Human rights groups released a report on June 23rd accusing the Bush Administration of blocking "potentially lifesaving" aid to Haiti in order to meddle in the impoverished nation's political affairs.
The report, "Wòch nan Soley: The Denial of the Right to Water in Haiti," also takes aim at the international community for its role in politicizing aid while standing idly by as people suffer and die.
"The international community is able to turn a blind eye to the impact of its policies because it is not forced to confront the human faces of those who die or become ill through its action or inaction," said Loune Viaud, Director of Operations for Zanmi Lasante. "This report shows the devastating human rights impacts of its policies."
The International Development Bank (IDB) approved a $54 million loan and $956,000 grant to increase access to drinking water and improve sanitation services in 1998. IDB officials believed that its proposed projects would alleviate preventable water-related diseases and would help decrease poverty by slashing water costs by as much as 90 percent. The projects were designed to improve "the quality of life-particularly for women and children-and to reduc[e] incidence of disease and child mortality."
But in what the report calls "one of the most egregious examples of malfeasance by the United States in recent years," the Bush Administration blocked the scheduled loan disbursal in 2001.
"When an institution takes on the responsibility to improve water and health conditions, it cannot turn around and undermine the rights of the people it was established to serve, regardless of pressure from one of its most powerful members," said Monika Kalra Varma, Director of the RFK Center. "To keep history from repeating itself, the IDB and the U.S. government must take responsibility for their actions and put in place transparency and oversight mechanisms to guarantee that the human rights of the people of Haiti and other IDB member states will not be violated by an institution mandated to support their economic and social development."
The report points out that Dean Curran, ambassador to Haiti at the time, said in 2001, "There now are a certain number of loans of the Inter-American Development Bank that are not yet disbursed with the objective of trying to request of the protagonists of the current situation, in the current political crisis, to reach a compromise."
Treasury Department officials sent internal emails responding to the ambassador's comment, regarding it as a "major screwup" that could be "easily interpreted as linking the hold-up in disbursement of loans at the IDB to the U.S. government's political concerns."
Brookly McLaughlin, a Treasury Department spokeswoman, told the The New York Times on June 23rd that she had not yet read the report, but suggested that the United States government and other international agencies had played a positive role in the development of Haiti. What may be even more remarkable is the fact The New York Times admitted that the Bush Administration encouraged the 2004 coup which removed Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide.
In addition to being the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere, Haiti also has some of the worst water in the world, ranking last in the Water Poverty Index.
"Lack of access to this crucial resource continues to impact all aspects of life for the vast majority of Haitians, contributing to poor health, food shortages, and diminished educational opportunities" the report states. "The result: a vicious cycle of contaminated water consumption, ineffective public hygiene, persistent health crises, and-beneath it all-chronic and deeply embedded poverty."
The organizations that authored the report hope that it will contribute to real policy changes by compelling international financial institutions, national governments, and other entities to understand that respect for human rights is inextricably linked to resource and development issues and, crucially, that they are legally obligated to respect, protect, and fulfill those rights.
"We must strive to hold our governments, and the institutions to which they belong, accountable. And we must commit to ensuring that the right to water is realized in rich and poor countries alike," said Zamni Lasante's Viaud. "It is time for all actors in Haiti to put the rights of the Haitian people first."
Cyril Mychalejko is an editor at www.UpsideDownWorld.org, a website on activism and politics in Latin America.