‘Delivering as one’!?

This paradigm is basically used in New York when it comes to the efficiency and cooperation in between different UN bodies (For all Germans: We have a similar notion concerning the splintering of our development agencies, called ‘Entwicklungszusammenarbeit aus einem Guss’). I opted for chosing it as an headline, not to point on the local UN staff, but to characterize one of the main difficulties that hamper a fully sucessful coordination and delivery of humanitarian aid and relief measures here in Hinche.

It has taken some 10 days now since we returned to Haiti. Back in Hinche we tried to take up the challenge of participating in the ongoing processes to deliver aid to about 92000 internal displaced persons (IDPs) who came to the Centre Province of Haiti. Some 20000 of them are concentrated in Hinche, the main city of this department and the place I am working. At this stage several measures of relief have commenced but we face huge problems of coordination and communication, all of them endangering a well conceived approach to help the refugees. I would like to try a small summary listing our constraints.

The first one is, I am basically alone. One of my German colleagues with whom I had given the first knock to form at least a committee including al local and international actors, has had to leave the country for some weeks. My other colleague is implicated in the work of FAES which for the moment is not active in immediate measures. I have been assigned the task to follow the local committees efforts and provide them with everything they are not able to cope with themselves, meaning communication with external actors, provision of information and such. A rather easy task in normal times, but still we experience difficulties in accessing internet regularly and the mobile net has not fully recovered from earthquake damages yet.

In the first days after our return I tried to analyse everything that had happened during our absence. Rapidly I had to state there was not much to analyse, as to the agony that eventually emerged in this period. Some action had been carried out, like the establishment of a few smaller refugee camps around Hinche, but no further action or organization had been taken or done. Even less encouraging was the fact that the committee had split up, several local groups had begun their own small businesses, trying to get international aid and similar. So how to start any coordinated action?

The committee itself, or those who still formed it actively, had at least begun to do a census of all the IDPs. This seemed to be a Sisyphos’ task since only about 1000 people were located in the camps, whereas all the rest had divised themselves into hundreds of local families. There are certainly good reasons for their splintering, because if people have the choice to go to family of friends they prefer this option than to go to an anonymous camp. But given you have to do a census of all the those persons, imagine the difficulties you face collecting informations by going from one house to another. At this stage with the help of youth organizations, we finished this census at approximately 80%. The current facts include some 3400 families with 18000 members. That number leads us to an estimation of round about 20000 or 22000 IDPs – just in the city of Hinche which normally consists of 40000 inhabitants.

Let us come to another major constraints: The committee itself. There are some 5 people left who are really willing to work, but they extremely lack of funding. I do not mean any salary for them, they are engaging themselves for God’s sake and voluntarily, but they need paper, pens, bureau accessoires, fuel and telephone cards, not to talk about food for them and the youths carrying out the census (they actually do a great work, striving throughout the town and collecting information from every house, unfortunately the error rate might still come to about 5%). Officially the mayor is the president of this committee. Although we knew before that he is quite a difficult person we had no other choice than charmingly propose him this job. Any other decision would have driven the work of the committee senseless because as the first authority of this city in a state which has practically stopped to exist, he is the most important authority. But he turned out to prefer doing his own business, like many of the local actors. We face huge difficulties in communicating with him since he does not want to share information with us. Nevertheless we do, because we cannot take the risk of him getting upset about the committee’s work – again a political issue. Hence we try to do our work without him and get as much information on his actions be observing. You need a small example? Well, yesterday people saw him in a meeting with some French guys. Allegedly they proposed aid, they discusses this, drank beer and had some agreement. I was wondering how this would proceed because the mayor himself does not really cooperate with the other actors. The way he behaves towards us – even if of course always very friendly – makes me scared of him using his position for self-enrichment. But this is just an assumption so far.

On the other hand there is World Vision, a well-known US development NGO, famous for intense engagement in any poor country worldwide but famous as well for their affiliation to US evangelical churches. Their HIV/AIDS policies have been criticized for long time, for example. Here in Hinche nevertheless we were happy to have them with us – they were the only organization having a stock full of food. Since we have not been able to organize some German food trucks coming from Santo Domingo (for two reasons: First they all went to Leogane where the need is basically higher, secondly the committee did not provide us a list with their specific needs) and the people here in Hinche did not manage to send a formally correct request to OCHA (the UN Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, coordinating the work of all the “clusters” that have been established. For more detailed information, have a look at http://www.haiti.oneresponse.info ).

I do not want to go into detail or open up any discussion on the efficiency of the system actually mis-en-place. Certainly I have doubts, basically because I am concentrating on such issues in my own studies, but if you have an emergency situation it is not the time to put the current architecture into question – it is rather the moment to act within the given frame and to do so in the best possible way. Maybe you can imagine how often I had to say this the last couple of days… Back to World Vision, due to the pressure of this large amount of hungry IDPs, they started fod distributions last week, based on the non-finished census of our committee. Unfortunately the coordination here was not very good either. We furnished a lot of structural help and information to World Vision and I am sure they are trying to do a good job as well. The only thing is, they do not manage to provide us with informations as well. Some day we had to run after them to be at the distribution point, check the situation and call for security assistance. Why? They did not do it themselves and at the same time they expect us, me and the committee to do this job, but without telling us the details. It is actually really weird and some things I do not even understand. Well, there may be some problems in communication starting activities and there may be some claims of responsibility (as there always are in development and humanitarian aid – people want their flag on the packs of rice they distribute) but a coordination failure to such an extent is definitely difficult to fit into any logic, especially if one side is trying to avoid this.

Talking about other actors, there are some more Haitian or Haiti-based organizations and communities working in the humanitarian sector. They include for example private and religious actors who established to smaller camps I mentioned before, or the local Caritas. Unfortunately their wil to engage in collaborations is not very existent up to this moment. Then there is FAES, the governmental development agency I was supposed to do my internship initially, but they are struggling with own problems at their central bureau in Port-au-Prince and some other regional bureaus which had been more affected by the cataclism and further they prefer to elaborate medium- and long-term activities. At least they communicate accurately with the other actors (even if that may be just due my position between them and the committee.

The last ones in the game are the UN mission “MINUSTAH” and a team of 6 American Gis deployed to Hinche since last week. From the Haitian side there is a lot of scepticism towards those actors. To some extent I fully understand this – the US as a force which occupied the country for some 20 years in the past century and supported several dictators then in the second half of the past century – and the MINUSTAH as the second largest UN peacekeeping mission (after MONUC in the DR Congo. By the way, I was yet wondering if there is a reason why I am always finding myself working in such countries…) not really having achieved a lot in terms of development since the starting point of their mandate in 2004.
On the other side those are the only ones which can provide effective security since the Police Nationale d’Haiti is not even a shadow of a strong police force – neither in terms of numbers nor in terms of professionality. The scepticism they face though is the reason why local actors try to leave them aside in the process of relief provision and coordination. So, now, in any distribution which has taken place till now, the Haitian police was desperately overcharged and not able to provide the frame for a secure action.

It was the committee and me who at the end of the day had to call the American troops and the UN telling them we needed their help. A question of pride or rather a lack of professionality of other actors!? I do not know… But it was me and the committee who were blamed (altogether with the UN and the US) when we did not guess that their support was necessary. You might say we can guess it, but there was this other issue I mentioned: The guys did not even inform us, when, where and how they do their distributions. Certainly in Port-au-Prince the situation is much more complicated but yet here I do not have the impression to carry out an esay job. We are concentrating our efforts now in having a lot of meetings to finally convince all involved actors that they have to communicate and that tasks have to be assigned clearly within the national and expatriate relief community.

A main problem is that the food reserves we still have here are not sufficient to feed everybody more than some weeks. And now instead of concentrating in requesting further aid from Port-au-Prince where everything is concentrated in stocks and – although the need there is much higher than here – goods are waiting for their transfer to remote areas that need help, like Hinche, we are stuck in this dilemma. Still I hope we will be able to establish a kind of working routine in order to set free some capacities and time to dedicate ourselves to a future planning. If in the worst case, this will not be possible we face serious threats of insecurity and riots which we could avoid up to now. There are some signs that things could develop positively, for example we might get several visits from cluster responsables based in the capital who want to assess the situation here, but the crucial issue remains the work of all concerned local and locally based actors.

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