 to 80 percent,” Petit explained. “The treatment center was not built to handle trash. It was built to handle water and fecal matter. The pools collapsed, blocked with trash.”

Latrines at the Pax Villa camp in Tabarre, in the capital region, on July 23, 2013.
Photo: HGW/Marc Schindler Saint Val

Even though it is struggling financially, DINEPA is determined to get things working again.

“We are going to use government equipment. If we can get US$40,000 or US$50,000 we will be able to clean it,” she said. 

Of course, the other treatment center is working, but one key challenge remains: how to convince everyone to deliver his or her loads?

And even if the excreta are delivered, financing will remain problematic. The excreta trucking companies can pay, but the same is not guaranteed for the bayakou. Perhaps this is why observers say the journeymen continue to dump their loads wherever they can.

Frantz François is responsible for sanitation and the gardens at a Cité Soleil community center.

“The bayakou do a bad job… right now, at this moment, if you walk up and down the canal you will see it is clean. But tomorrow, it will stink. They throw their latrine loads wherever they want to,” he said.

Another part of the national cholera plan is an education campaign aimed at combatting “poor defecation and hygiene practices.” According to Petit, many rural families don’t bother building latrines any longer; they merely concentrate on building homes.

“Over the past 30 years, a certain mentality has developed, where people know that it’s quite possible somebody else [like a foreign agency] will give them toilets,” Petit explained.

Rather than giving out free toilets and latrines, DINEPA hopes to set up a US$120 million fund that will allow families to borrow the money necessary to do their own construction.

An Alternative

DINEPA is not the only organization working on the sanitation issue in Haiti. The US-based Sustainable Organic Integrated Livelihoods (SOIL) treats and transforms human excrement into compost that can be used as fertilizer.

SOIL supplies people and institutions who pay a small monthly fee with special latrines. Every two weeks, the “Poopmobile” collects the excreta. So far, SOIL says their “Eco-san” toilets serve 24,000 people around the country.

SOIL’s compost installation is located at Trutier, north of the capital, not far from one of the two DINEPA waste treatment centers. Three people work there. One empties the Poopmobile drums into the piles that become usable compost after six months, while the others clean and disinfect the drums so they can be reused.

SOIL’s Baudeler Magloire stands next to a pile of sugarcane bagasse mixed
with excreta at the SOIL compost center near Truitier, Haiti. After six months or so,
the material will be compost.
Photo: HGW/Marc Schindler Saint Val

“A lot of countries use this system,” said Baudeler Magloire, project manager at SOIL. “Many in West Africa. It is a new approach, a kind of ecological sanitation.”

The approach is not completely “new.” Human fecal matter has been used as fertilizer since the ancient Chinese and Roman civilizations. The Aztec and Inca peoples also used human excreta in their fields.

SOIL is not opposed to the waste treatment “lakes” being used by DINEPA, but the objectives are different, Magloire noted.

“Our mission is to allow for the material to be recycled, transformed and then sent to places in the country where it is needed. People can buy it, sell it, and use it in agriculture,” he said.

Anti-cholera plan “in deep shit?”

While the Poopmobile collects fecal matter from 24,000 latrines in a country of 10 million, three-quarters of the population is still using non-hygienic practices and systems.

The National Plan for the Elimination of Cholera in Haiti requires US$2.2 billion, and a plan for the neighboring Dominican Republic needs US$77 million more. For the years 2013 and 2014 alone, the two countries are seeking a total of US$521 million: US$443.7 for Haiti and US$33 for her neighbor.

The World Bank, PAHO and UNICEF recently promised US$29 million, and UN agencies have offered another US$2.5 million. But, as of May 31 2013, the pledges had not topped more than US$210 million, less than half of what is needed.

“Investments in water and sanitation are absolutely essential to eliminate cholera transmission,” said PAHO Deputy Director Jon K. Andrus at a Washington meeting where the grant was announced.

Andrus’ supervisor pleaded for all donors to make commitments.

“We must challenge governments and partners to come up with the funds that are needed to get the job done,” said PAHO Director Carissa F. Etienne. “The goal is not just eliminating cholera. It is to ensure that every man, woman and child has access to safe water and sanitation. This is basic to the dignity of every human being.”

Dr. Rattan of Physicians for Haiti believes the UN should give the majority of the funding needed, as soon as possible.

“They have decreased the amount of money they initially pledged and it has yet to actually be disbursed,” Rattan wrote in a July 17 2013 email to HGW. “This is crippling the Haitian government's ability to implement their lifesaving cholera elimination plan.”

A woman receives serum at the cholera treatment center at the Centre Hospitalier
Eau de Vie in Fonds Parisien, Haiti, on May 10, 2013.
Photo: HGW/Marc Schindler Saint Val

In Cité Soleil, Michelène Milfort knows very well that there will be no plan implemented any time soon. She lives in a tent with nine others. Her camp has 38 deteriorating temporary shelters, tents and shacks. These earthquake victims only have three SOIL latrines to take care of their needs. Before SOIL’s assistance, they used a nearby empty lot.

John Abniel Poliné is a neighbor.

“Some people have no regular place to take care of their needs. Sometimes a person has to use a little plastic bag, that he then throws into a canal,” he admitted. “It is not always the fault of the individual. You need to understand that if the person had a place to go, he would not be forced to that extreme.”

Poliné said he wonders about the priorities of the Haitian government and of international actors, especially MINUSTAH.

“They just keep giving MINUSTAH thousands of dollars, while the people of Cité Soleil live in subhuman conditions,” he said.

MINUSTAH’s 2012-2013 budget is US$638 million, over US$200 million more than what is needed by the Haiti and the Dominican Republic for the first two years of their cholera elimination plans.


See also our Dossier #4


Reconstruction’s Massive Slum Will Cost “Hundreds Of Millions”

Port-au-Prince, HAITI, June 17 2013 – Three years after its star-studded launch by President René Préval, actor Sean Penn and various other Haitian and foreign dignitaries, the model camp for Haiti’s 2010 earthquake victims has helped give birth to what might become the country’s most expansive – and most expensive – slum.

Known as “Canaan,” “Jerusalem” and “ONAville” – the new shantytown, spread across 1,100-hectares (11 square kilometers or 2,718 acres), is here to stay, Haitian officials told Haiti Grassroots Watch (HGW). Taxpayers and foreign donors will likely spend “many hundreds of millions” to urbanize the region, and as much as another US$64 million to pay off the landowners who are threatening to sue the government and the humanitarian agencies.

Three years after the launch of the temporary model camp – located about 18 kilometers northeast of the capital and known as “Corail-Cesselesse” after the habitation or plantation once home to sugarcane and sisal fields – the landscape is radically different from the orderly camp visited by celebrities. Surrounded by tens of thousands of squatters’ shacks and homes, today it is a cause of embarrassment for local and international actors alike.

Map in the recent URD reportReconstruction et environnement dans la région
métropolitaine de Port-au-Prince : Cas de Canaan ou la naissance
d’un quartier ex-nihilo

Before the earthquake, most of this arid, rocky expanse running from the outskirts of Port-au-Prince up to Cabaret was largely empty. Much of it is owned by the Haitian firm NABATEC S.A. Since 1999 the firm had been developing it into an “integrated economic zone” (IEZ) called “Habitat Haïti 2020” that would have industrial parks, single- and multi-unit housing for various income levels, schools, green spaces and a shopping mall. A Korean company and a U.S.-based humanitarian group had already purchased land within the perimeter, and NABATEC was in discussions with a number of foreign firms.

“It was a 15-year, US$2 billion dollar project, and everyone had already given their approval, including the Haitian government and the World Bank,” according to Gérald Emile “Aby” Brun, an architect, the president of NABATEC and vice president of the TECINA S.A. planning and construction firm. A 2011 World Bank study of potential IEZ sites for ranked it best out of 21 possibilities around the country, calling it potentially “high-performing” and “the clearest application of the IEZ concept among any proposed project in Haiti.” [See plan at left.]

But today, the land – equal to about three Central Parks – is home to between 65,000 and 100,000 people: 10,000 in the planned camps and the rest squatters. And they aren’t going anywhere.

“We can’t move them out,” Haitian government planner Odnell David told HGW in an exclusive interview. “The idea is to reorganize the space so that people can live.”

Urbanizing about half of the wasteland will cost Haitian and foreign taxpayers “many hundreds of millions of dollars,” noted David, an architect and the director of the housing section of the government’s Unité de Construction de Logements et de Bâtiments Publics (UCLBP or Unit for the Construction of Housing and Public Buildings). The price tag for initial infrastructure work already tops US$50 million.

Model Camp Leads to Disaster’s Disaster 

Opened in April 2010, the Corail “Sector 3” and “Sector 4” camps together represented the reconstruction’s model resettlement. They sit on two sloping parcels of the 5,000 hectares of private land declared “of public utility” by the central government in March 2010. But right from the start, the choice to move people to the desert-like plain was controversial, for two reasons. First, some critics accused Brun and NABATEC of seeking to profit from the disaster, and next, many said the land under the camps, and indeed much of the region itself, is not appropriate to any kind of settlement, temporary or permanent, for environmental and economic reasons. [See Capitalizing on Disaster? and Controversy over Corail Camp]

Despite the controversies, humanitarian agencies like the International Organization for Migration (IOM), World Vision and American Refugee Committee (ARC) together spent over US$10 million to build the two “sectors”: which have schools, playgrounds, latrines and some electricity, but which still lack water. They had planned to build many more camps, including “Sectors 1 and 2” which sat close by. However, as soon as the first U.S. Army bulldozers started to level the land, tens of thousands of people – some but not all of them earthquake victims – invaded those areas as well as land around and north of the camps, “buying” parcels from racketeers, marking off their plots and pitching makeshift tents.

These three photos – from January 12 2010, October 30 2010, and December 12 2012 –  show how the squatters filled in around the Sector 3 and 4 settlements, indicated by the arrows in the October 30 2010 photo. Source: Google Earth

Nobody in the central government said anything to prevent the invasions, which continue today. Many say the land was offered to supporters of Préval’s “Inite” political party for US$10 per square meter. The new “landowners” got fake “titles” in exchange for cash and their votes in the upcoming presidential elections, according to Brun and other sources who asked not to be named. 

“It was an electoral thing,” said Brun.

Planned or not, and political scheme or not, today those tents have turned into houses built every which way, in what the UCLBP’s David calls a “savage urbanization… no infrastructure, no water, no electricity, no sanitation: people just appropriated land and are trying to accomplish their dreams of becoming homeowners.”

“The state has a moral obligation to intervene,” David continued. “You can’t leave it like it is… those people are living in difficult conditions.” 

Police and local authorities have already set up offices in tractor-trailer containers.

Life in the camps

Despite the unforgiving sun and its sweltering heat, Joel Monfiston is working. Hammering a piece of worn plywood to a battered two-by-four, watering flowers, picking the weeds out from between rocks and pebbles.

Joel Monfiston (L) waters the flowers in front of the one-room house
he shares with his family and (R) next to his shed.
Photo: HGW/Milo Milfort

The 34-year-old father and husband crouches in front of his one-room home in Sector 3. Monfiston and his family first lived in a tent. Now they have a 24-square-meter “temporary shelter” built mostly of plywood and sheet metal by World Vision for US$4,500, according to the agency. Like most Haitians, he survives with a day job here and there and through help from friends and family. And, he tries his hand at commerce.

“Things are not easy. Imagine: they put you here, but there’s no work,” he said. 

Monfiston has dreams. He hopes to set up a shop in the little shed he is building. He would like to grow more in his garden. But those remain dreams. For now, all he has are a few flowers and a few walls for his “store”… no shelves, no door, no cooler, no products.

And, like other Corail residents, while he does have access to latrines, electricity (solar-powered street lamps), playgrounds, a clinic and schools, water is not so easy to find.

Back in 2011, the U.N. and Oxfam promised that a new system of cisterns and kiosks would soon provide residents with water from the state water agency. Two years later, the faucets remain dry [see photo below]. Residents buy water at 5 gourdes (about US$0.12 cents) a bucket from private vendors or from the committees that manage the few still-functioning water “bladders” left over from the camp’s early days when water and food were free and when agencies provided “cash for work” jobs and start-up funds for would-be entrepreneurs. 

Residents buy water at 5 gourdes (about US$0.12 cents) a bucket from private vendors or from the committees that manage the few still-functioning water “bladders” left over from the camp’s early days when water and food were free and when agencies provided “cash for work” jobs and start-up funds for entrepreneurs.

Today, all of the big agencies have abandoned the Corail camp and its 10,000 residents. Trumpeting their success and claiming to have prepared a “transition” to the local authorities, IOM, ARC and World Vision all pulled out (although World Vision still supports the Corail School, which it built).

Mayor of Croix-des-Bouquets is the New Camp Manager,” a cheery article from the U.N. military mission declared in a May 27 2011 bulletin. But HGW found no evidence of any local authorities, or assistance, on two different visits. The “City Hall Annex” at the Corail camp was shuttered. Residents told journalists that they could not remember when they last saw anyone from the government. [See Controversy over Corail Camp for photo.]

“Nobody from the mayor’s office has set foot here for many months,” said Racide d’Or, a member of the Corail residents committee.

“They were only around when they knew there was land in the area they could ‘sell,’” continued the mother of two, who lost her Delmas home in earthquake. “There is no ‘government’ or ‘state’ for those of us who live here. We have to figure out everything ourselves.”

The Croix-des-Bouquets City Hall annex in Canaan is sweltering at midday. The “office” is an empty container and a “conference room” of plywood and a blue plastic tarp roof. Two men there said they worked for City Hall but refused to give their names or allow their voices to be recorded. 

L’annexe de la marie de Croix-des-Bouquets à Canaan. Photo: AKJ/Milo Milfort

“They just dumped us here,” said one, aged about 30. “We don’t have the means to work. Our supervisor never comes to see how we are doing.” 

“I’d like to know what they were thinking when they put this office here,” said the other one, older, who was slouched in a plastic chair. “We don’t do anything.” 

The absence of humanitarian agencies has one benefit. When agencies were handing out food, jobs and cash, gangs and “mafias” ran various parts of the camps. An Oxfam program that handed out up to US$1,000 to some – but not all – small businesspeople led to disagreements, rumors, protests and eventually arrests.

“The NGOs divided us. People fought with each other,” Auguste Gregory told HGW. Gregory was sitting with friends next to his telephone-charging business: a table covered with power strips and chargers.

“Some people went to prison. Others went into hiding. We were all there for the same reason, but they divided us,” he remembered.

For much of 2010, a gang calling itself “The Committee of Nine” threatened residents and aid providers alike, so much so that ARC Camp Manager Richard Poole quit his job and left the country. 

“My three months at Corail were one of the most difficult periods I have experienced in my 30 years as a humanitarian worker,” Poole later told HGW in an email interview. ARC received about US$400,000 to manage the camp for eight months in 2010.

But, some humanitarian actors say the Corail settlement was not a complete failure.

“It is important to look at where the families were at the beginning of the earthquake and where they are now,” World Vision told HGW in an email. The agency says it spent about US$7 million on 1,200 shelters, a school, playgrounds and various programs.

People “came from areas which were prone to flash flooding, mudslides and disease outbreaks, but now they are in a safer and more secure community,” the agency pointed out. “The families have homes and are protected… We are pleased with these outcomes.” [See also Controversy over Corail Camp]

Not everyone is pleased

NABATEC president “Aby” Brun is not pleased.

At first, Brun said he and NABATEC hoped the government and the major reconstruction actors would intervene to eject the squatters and camp residents, or to at least turn the camp’s temporary shelters into permanent houses so that they could become the beginning of Habitat Haïti 2020 [see Capitalizing on Disaster?].

In the meantime however, Brun deplored the fact that the Michel Martelly government decided “follow the same abusive logic” and seize two other pieces of NABATEC land: one at the corner of Highway #9 and Highway #1 to build a waste treatment facility on what was slated to be an industrial park, and another, across the road, to build the offices of the Haitian Olympic Committee. Those two pieces had been valued by the government tax office – the Direction Générale des Impôts (DGI) – at US$10 million, according to Brun.

As months went by, the NABATEC partners – some of them members of Haiti’s most economically powerful families – realized their project would no longer be possible.

“The country lost a great opportunity,” Brun said. “I have been working on that project for 16 years.”

Now, NABATEC wants to be indemnified, according to the law and the Constitution. The company has submitted paperwork to the DGI and to each of the three Ministers of Finance who have held office since the “public utility” declaration.

“The last ‘refresher’ meeting was under Marie-Carmelle Jean-Marie about three months ago,” Brun said. Jean-Marie resigned in April, allegedly over differences of opinion concerning a series of no-bid contracts and other expenditures.

All told, if the government reimburses NABATEC for that land and the land currently occupied by the camps and the squatters, the company is due US $64 million.

Gérald Emile “Aby” Brun, an architect, the president of NABATEC S.A., holds up a bill
submitted to the Haitian tax office for over US$19 million. NABATEC is the owner of most of
the land under the Corail-Cesselesse camp and the areas known as Canaan, Jerusalem
and ONAville.
Photo: HGW

“We have submitted all the papers and titles,” Brun said in May. “Verbally, in conversations, they say, ‘Yes, we recognize it’s your land,’ and they say they are going to pay us, but… nothing on paper.”

Hoping to confirm Brun’s statements, HGW made almost a dozen requests for interviews with DGI officials, in writing and in person, over the course of three months. Finally, in February 2013, Raymond Michel, head of the DGI’s property division, promised an interview, noting: “This dossier is very, very sensitive.” Michel never contacted HGW again.

Brun, meanwhile, is growing impatient. NABATEC is open to the idea of negotiating, but the company is also thinking about suing both the government and the humanitarian agencies that are continuing to do projects at Corail or are helping the squatters in the areas outside the camps, for “infringing on property owners rights.”

“It’s been three years now,” Brun said. “I understand the difficulties facing people who don’t have a house, or work, or schools… but that doesn’t allow for mafia and extortionists to use people’s distress to make money, and we sit there with nothing.”

Seeking funding from, and for, the promised land

While NABATEC lobbies the Ministry of Finance and the DGI for monetary compensation, another branch of the Haitian government is also seeking monies, but not to pay the landowners.

Instead, the UCLBP hopes to take NABATEC’s place and do its own development: the urbanization of about 500 hectares for a population of 100,000.

A typical Canaan hillside with many houses under construction. Photo: HGW/Milo Milfort

According to David, an initial plan is ready, thanks to the Canadian firm IBI/DAA and the Haitian firm SODADE. Asked about the plan and how much it cost, the architect declined to give the price tag and added that it had not been put out for bid. Instead, it was tacked onto another plan already being drawn up by IBI/DAA, which is a frequent beneficiary of government contracts. 

“It is a very perfect plan. It has roads, it has water systems, it has sanitation,” David added, but he said that HGW could not see because it had not yet been approved.

Preliminary infrastructure work for a site will cost about $50 millions.”

But the proto-slum won’t turn into an organized neighborhood any time soon. Among other challenges, the residents who have marked out “their” land will have to be convinced to move to make way for infrastructure.

“It’s a very long term project,” David admitted.

Finding the money will not be easy, either.

“We will need a lot of resources and the state doesn’t have all the funding it would need… We are seeking financing so that we can at least begin,” he said. “It won’t happen tomorrow.”

In the meantime, newcomers continue to arrive at the no man’s land with a bundle of belongings, tent stakes and a few cement blocks.





Artist Alexis Roffy Eddiness Djoly Barns stands in the doorway of his Corail Sector 3 home. Photo: HGW/Marc Schindler Saint Val








Go to Capitalizing on Disaster?  

Go to Controversy over Corail Camp