Archive for November, 2013

Calling for UN Accountability

This past Monday the Haiti Advocacy Working Group hosted a panel on the cholera epidemic, introduced to Haiti by United Nations peacekeepers, that has killed almost 8500 Haitians to date. The panel included Jonathan Katz, the journalist who broke the story that the UN peacekeepers were likely responsible for the epidemic, Yale Law professor Muneer Ahmad, who supervised the Peacekeeping Without Accountability report, and Dr. Jean Figaro, a member of the Haitian diaspora and Director for the “Kolera Jistis Project.” The panelists have all concluded that the UN is responsible for introducing cholera to Haiti, which experts have traced to Nepalese soldiers and inadequate sanitation disposal on a UN base near a major Haitian water source. The UN, in response, has asserted international immunity – an action considered wholly inadequate and even insulting. The Yale Law report addresses this point of immunity by looking to the UN’s contract, where the UN agreed to construct a judicial council to hear grievances from Haitian citizens and other actors in Haiti. The UN itself added this in order to have an avenue of accountability for the Haitian people. However, they never established such a judicial board in Haiti, nor have they ever done so in any of the other countries where it is included in their peacekeeping contracts. The UN broke their contract, ignoring this part but claiming international immunity from another part. How can the UN claim immunity that is guaranteed in a contract they themselves breached? Fundamentally, the UN is present in Haiti to promote human rights, which under their own definition includes the right to life. Yet they are responsible for the death of almost 8500 Haitians and counting. The UN is directly undermining its own mission along with its reputation. By ignoring their accountability, the UN is only insulting the same people they claim to be serving. Haitians and many within the international community are calling for the UN to acknowledge their fault and take steps toward reparations. Some in Congress are sending a letter to the U.S. Ambassador to the UN, urging the UN to take accountability for cholera in Haiti. The United States is the largest funder of the UN. Dr. Figaro ended the panel by solemnly asking us to think what our individual roles are, as U.S. citizens, within this episode. Let’s reject the UN’s inaction and make sure that our role is one of justice seeking and solidarity with our Haitian partners.
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Let’s Not Make the Same Mistakes

The horrific disaster in the Philippines has rocked political boats around the world. This kind of devastation is predicted to become more frequent as the Earth’s climate continues changing. Even if the Conference on Climate Change takes drastic action (which no reasonable observers expect), the train has left the station on emissions levels, and many scientists now argue that we are barreling past tipping points in climate change. These are depressing propositions to be sure, and they are a sobering reminder that the time to improve our emergency response mechanisms and protocols is right now. As the world struggles to respond to this most recent disaster, it would behoove our leaders to consider policy changes based on the lessons learned from the 2010 earthquake that struck Haiti. Particularly, the United States must change the way it distributes food aid, especially in the midst of a disaster. After the earthquake struck in January, the United States spent $140 million on a USAID program that sent food grown in the United States to Haiti. This amount represents nearly three quarters of United States aid to Haiti in following the quake. Sending food to people in need is an intuitive response, but one that is increasingly regarded as both ineffective and counterproductive in the long term for recipients. The reason is that a massive influx of food through an aid program disrupts and re-orders local markets, which are often precarious at the outset. The food aid displaces local producers, and in doing so clears the way for commercial imports of staple crops. This process completely overturns any levels of food sovereignty as countries become reliant on imports to meet their needs. Haiti is a stark example, importing 80% of its rice. This makes sense for farmers in the United States, but not for Haitians, whose country is capable of producing a large enough rice crop each year to be a net exporter.

“Since 1981, the United States has followed a policy, until the last year or so when we started rethinking it, that we rich countries that produce a lot of food should sell it to the poor countries and relieve them of the burden of producing their own food, so, thank goodness, they can leap directly into the industrial era. It has not worked. It may have been good for some of my farmers in Arkansas, but it has not worked.” –Bill Clinton

Haiti is now struggling under immense financial pressures that are driving farmers to focus their energy on export crops. Thus, Haiti is in a situation where its farmers produce mangoes and purchase US-grown rice with their earnings. Hardly a sensible system for a country capable of producing its own food and avoiding the layers of middlemen and transaction costs associated with export agriculture. Time for Reform Right now, the Quixote Center is part of a coalition of NGOs and grassroots networks advocating for food aid reform. We are calling for increased flexibility in the system that will allow for more local purchases of food aid when possible. What we hope for is a system that allows rapid and efficient response to all types of food emergencies. In cases where local production is disrupted, sending food to people in need makes sense. However, this public aid should not be used as a tool to prop up United States farmers to the detriment of farmers in recipient countries. Our coalition advocates for changes such that, when possible, food aid comes by making local purchases for people in need. These purchases are more efficient in that the food does not have to travel from Arkansas, and it is more productive in the long term because it increases the viability of local markets and maintains existing levels of food sovereignty. The United States can do better, but whether or not we improve is dependent on Members of Congress now considering Food Aid Reform as part of the Farm Bill. We have set up a system through which you can contact your Member of Congress and express your support for key issues like food reform, aid accountability, and the ongoing displaced persons crisis in Port-au-Prince. If you would like to get more directly involved in the effort to reform our system of food aid, please contact Andrew Hochhalter for more information.
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Haiti Digest: Food Aid Reform Edition

The Food Aid Reform is moving and shaking! Here at the Quixote Center we have been meeting and collaborating with other lobbyists to follow Congress’ movements as Food Aid Reform negotiations start. Representative Eliot Engel (D-NY), the senior Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, wrote an op-ed that provides some great points on food aid reform, and even specifies Haiti. Here are our two favorite points:
  1. Buying food from farmers in-country promotes their own local economies and is a step towards self-sufficient markets. In essence, we will enable them to feed themselves, and they won’t need our food aid in the future.
  1. Our current process of shipping U.S. food abroad is inefficient. It takes 130 days longer to reach the hungry, and has lost $219 million of our taxpayer money over three years. With the Food Aid Reform, our aid will be both more efficient and reach up to 4 million more people.
Archbishop Coakley from Oklahoma City also chimed in with his own op-ed, here.
We know too well those sites described: in Haiti driving past fields of rice while on the roadside, merchants are selling U.S. flag-stamped bags. Hearing from small-acre famers who are struggling because our export-led aid has ruined their local markets. Many of you have expressed your support for this reform by sending a letter to your representative. If you haven’t already, you can join the campaign. Let’s not make the hungry hungrier. Let’s enable our partners to cultivate their own farms, sell their own food, and develop their own countries.
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Will World Leaders COP-Out Again?

On Monday, November 11 the 19th “Conference of Parties” of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP-19) began in Warsaw, Poland. Negotiators are working toward a draft agreement with mandatory emission targets scheduled to be signed in Paris during COP-21 in 2015. Also on the agenda is securing financial commitments for the Green Climate Fund to provide assistance to countries to finance reform. COP-19 comes on the heels of the devastating Typhoon Haiyan that struck the central islands of the Philippines this past Friday. The strongest storm to ever make land fall, Haiyan has displaced over a million people, and killed thousands. There is a clear link between climate change and extreme weather events such as Haiyan. The chief negotiator for the Philippines at COP-19, Yeb Sano made an urgent plea for parties to set aside longstanding barriers to binding commitments and act! Closer to home, and to the Quixote Center’s work, a new report indicates that Haiti has been the country most devastated by extreme weather events (Note: The Philippines was number two, with data collected prior to Haiyan.) Countries like Haiti and the Philippines have contributed very little to global greenhouse gas emissions, and yet pay the heaviest burden from the impact of resulting climate change. Thus far commitments to share this burden from the wealthiest countries have been inadequate. A new report from the International Institute for Environment and Development says:
Less than one-seventh of the US$5 billion needed to fund the Least Developed Countries’ (LDCs’) most urgent climate change adaptation projects has been delivered by wealthy countries — a sliver of their annual spending on their own disasters and globally on fossil fuel subsidies. LDCs played almost no role in causing climate change, yet from 2010 to July 2013, their deaths from climate-related disasters were more than five times the global average. International pledges of climate finance to address this inequality are overall both inadequate and unmet. The burden of responding to climate change should fall on those most responsible for causing the problem, and most capable of addressing it.
Expectations are typically low for these negotiating rounds, and COP-19 is no different. But we can still raise our voice. 350.org is circulating a petition calling for negotiators to make serious commitments on emission standards and other reform now. If you would like to add your voice you can sign here. The petition will be delivered to negotiators during the conference, which is scheduled to go for two weeks.
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Contact Us

  • Quixote Center
    7307 Baltimore Ave.
    Ste 214
    College Park, MD 20740
  • Office: 301-699-0042
    Email: info@quixote.org

Direction to office:

For driving: From Baltimore Ave (Route 1) towards University of Maryland, turn right onto Hartwick Rd. Turn immediate right in the office complex.

Look for building 7307. We are located on the 2nd floor.

For public transportation: We are located near the College Park metro station (green line)