The Government of Haiti's water governance reform agenda

Flooding in Cap-Haitien, Haiti.  Photo: United Nations.  

Flooding in Cap-Haitien, Haiti.  Photo: United Nations.  

It's been about two years since I completed a series of field studies of water governance in Haiti.  Our project in northern Haiti finished up about a year later.  It's gratifying to work on development projects on-the-ground, but it's also rewarding to take those experiences and share them with the broader international and academic communities.  Two articles I wrote about water governance in Haiti have been published recently.  The first is a broad look at Haiti's water laws and policies, and the institutions that develop and enforce those laws.  The article has been published by the Tulane Environmental Law Journal and is available online here.  

The second article is a more focused study on local institutions in the Trou-du-Nord watershed in northern Haiti.  The region has water resources, but many water users competing for a modest supply.  At present local institutions are insufficient to manage these resources and users adequately.  My article explores some institutional reforms local stakeholders, the Government of Haiti, and international donors may be interested in pursuing.  This second article has been published by AQUA-LAC, the journal of UNESCO's International Hydrological Program, as part of a special issue composed of articles written by myself and other colleagues who worked on the Trou-du-Nord watershed project.  The special issue includes a forward from Jovenel Moise, the President of Haiti.  President Moise's forward is included below:

This special issue of AQUA-LAC is a magnificent example of the solidarity expressed by the International Hydrological Program for Latin America and the Caribbean (IHP-LAC) in promoting the integrated management of the water resources of the Republic of Haiti. Indeed, in its report in 1972 on integrated technical assistance in Haiti, the OAS stated, “The development of Haiti’s natural resources is to a large extent linked to maximizing the rational utilization of its water resources. Failing these factors, the country’s agricultural and industrial development, as well as the life of its inhabitants, will be confronted by severe limitations” (OAS, 1972).

This issue has 9 articles written by authors from three countries: Haiti, the United States and Mexico. They cover very diverse fields, ranging from the reconstitution of extreme rainfall events in Haiti – currently a highly pertinent topic with climate change and extreme hydrological phenomena – to an analysis of water governance reform in Haiti, which emphasizes the numerous challenges that have to be overcome to achieve integrated and rational water management.

Furthermore, four articles refer to the water resources of the Trou du Nord watershed, which supplies the industrial zone of Caracol. They provide analytical elements on research issues that not only have to be taken further with respect to this watershed, but which can also be transposed to other watersheds in Haiti in view to carrying out comparative studies.

Regarding water intended for human consumption, the results of an evaluation of microbiological risks highlight the danger of Crytosporidium oocysts for the health of the population. The issue of water in emerging non-secured districts is also studied and presented in an article on water supply to Canaan.

The analysis of epidemiological transition linked to hydrometeorological disasters provides methodological tools and calls for specialists in water and health sciences to carry out multidisciplinary actions to establish, and experiment with, protocols aimed at facilitating the development of new tools for preventing and controlling certain water-borne diseases.

This special issue addresses the urgent need for the Haitian authorities to establish a national water policy. By relying on the basic principles of integrated water resource management, I strongly believe that this reform will lead the country in the short, medium and long terms to: (i) reduce the environmental risks linked to water, (ii) better satisfy the population’s needs for water, and (iii) solve conflicts between the different actors in this sector.

My administration is committed to this process by proposing legislative and administrative changes, and by making new choices for investment in the water sector by waging on stronger scientific and technical cooperation between and IHP-LAC. This is the context in which I have made the management and control of surface water a major goal of my governmental program.

Jovenel Moïse President of the Republic of Haiti

Introducing "Water Governance in Haiti"

The Trou-du-Nord River in northern Haiti, near its mouth in Caracol Bay.  Photo: Ryan Stoa.

The Trou-du-Nord River in northern Haiti, near its mouth in Caracol Bay.  Photo: Ryan Stoa.

Haitians will go to the polls on Sunday to vote in their national elections, seven months after the Haitian Parliament dissolved and left the executive ruling by decree.  Considering the sorry state of water services in the country, water has been on the political agenda for months.  But the administrative capacities are so low, and the information so scarce, that it's hard to know who the players are in the Haitian water sector, what laws govern them, or how capable those agencies are to carry out their mandates.

I just posted my latest article, titled "Water Governance in Haiti."  It looks at the Haitian water sector to get a clearer picture of the landscape.  The study was funded by the Inter-American Development Bank, and included an analysis of the regulatory capacities of local government agencies in northern Haiti (where foreign governments are funding a large industrial park).  Here is an excerpt:

The first phase of this study collected and analyzed the laws, policies, and institutions involved in water resources management in Haiti.  Results from that phase suggest that the laws and policies affecting water resources create a fragmented and uncoordinated water management framework, in which national ministries have overlapping mandates and rarely coordinate their efforts effectively.  In addition, while the legal framework transfers significant management authorities (and responsibilities) to local governments, there is little else in the way of statutory or regulatory guidance for these governments to rely on.  For that reason, the legal framework creates broad ambiguities regarding how local governments are to be financed, staffed, or otherwise carry out their water management duties.  These uncertainties could, in theory, create the interpretational space needed for local governments to experiment with water management strategies and techniques in ways that foster resilience and increase sustainability.  In practice, it seems more likely that opaque legal mandates would create confusion and leave local governments ill-equipped to tackled the daunting challenges of water management. 

The following case study of institutional capacities in the Trou du Nord watershed in northern Haiti suggests that most agencies and stakeholders have neither the human nor the financial resources in place to fulfill their mandates.  Some, however, such as DINEPA’s local representatives or the University of Limonade, are relatively well-staffed and exhibit the continuity of presence needed to justify targeted capacity building efforts.  Others, such as the sections and communes in the region, may have low levels of capacity in water resources management but merit engagement in order to secure broad participation in water management planning efforts.  The institutional capacity analysis that follows has been conducted with an eye towards informing the final component of the IDB project funding this study: an integrated water resources management plan for the Trou-du-Nord watershed.

The Trou du Nord river is located in the Trou du Nord Arrondissement, a subdivision of the Northeast Department of Haiti.  The Arrondissement contains four communes: Caracol, Saint Suzanne, Terrier-Rouge, and Trou-du-Nord.  These communes comprise the local government bloc of stakeholders most integral to a participatory water management planning strategy, as they represent the core geographic regions of the watershed, while exhibiting a level of regulatory and management activity that lower levels of government (i.e., sections within the communes) lack.  For the most part the four communes do not employ any full-time staff dedicated to water resources, though some activities fall within the broad scope of water management.  More important, perhaps, is the local support and buy-in that would be needed from each commune to effectively carry out a water management plan that modifies the status quo in any meaningful way.

Caracol is a flood-prone coastal commune on Caracol Bay, at the mouth of the Trou-du-Nord river.  It is sparsely populated, but due to the Caracol Industrial Park’s presence, demographics are in flux and electricity is reliable.  The commune reports a total annual budget of less than $195,000, of which over 40% comes from a European Union development project. The 39 staff receive an annual salary of around $4,320, but none are dedicated to water management per se.  A significant portion of commune tasks pertain to waste management, accomplished with wheelbarrows and two motorcycles.  There are no vehicles, nor is there a disposal site in the commune.  While commune staff do not engage in water management themselves, they do work closely with DINEPA staff on water projects when necessary.

On the opposite end of the watershed, the commune of Saint Suzanne sits at the source of the Trou-du-Nord river and comprises a significant portion of the watershed’s catchment area.  The overall budget and staff salaries are similar to those of Caracol, though in practice staff are often not paid on time.  The office has one functioning computer, one motorcycle, and no human or financial resources dedicated to water management.  DINEPA’s presence is minimal, supplemented by periodic wells drilled by international NGOs.  Staff conduct street cleaning, but lack an official disposal site.  Hygiene facilities are minimal to non-existent. 

The communes of Terrier-Rouge and Trou-du-Nord lie between upstream Saint Suzanne and downstream Caracol.  Terrier-Rouge is the eastern commune, sitting directly on the Route Nationale of the northern transportation corridor.  The industrial park has financed new housing projects and reliable electricity in the commune.  A municipal engineer on staff facilitates the issuance of construction permits, and the commune has hired eight staff to conduct reforestation work.  Most other staff are engaged in street cleaning.  The commune lacks a waste disposal site, though plans are in place to build a site capable of serving multiple communes.  DINEPA’s presence, and hygiene facilities, are minimal and supplemented by international NGOs.  The overall budget and staff salaries are similar to those of Caracol, with neither dedicated to water management in any meaningful way.

Finally, the Trou-du-Nord commune forms the western flank of the watershed.  The river flows through the commune before passing by the industrial park.  While no housing projects have been constructed its proximity to the park has enabled reliable electricity throughout the commune.  The commune is relatively well-staffed, with an engineer on hand to issue construction permits, and staff engaged in waste management and small-scale hygiene projects.  However, little infrastructure is available for these purposes, as the commune has only one tricycle and some wheelbarrows, no disposal site, and a dysfunctional water supply system.

The full study is available here.


Haiti's Red Cross problem

Photo: IFRC

Photo: IFRC

I'm in Haiti this week, splitting my time between Cap Haitien and Port au Prince.  Haiti has been in the news again lately, this time as a result of the NPR's investigation into the Red Cross' $500 million of disaster relief.  Much of the money has either not been spent, or was spent poorly or non-transparently:

NPR and ProPublica went in search of the nearly $500 million and found a string of poorly managed projects, questionable spending and dubious claims of success, according to a review of hundreds of pages of the charity's internal documents and emails, as well as interviews with a dozen current and former officials.
The Red Cross says it has provided homes to more than 130,000 people, but the number of permanent homes the charity has built is six.

Some of the allegations aren't as severe as they might seem.  Sub-contracting projects to third party organizations is decried as wasteful spending, but remains standard when managing large sums of development aid, for example.  Still, $500 million is a lot of money that should have been accounted for and closely monitored to ensure results were being produced.  In April I wrote a three part series looking at disaster law and displacement in Haiti.  I argued that most shortcomings were the result of three factors: 1) weak building codes and a lack of enforcement; 2) an archaic land tenure scheme; and 3) a multitude of NGOs operating outside the parameters of a guiding legal framework.  The Red Cross controversy is emblematic of all three factors, but especially 2 and 3.  

From the Red Cross' perspective, building homes in Haiti is a vastly more difficult undertaking than one would assume, largely because potential homeowners have a hard time proving ownership over land.  NGOs are hesitant to invest when the beneficiaries are ambiguous.  The NPR report too quickly dismissed land rights:

The original plan was to build 700 new homes with living rooms and bathrooms. The Red Cross says it ran into problems acquiring land rights.  Their internal memos, however, show there were other serious problems, including multiple staffing changes and long bureaucratic delays. And then there was a period of almost a year when the whole project appears to have sat dormant.

Anyone who has worked in international development knows how frustrating it can be to wait for approvals from higher-ups, but acquiring land rights, or at least obtaining documentation sufficient to verify title to property, is more challenging than it's being given credit for.

On the other hand, the absence of a framework capable of governing foreign organizations and their various projects in Haiti meant Haitians were at risk of being misled.  NPR touts the ability of one organization to overcome land tenure schemes by employing mostly Haitians, whereas the Red Cross struggled to build a Haitian-led team.  In other instances, Red Cross staff couldn't speak French or Creole.  And their financial history is vague at best, with most records kept private.  Even the Prime Minister couldn't obtain financial documentation to verify the Red Cross' claims.  A robust legal framework for managing NGOs and other international organizations as they conduct development projects is obtainable, and can provide safeguards such as language requirements or financial transparency laws.  

While not immediately apparent, governance and the rule of law play a large role in development.  One email from the Red Cross suggests they had more money than they knew what to do with:

"We still are holding $20 million of contingency," she writes in an email. "Any ideas on how to spend the rest of this? (Besides the wonderful helicopter idea?) Can we fund Conrad's hospital? Or more to [Partners in Health]? Any more shelter projects?"

My suggestion: invest in public administration and the Haitian justice system.

Disaster Law and Displacement, Nepal Edition

Disaster Law and Displacement, Nepal Edition

Earlier this month I wrote about displacement and disaster in Haiti, highlighting some legal obstacles that were (and still are) frustrating efforts to reduce displaced populations after the 2010 earthquake.  The legal framework was weak on three fronts: domestically, building codes were not optimized for seismic activity and rarely enforced, while property documentation processes were confusing; regionally, while the Dominican Republic pledged aid at first, long-running tensions emerged eventually; and internationally the NGO and intergovernmental community operated without meaningful checks and balances.  

On Saturday, a 7.8 magnitude earthquake struck Nepal, with an epicenter roughly 80 kilometers from the capital and most populous city, Kathmandu.  Compare that to Haiti's 7.0 magnitude earthquake 25 km from Port au Prince, Haiti's capital and most populous city, and the seismology looks similar.  But vulnerability is a product not only of earthquake strength and duration, but population and property preparedness as well.  A comparison between rich and poor countries illustrates the dynamic quite well (see chart below the jump).

So far the impact of the earthquake in Nepal - and immediate relief efforts - appear to be mirroring the Haitian experience.  The death toll (so far) is lower than estimated for the region, but hundreds of thousands of survivors are sprawled across large tent cities near Kathmandu, with power, freshwater, food, and hospital services being stretched thin.  International relief agencies are pouring into the country, and the relief effort will inevitably become a rebuilding project, with familiar echoes of Haiti's infamous "Build Back Better" campaign.   Given the impending transition in Nepal, it's worth comparing the lessons of Haiti's experience with the Nepalese context.  

Low building code standards and enforcement

Nepal ranks near the bottom in a list of countries on preparedness for natural disasters.  Despite being located on a known fault-line, Kathmandu, like Port au Prince, did not develop stringent building codes, zoning laws, or urbanization management plans to mitigate risk.  What plans do exist have not been enforced.  According to The Atlantic's City Lab:

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The Law of Disaster and Displacement in Haiti (Part III)

The Law of Disaster and Displacement in Haiti (Part III)

The third in a three-part series on disaster and displacement in Haiti.  Read the rest of the series: Part IPart II.

Five years since the earthquake, the number of people living in camps has dropped by over 90%.  Still, between 100,000 – 150,000 remain, and for those that returned to their homes, life remains difficult.  67% of households that were displaced by the earthquake are unable to meet their basic needs, compared to 43% of households that were not displaced.  Families that were displaced are more likely than non-displaced families to report that their living conditions have worsened, that they feel insecure, or that they have poor access to water, sanitation facilities, or healthcare.   Despite a reduction in the number of people living in camps, replacing what was lost during the earthquake and its aftermath remains a struggle. 

Of additional concern though is the prospect of another disaster, be it an earthquake or a hurricane.  The particular legal problems addressed above have received little attention, and what attention has been paid appears not to have made a significant change to realities on the ground. 

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The Law of Disaster and Displacement in Haiti (Part I)

The Law of Disaster and Displacement in Haiti (Part I)

This is the first in a three-part series about disaster and displacement in Haiti.  Read the rest of the series: Part IIPart III

Port-au-Prince is Haiti’s capital and most populous city, with a metropolitan population of nearly 2.5 million.  On January 12, 2010, a magnitude 7.0 Mw earthquake struck 25 kilometers southwest of the city.  An additional 52 aftershocks with a magnitude of at least 4.5 followed.  The island of Hispaniola – which Haiti shares with the Dominican Republic – is no stranger to extreme natural events like earthquakes and tropical cyclones, but the 2010 earthquake was unprecedented in its destructive impact.   Death toll estimates range from 100,000 - 300,000.   Critical infrastructure designed to respond to disasters (e.g., hospitals, roads, seaports, airports, communication systems) was destroyed.   Many of the city's other buildings - including private residences, government institutions, and business centers - were likewise completely or functionally destroyed.  In sum, Haiti’s largest city and the epicenter of government and economic activity was ground to a halt.

While recovering and respectfully disposing of the deceased proved trying, responding to the needs of the living became a challenge of epic proportions.  The United States Agency for International Development estimates that 1.5 million people were displaced into some 1,500 camps.  Many others forced to leave their homes sought refuge with family in other parts of the country.  And by almost all accounts, the response to displacement was inadequate.  A year after the earthquake 500,000 Haitians were still living in camps, and although the rough official number in 2014 was ‘only’ 100,000, the effect of displacement is persistent and hard to fully discern in a city where camps can be hard to distinguish from slums.  A 2014 survey found that 74% of families forced to leave their homes in 2010 still consider themselves displaced, even though they no longer live in displacement camps.   Meanwhile, life in the camps was ill-conceived: many had no electricity, clean water, sanitation facilities, or protection from the elements.  Sexual, domestic, and gang violence was common, and a cholera outbreak (likely introduced by foreign aid workers) exacerbated a fragile public health environment. 

The inadequacy of the response to displacement has many intertwined roots, the totality of which is still being uncovered.  One of the most distressing concerns for Haiti and the international community, however, was (and continues to be) the weak legal framework designed to mitigate and respond to extreme natural events. 

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