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OAS action in Haiti.


A small pot simmers over an open flame on a street corner just outside Port-au-Prince. From this pot, thirteen people who have been living in a tent city since the January 12 earthquake must eat. For OAS Assistant Secretary General Ambassador Albert Ramdin, these realities have become painfully familiar. Looking out from one of Haiti's hilltops, the OAS official sees terrain still dotted by piles of rubble and blanketed by battered tents.

The people of Haiti have survived a sequence of disasters acute enough to cripple any country: an earthquake which killed hundreds of thousands and left a million homeless; cholera which found local hospitals overburdened and under-equipped; followed by mudslides, floods, and more deaths, as Hurricane Tomas brushed by leaving thousands more Haitians without shelter.

Haiti's journey to social and political stability has become a priority of the Organization of American States. Assistant Secretary General Albert Ramdin has been deeply involved in efforts to restore a sense of stability in the country. The high ranking OAS official, believes that a "building a better Haiti" can only be facilitated when there is political certainty, adequate security, and a sense of "ownership" in the country.


On November 28, 2010, Haitians went to the polls to elect a new President. As of press time, final results had not been determined. A second round of presidential and legislative elections is scheduled to take place on January 16. Ramdin believes the new President will then be able to determine the path that Haiti should follow. "A new administration would signal a new sense of purpose and leadership. They would be better placed to make more effective long term policy decisions."

Under the leadership of Haitian authorities, the OAS provided assistance to Haiti's electoral process. It was a challenging task given the situation on the ground. The voters list had been affected by the number of deaths estimated in the January earthquake. Hundreds of bodies were never identified. Haitian authorities like the Provisional Electoral Council (CEP) worked feverishly with the international community to put safeguards in place to facilitate transparent polls.

The OAS and CARICOM formed the largest ever Joint Election Observation Mission (JEOM). The mission of more than one hundred observers was deployed to Haiti before, during, and after the elections. The Organization of American States also provided technical support to various government offices in Haiti to improve the civil registry--the system for registering voters and for printing and distributing the identification cards required for voting. Ninety-six percent of Haiti's adult population, roughly 4.7 million Haitians, was registered. Working with Haiti's Office of National Identity (ONI), the OAS also provided assistance for the preparation and printing of voters lists.


The OAS Assistant Secretary General's commitment to Haiti is long term. "The OAS will continue with the Civil Registry project to include minors, so that accurate information is available about the country's demographics," said Ramdin. "The more information we have, the better equipped we will be to address the needs of the people."

More than nine million people call Haiti home. Following the earthquake, reassessing and evaluating land usage became even more of a priority. New efforts to expand, update, and modernize the cadastral system have been proposed by the OAS. "We're talking about obtaining information which would be critical for the Haitian authorities to make fundamental decisions regarding urban planning, and social and economic development," Ramdin explained.

Haiti's economy has been largely and traditionally supported by remittances. The long term objective, Ramdin says, is for Haitians to be in a position to support their own economy and expand on the successes that small pockets of the private sector have achieved. The OAS is hoping to contribute to that objective by providing technical support to Haiti's divisions of Trade and Tourism. "Haiti's future will be determined by its oval people and the capacity they represent. They are the ones, ultimately, who will work long term to stimulate the economy and achieve sustainable growth."


When it comes to a recovery plan, Ramdin makes one thing clear: Haiti's problems are complex. The journey to recovery must take into account both the immediate and basic needs of the people, as well as long term objectives for development. "Even as we make plans for the future, we have to remember that hunger is still a real, everyday issue, [as are] clean water, energy and fuel, health care, basic shelter, schools for the children, and school supplies." Ramdin himself has become personally engaged in the quest to meet some of Haiti's immediate needs. His staff at the OAS recently launched a Backpack Drive for Haiti's children, involving the greater Washington DC community, members of the diplomatic corps, OAS staff, and their families, all of whom donated backpacks to help Haiti's next generation. Ramdin believes that one of the keys to Haiti's long term recovery is education. "Through education, we can beat poverty," he says and mentions that Haiti will continue to benefit from expanded scholarship opportunities through the OAS.

Ramdin maintains that Haitian authorities are deeply involved in all of the OAS's efforts. "Whatever is done from elections and civil registries, to urban planning and social development projects--is done under recognized Haitian leadership. The international community must work with the priorities and needs established by the Haitian authorities."

The OAS official makes another thing clear. His commitment to Haiti is long term. "We will be here to provide support as long as it takes. The goal is to facilitate political stability in the long term ... and in the short term, to make sure those simmering pots have enough food to feed Haiti's families."

Snyder/Pan American Development Foundation

RELATED ARTICLE: Haitians again fight for survival.

Several months after a devastating earthquake cost hundreds of thousands of lives, Haitians are again fighting for survival in the face of a rapidly spreading cholera epidemic that some fear will reach the capital city of Port-au-Prince. Fortunately, a coordinated international response is contributing to contain the epidemic, which has already caused hundreds of deaths. Although no eases have been reported in the Dominican Republic, the outbreak in Haiti has led the government there to develop a contingency plan for the border area.

The Government of Haiti and the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) have had a leading role in controlling the epidemic and have mobilized experts in various fields, including epidemiologists and laboratory scientists, as well as experts in water and sanitation, logistics, and risk management. The Government of Haiti has been collaborating closely with health cluster partners such as the Cuban medical mission, Doctors without Borders (MSF), the UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH), the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), US Agency for International Development (USAID), US Centers for Disease Control (USCDC), the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), and other governmental and non-governmental organizations to better respond to this emergency.

In addition, the Haitian government is working with health officials in the United States and Canada. This is the first outbreak of cholera in Haiti in over 100 years.

Cholera, an acute diarrheal infection caused by the ingestion of food or water contaminated with the bacterium Vibrio cholera 0:1, can be controlled through the provision of sale water and sanitation. It is estimated that up to 80 percent of cases can be successfully treated with oral rehydration salts. If not treated, however, up to 50 percent of those infected can die, usually of dehydration. The disease is particularly serious among children, the elderly, and all persons with decreased immunity. Cholera is rising faster than originally predicted, with health agencies estimating that 400,000 people will be infected, at least hall of that number within the next three months. As of press time, the Haitian Health Ministry reported that more than 2,000 people had died due to this cholera outbreak.

Cholera is a serious disease that affects 3 to 5 million people worldwide annually and causes 100,000 to 200,000 deaths every year. The majority of eases are in sub-Saharan Africa. Contaminated water in Peru in 1991 caused an epidemic there that spread to other South American countries.

The earthquake of January 12, 2010, led to the displacement of 1.7 million Haitians to rural areas, where they joined poor relatives who were already living in overcrowded conditions, without potable water or adequate sanitation. These conditions may have contributed to the recent cholera epidemic.

A number of individual and community-based prevention measures have been put in place, such as distribution of soap and water purification tablets, as well as rehydration salts used in treating the disease. At the same time, radio spots and printed flyers are spreading the message of how to prevent the spread of cholera through personal hygiene measures. These kinds of outreach efforts appear to have been effective; patients are increasingly arriving at medical facilities at earlier, less severe stages of the disease.


The Pan American Development Foundation is one of the organizations helping to contain the disease and is seeking support for its on-the-ground recovery efforts. "We're coordinating with the Health Ministry and with our community partners to inform Haitians about how to stay safe, which is critical as we work to stop the spread of this deadly disease," said Amy Coughenour, PADF's Deputy Executive Director. "Public awareness is our best preventative medicine."

"Prior to the cholera outbreak, PADF and its partners rehabilitated water distribution systems. Fortunately, they are playing a key role in keeping many communities healthy," she added.

In addition to working with its network of community-based organizations throughout the country, PADF is working with fourteen local disaster response committees that it had previously formed and trained in the Artibonite province. It is believed that the cholera outbreak started in that province. PADF is also shipping in water purification tablets.

To stop this epidemic and prevent future ones, we must create conditions for people to have safe water and adequate sanitation. Let us work together to ensure that the people of Haiti have this basic right.--Dr. Cesar Chelala

Shelly Dass is an advisor for OAS Assistant Secretary General Albert R. Ramdin.
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Title Annotation:Organization of American States
Publication:Americas (English Edition)
Geographic Code:5HAIT
Date:Jan 1, 2011
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