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Wednesday:  October 1, 2014

When Will Chile's Post Office's Re-open? 

(PHOTO: Workers set up camp at Santiago's Rio Mapocho/Mason Bryan, The Santiago Times)Chile nears 1 month without mail service as postal worker protests continue. This week local branches of the 5 unions representing Correos de Chile voted on whether to continue their strike into a 2nd month, rejecting the union's offer. For a week the workers have set up camp on the banks of Santiago's Río Mapocho displaying banners outlining their demands; framing the issue as a division of the rich & the poor. The strike’s main slogan? “Si tocan a uno, nos tocan a todos,” it reads - if it affects 1 of us, it affects all of us. (Read more at The Santiago Times)

WHO convenes emergency talks on MERS virus

 

(PHOTO: Saudi men walk to the King Fahad hospital in the city of Hofuf, east of the capital Riyadh on June 16, 2013/Fayez Nureldine)The World Health Organization announced Friday it had convened emergency talks on the enigmatic, deadly MERS virus, which is striking hardest in Saudi Arabia. The move comes amid concern about the potential impact of October's Islamic hajj pilgrimage, when millions of people from around the globe will head to & from Saudi Arabia.  WHO health security chief Keiji Fukuda said the MERS meeting would take place Tuesday as a telephone conference & he  told reporters it was a "proactive move".  The meeting could decide whether to label MERS an international health emergency, he added.  The first recorded MERS death was in June 2012 in Saudi Arabia & the number of infections has ticked up, with almost 20 per month in April, May & June taking it to 79.  (Read more at Xinhua)

LINKS TO OTHER STORIES

                                

Dreams and nightmares - Chinese leaders have come to realize the country should become a great paladin of the free market & democracy & embrace them strongly, just as the West is rejecting them because it's realizing they're backfiring. This is the "Chinese Dream" - working better than the American dream.  Or is it just too fanciful?  By Francesco Sisci

Baby step towards democracy in Myanmar  - While the sweeping wins Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy has projected in Sunday's by-elections haven't been confirmed, it is certain that the surging grassroots support on display has put Myanmar's military-backed ruling party on notice. By Brian McCartan

The South: Busy at the polls - South Korea's parliamentary polls will indicate how potent a national backlash is against President Lee Myung-bak's conservatism, perceived cronyism & pro-conglomerate policies, while offering insight into December's presidential vote. Desire for change in the macho milieu of politics in Seoul can be seen in a proliferation of female candidates.  By Aidan Foster-Carter  

Pakistan climbs 'wind' league - Pakistan is turning to wind power to help ease its desperate shortage of energy,& the country could soon be among the world's top 20 producers. Workers & farmers, their land taken for the turbine towers, may be the last to benefit.  By Zofeen Ebrahim

Turkey cuts Iran oil imports - Turkey is to slash its Iranian oil imports as it seeks exemptions from United States penalties linked to sanctions against Tehran. Less noticed, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, in the Iranian capital last week, signed deals aimed at doubling trade between the two countries.  By Robert M. Cutler

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Wednesday
Nov022011

Social Media Stirs Ghanaians to Action over Discrimination (REPORT)

By Karen Attiah

(HN, November 2, 2011) - African governments are not the only ones to fear the combination of disgruntled masses and social media. Businesses too are at the mercy of Africans wielding mobile phones, Facebook and Twitter.

In the west African nation of Ghana, where five mobile networks have generated a cell phone penetration rate of 80.5 percent, hand-held devices are all the rage. And many people in this country of almost 25 million people have social media access on their mobile devices.

Take Elizabeth Okoro. She took to Facebook to recount being discriminated against at a restaurant named Atlantic Lobster and Dolphin Ltd.  in the Osu part of the bustling capital, Accra.

In a Facebook post dated Saturday, Okoro recalled asking the Italian owner of the restaurant if she, along with her Spanish and Japanese dining companions, could become members of the restaurant’s “Seafood Lovers” Club.

According to Okoro, restaurant management responded with a laugh, saying the club was for white people only. “I was completely taken aback and rendered speechless,” Okoro says in her Facebook post.

Okoro was not speechless for long.

The Facebook group that she created on Saturday - “White’s Only Club in Gh..Pls Boycott Atlantic Lobster and Dolphin Ltd” - has ballooned to over 1,420 members. Even a local radio station, X-FM, invited Okoro on the air to speak about her experiences.

The Ghanaian government has taken notice. On Tuesday, Joy FM reported that Ghana’s tourism ministry has shut down Atlantic Lobster, as a result of a lack of compliance with operation codes.

Elizabeth’s plight seems to have resonated with many Ghanaians on social media.

On both Twitter and Facebook, they are now speaking out about their experiences of discrimination at the hands of foreign-owned businesses, particularly in Accra.

And, as more and more expatriates are moving to Accra to take advantage of investment opportunities, political stability and easy proximity to palm-fringed beaches, many Ghanaians are sharing experiences of being refused service in favor of expats at clubs, bars, restaurants, and bakeries. “Ghana should not accept this from any foreign investor”- said one Facebook commenter named Yehowa Ji Mi Kwelor.

“That’s Ghana for you” is a popular expression of defeated resignation, and is used to explain everything from corruption to power rationing to discrimination.

But now with virtually unlimited access to social media platforms, young Ghanaians are pledging to no longer keep quiet about injustices Perhaps older generations of Ghanaians would have kept silent about such treatment.

But as Okoro posted on her Facebook wall on Tuesday, “Today marks the birth of a new generation. A new generation of Ghanaians who will not only be heard but will scream out against discrimination. A new generation who will not turn a blind eye against injustice. We have shed the cloak of inaction and out on a super hero cloak of determination. I am proud to be member of this generation. “

It may come as no surprise that the government acted so promptly. According to the World Bank, the tourism industry is now the third highest foreign exchange earner in Ghana, with average earnings of over $400 million per year.

From the looks of things, Okoro’s call for action on Facebook has sent echoes far and wide.

Attiah is a Ghanaian-American master's student at Columbia University's School of International and Public Affairs. She holds research interests in broadcast media and citizen participation in Africa.

Tuesday
Feb222011

Pulling the Revolutionary Trigger - Via Facebook (PERSPECTIVE)

by Alina Vrejoiu

“Whatever the future may have in store for us, one thing is certain — this new revolution in human thought will never go backward.” --- Fredrick Douglas

(HN, February 21, 2011) -- As Libyan cities continue to fall into the hands of anti-Gaddafi supporters, many people are once again speculating on the root cause of the upheavals in the Middle East and Northern Africa.Ousted Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak was so terrified of social media he ordered the Internet shut for several days. CREDIT: Al-Ahram

As an educator, and having lived through the revolution in Eastern Europe, I can tell you that if you peel away all the layers one thing becomes clear: the lack of an educational foundation is at the top of the list for revolutionary triggers.

It’s no accident that in this information age, social networking is leading the North African and Middle Eastern leap to modernity. This - combined with a high population of youth and a poor economy - makes a very potent recipe for revolution.

Who would have imagined that social networking sites - such as Twitter, Facebook and others like them - once thought to be playful diversions, are now helping to thread together the fabrics of the revolution? And who would have thought that the technology embraced by so many millions could pose a threat to strongmen like Muammar al-Gadaffi, one of the nastiest in the region, Hosni Mubarak and long-standing regimes in Bahrain, Yemen, Algeria and elsewhere?

Protesters in Benghazi demonstrate against Colonel Gaddafi Photo: FLICKRYoung men and women of these long-closed societies - such as Google marketing executive Wael Ghonim in Egypt - have formed online communities of like-minded individuals who have been disenfranchised by their governments of economic dignity and freedom for so many decades.

Something had to give and the timing is no accident: food prices are sky-rocketing, joblessness is at an all-time high and promises of reform from long-serving strongmen in the region have produced nothing more than hollow results.

In this information age everyone is connected but no one is in charge - this is what is leading to a breakdown in the dictatorships.
The rotted out governments of Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and other countries in Northern Africa and the Middle East are a clear example of how being out of touch with technology and the huge generational gap have become huge liabilities.

These are the two main propellant forces that will fuel more and more protests in countries all over region.

In the region, about 60% of people are under the age of thirty and they all want to be free and have economic stability like all human beings do.  

As a presidential contender, Barack Obama knew how to reach America’s youth like no other politician running for office. His hypnotic “Yes We Can” campaign slogan resonated not only with the youth in this country, but all over the world. He had the savvy to connect with and engage college students for the first time in the United States through the Internet.

Overthrowing a regime and making a change will require massive investment in infrastructure and social programs in order for change to be successful and sustainable.

According to the United Nations the countries in this region have not only avoided badly-needed investment in their people but they have also kept them in the dark - through tactics ranging from limiting access to Internet sites to keeping tight reigns on state-owned media outlets.

Expect this astonishing wave of change to wash across virgin territory. Iran’s regime is vulnerable to the same break down as the countries in Northern Africa are faced with. The Mullahs and the Islamic element are minor in comparison to the population of youth they must face. The regime will put up a lot of resistance but its chances of surviving are slim. I am making the bold prediction that the Iranian regime will collapse within a year’s time, at the latest, and will change the geopolitics in the Middle East.

People all across the Middle East and North Africa are willing to sacrifice their lives for a common cause. The reality is promising and - these days - the trigger seems just a click away.

---Alina Vrejoiu is a faculty member of Kingsborough Community College in Brooklyn, New York and has taught international students for the last four years.

Sunday
Feb202011

Social Media Huge Challenge to Authoritarian Governments (UPDATED FEB 21 1740GMT)

Protesters in Cairo demanding a return of Internet access(HN, February 21, 2011) - Across the Middle East and North Africa, social media channels are being used widely to mobilize protesters, feed news to media agencies and to broadcast thoughts that were once a ticket for imprisonment.

The use of such social media channels as Facebook, Skype and Twitter - and more recently Speak2Tweet - in Tunisia and Egypt has highlighted their importance as tools for circumventing government dominance of the media sector and restrictive freedom of association laws.

As major cities in Libya appeared to fall today into opposition hands, supporters overseas Tweeted ISP phone numbers in Europe which could be used by Libyans with dial-up modems to continue broadcasting updates. (The same tactic was used by overseas supporters of protesters in Tahrir Square: an ISP dial-in number in France was passed around - complete with user names and passwords).

The ability of protesters to communicate and mobilise via social media raises questions as to whether such tools have brought about a permanent shift in the balance of power away from authoritarian governments. Activists in Tunisia and Egypt used social media to good effect as part of their efforts to challenge the reign of authoritarian throughout the Middle East and North Africa. Further protests are being organised via social media, including in Bahrain, Yemen and - most recently - Libya and Morocco.

The region has one of the most youthful populations in the world, with people under 25 making up between 35-45% of the population in each country. They make up the majority of social media users, though users over 40 are the fastest growing segment on Facebook.

Internet penetration hovers around 20-30% outside the Gulf region, whereas mobile penetration is approaching nearly 100% in many countries. Many young people are accessing the Internet and social media channels via their mobile phones and smart phones. Falling handset prices and the widespread available of prepaid credit has allowed even those from lower wealth quintiles to access mobile phone services.

In the region there are about 17 million Facebook users, 25,000 Twitter accounts and 40,000 active blogs, according to the Arab Advisors Group. However exact figures are almost impossible to calculate.

YouTube is extremely popular, with an average of 24 hours of video uploaded from the region every minute, including accounts devoted to tracking human rights abuses.

In Saudi Arabia, Internet use is spreading like wildfire, although sites deemed a threat to the regime are routinely blocked. Saudi Arabia’s Internet users spent around US$ 3 billion in 2010 on buying products and services through e-commerce, according to the Arab Advisors Group.

Egypt's shutdown of all access to the internet and pressure on mobile phone operators to block SMS services was unprecedented. The country has among the highest Internet penetration on the continent.

Although Burma and Iran attempted to do the same, the widespread nature of Egypt's blockages in such an economically important country were a wake-up call to experts and officials who thought such a possibility was off the table.

Just yesterday, a HUMNEWS correspondent in the capital of Yemen, Sana'a, reported that access to Skype had been cut again.

In Bahrain social media also played a big role in mobilizing protesters. (Kuwait Times)However, on another level, the digital blackout was a powerful reminder of the power of older technologies, and innovative solutions emerged to merge the best of both. Landlines continued to be available, people in Egypt were encouraged to leave their wireless connections unlocked, and wireless internet relays to neighbouring countries were created by stringing together access points. Protesters also shared mobile phone credit amongst each other.

In Bahrain, makeshift charging stations for mobile phones have been established in Pearl Square - underlining the importance of these devices.

Social media are not purely of benefit to activists. They also enable government surveillance. Semi-public fora such as Facebook are relatively easy for government operatives to infiltrate.

In Sudan, which has also seen some protests in the capital, activists claim that authorities have used faux protests publicised on social media to entrap and arrest them; Blackberry's maker, Research in Motion, in recent months has caved to demands by the United Arab Emirates, followed by Saudi Arabia, Egypt, India and others, to make its data streams accessible to host governments (although the data likely remains encrypted).

The UAE's request came just days after youth attempted to organise a peaceful protest against rising oil prices using Blackberry's messenger service, known as BBM.

Social media put powerful information and communication tools into the hands of individuals, but also facilitate state surveillance.

Sensing the power of social media in the region, the US State Department has opened Twitter accounts in Farsi and Arabic.

However, for the moment the scales are tipped in favour of activists because publicity and popularity can provide a level of protection to many of the more well-know digital activists, and protesters so far appear to be a step ahead of governments in terms of utilising social media and circumventing censorship.

- HUMNEWS staff, Oxford Analytica

Tuesday
Jan182011

Social Media Boom Takes Off in Africa (Feature)

By André-Michel Essoungou

In the mid-1990s, as the use of mobile phones started its rapid spread in much of the developed world, few thought of Africa as a potential market.Increasing numbers of young people on the continent - such as these Egyptian women - are using mobile technologies to access social media tools on the Internet. CREDIT: ITU

Now, with more than 400 million subscribers, its market is larger than North America's. Africa took the lead in the global shift from fixed to mobile telephones, notes a report by the UN International Telecommunications Union (ITU). Rarely has anyone adopted mobile phones faster and with greater innovation (see A bank in every African pocket?, Better health at the click of a button).

A similar story now seems again to be unfolding. Africans are coupling their already extensive use of cell phones with a more recent and massive interest in social media — Internet-based tools and platforms that allow people to interact with each other much more than in the past. In the process, Africans are leading what may be the next global trend: a major shift to mobile Internet use, with social media as its main drivers.

According to Mary Meeker, an influential Internet analyst, mobile Internet and social media are the fastest-growing areas of the technology industry worldwide, and she predicts that mobile Internet use will soon overtake fixed Internet use.

Facebook, Twitter, YouTube in Africa

Studies suggest that when Africans go online (predominantly with their mobile phones) they spend much of their time on social media platforms (Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and so on). Sending and reading e-mails, reading news and posting research queries have become less important activities for Africans.

In recent months Facebook — the major social media platform worldwide and currently the most visited website in most of Africa — has seen massive growth on the continent. The number of African Facebook users now stands at over 17 million, up from 10 million in 2009. More than 15 per cent of people online in Africa are currently using the platform, compared to 11 per cent in Asia. Two other social networking websites, Twitter and YouTube, rank among the most visited websites in most African countries.

Along with regular citizens, African stars, thinkers, political leaders and companies have rapidly joined the global conversation. The Facebook fan base of Côte d'Ivoire's football star and UN goodwill ambassador Didier Drogba is more than 1 million people. Zambian best-selling author and economist Dambisa Moyo has more than 26,000 followers on Twitter. Media organizations in South Africa and companies such as Kenya Airways are using various social media platforms to interact better with customers and readers. During recent elections in Côte d'Ivoire candidates did not only tour cities and villages; they also moved the contest online, feverishly posting campaign updates on Twitter and Facebook.

Africa's upward trend in the use of social media is even more striking given the low number of Africans connected to the Internet and the many hurdles Africans face in trying to go online.

Tremendous Room for Growth in Africa

Africa's Internet users (more than 100 million at the end of 2010) represent just a small percentage of the 2 billion people online around the world. In the US alone, more than 220 million people use the Internet. Within Africa, one person out of every 10 is estimated to be an Internet user (up from one in 5,000 back in 1998), making the continent the region in the world with the lowest penetration rate.

Even young Africans are taking to mobile phones and social media. CREDIT: ITUAmong the many reasons for this poor showing are the scarcity and prohibitive costs of broadband connections (the fastest means of accessing the Internet), and the limited number of personal computers in use.

But these challenges simultaneously contribute to Africa's impressive growth rate in the use of mobile Internet, which in recent years has been the highest in the world.

"Triple-digit growth rates are routine across the continent," notes Jon von Tetzchner, co-founder of Opera, the world's most popular Internet browser for mobile phones. "The widespread availability of mobile phones means that the mobile Web can reach tens of millions more than the wired Web." Mr. Tetzchner believes that like mobile phones, whose use has grown rapidly in Africa in recent years, the "mobile Web is beginning to reshape the economic, political and social development of the continent."

‘Seismic shift’ coming

Erik Hersman, a prominent African social media blogger and entrepreneur who helped drive development of the ground-breaking platform Ushahidi, is equally enthusiastic. In an e-mail to Africa Renewal he notes that "with mobile phone penetration already high across the continent, and as we get to critical mass with Internet usage in some of Africa's leading countries (Kenya, South Africa, Ghana, Nigeria, Egypt) … a seismic shift will happen with services, products and information."

The sense that the future holds more promise is inducing major companies to show special interest in Africa's expanding pool of Internet users. Facebook, after launching versions in some of the major African languages (including Swahili, Hausa and Zulu) in May, has announced it will offer free access to its platform to mobile phone users in various countries around the world, including many in Africa. In October Google started testing a new service for Swahili speakers in East and Central Africa. Tentatively called Baraza ("meeting place" in Swahili), it will allow people to interact and share knowledge by asking and answering questions, many of them of only very local or regional interest.

Africans are also getting ready to benefit from the fast-growing mobile Internet sector. In South Africa, MXit, a free instant messaging application with an estimated 7 million users, is the most popular local social networking platform. From Abidjan and Accra to Lusaka and Nairobi, African programmers are designing, testing and launching new homegrown platforms and tools to keep the African online conversation going.

- United Nations Africa Renewal

Tuesday
Oct122010

(REPORT) HAITI – When talking becomes doing – building back better 

(PHOTO: USGS, Red shows 1/12/10 earthquake epicenter) (HN, Oct. 12, 2010) – Nine months ago, on January 12, 2010, the island nation of Haiti experienced a massive earthquake, killing almost 225,000 people and leaving more than a million people homeless. 

Days after the quake struck, just outside of Haiti’s capital city of Port-au-Prince, a journalist covering the devastation was quoted as saying: Haiti will need to be completely rebuilt from the ground up, as even in good times, Haiti is an economic wreck, balancing precariously on the razor's edge of calamity."

And on a recent June 2010 return to the island nation, CNN journalists described Port au Prince as: “It looks like the earthquake happened yesterday.”

HURRY UP AND WAIT:

Within days of the calamity, several international appeals were launched and many countries responded to calls for humanitarian aid help; pledging funds and dispatching rescue and medical teams, engineers and support personnel to the devastated island nation. 

(PHOTO: Relief supplies being unloaded after the 1/12/10 earthquake. Wikipedia) The US, Iceland, China, Qatar, Israel, South Korea, Jordan and many others were among the global neighbors who supplied communication systems, air, land, and sea transport facilities, hospitals, and electrical networks that had been damaged by the earthquake, which hampered rescue and aid efforts. Confusion over who was in charge, air traffic congestion, and problems with cargo transportation further complicated relief work in the early days.

Mass graves containing tens of thousands of bodies were centered outside of cities as morgues and hospitals were quickly overwhelmed with the dead. Getting enough supplies, medical care and sanitation became urgent needs; and a lack of aid distribution led to angry protests from humanitarian workers and survivors with looting and sporadic violence breaking out. 

(PHOTO: Wikipedia, BelAir neighborhood, Port-Au-Prince, Haiti) Just ten days after the 7.2 quake struck, on January 22 the United Nations stated that the emergency phase of the relief operation was subsiding, and the next day the Haitian government called off the search for quake survivors. 

One aspect that made the disaster response unique was the deployment of new technology: the International Charter on Space and Major Disasters provided satellite images of Haiti to be shared with rescue groups along with help from GeoEye; the curation site Ushahidi coordinated texts, messages and reports from multiple sources; social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter aggregated members asking for help; the Red Cross and other organizations set records for text message donations.

Also in the immediate aftermath of the quake US President Barack Obama asked former Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush to lead a major fundraising effort to help the Haitian people. Together they established the Clinton Bush Haiti Fund (CBHF) - which has raised over $50 million from over 230,000 individuals and organizations, and has disbursed more than $4 million in grants to organizations on the ground in Haiti providing near-term relief and recovery assistance, designed to help the people of Haiti rebuild - and build back better. 

Since the initial round of donations were pledged, on January 25th there was a one-day conference held in Montreal, Canada to assess the relief effort and make further plans.  Haitian Prime Minister Jean Bellerive told the audience from 20 countries that Haiti would “need massive support for its recovery from the international community”.

Another donors' conference, delayed by almost 3 months, took place at UN headquarters in New York in March. The 26-member international Interim Haiti Reconstruction Commission, headed by Bill Clinton and the Haitian Prime Minister didn't get together until last June 2010. That committee is set to oversee the $5.3 billion pledged internationally for the first two years of Haiti's reconstruction; but only ten percent of it has been delivered, mostly as forgiven debt to Haiti. The rest is stalled in more than 60 countries and organizations that pledged help.

Still, nine months later, international officials are looking at the long term planning needs of reconstruction while also continuing to deal with the daily task of managing the emergency situation. 

Here’s where things stand at the moment:

(PHOTO: St. Felix Eves refugee camp, Haiti. Readyforanything.org) -   As of October 1, there were over 1 million refugees living in 1300 tent cities throughout the country in what’s been called `treacherous’ humanitarian situation;

-    As much as 98% of the rubble from the quake remains uncleared. An estimated 26 million cubic yards (20 million cubic meters) remain, making most of the capital impassable, and thousands of bodies remained in the rubble.

-   The number of people living in relief camps of tents and tarps since the quake was 1.6 million, with almost no transitional housing had been built. Most of the camps have no electricity, running water, or sewage disposal, and the tents were beginning to fall apart. Crime in the camps was widespread, especially against women and girls.

-   From 23 major charities, $1.1 billion has been collected for Haiti for relief efforts, but only two percent of the money has been released. According to a CBS report, $3.1 billion had been pledged for humanitarian aid and was used to pay for field hospitals, plastic tarps, bandages, and food, plus salaries, transportation and upkeep of relief workers. Incredibly, by May 2010, enough aid had been raised internationally to give each displaced family a check for $37,000.

(PHOTO: Wikipedia, Damaged buildings in Port-Au-Prince) The Haitian government said it was unable to tackle debris clean-up or the resettlement of homeless because it must prepare for hurricane season. Haitian Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive has been quoted as saying, "The real priority of the government is to protect the population from the next hurricane season, and most of our effort right now is going right now in that direction."

And if natural disasters weren’t enough to slay the spirit of the Haitian people, a new UN Report out this week states that “Wars, natural disasters and poor government institutions have contributed to a continuous state of undernourishment” in some 22 nations, including Haiti.

The hearty island nation is no stranger to turmoil and chaos: anyone reading its history from the time of the colonial powers would conclude this. Haiti is the world's oldest black republic and the second-oldest republic in the Western Hemisphere, after the United States and did not receive U.S. diplomatic recognition until 1862.  What should also come as no surprise to many is that before the devastating earthquake in Haiti, the nation needed help to survive, and now after the earthquake, the country is even more in need of help. 

But what kind of help does Haiti need?

Refugees International, a U.S.-based non-governmental organization, made some startling claims in its latest field report, called "Haiti: Still Trapped in the Emergency Phase," just one day after former president Bill Clinton toured a Port-au-Prince camp. It says Haitians living in refugee camps set up after a devastating January earthquake are at risk of hunger, gang intimidation and rape.

“People are being threatened by gangs, and women are getting raped," said Refugees International President Michel Gabaudan in a release.  "Practically no one is available to communicate with the people living in these squalid camps and find better ways to protect them."  Refugees International says there are still 1,300 camps in Haiti, mostly run by the International Organization of Migration (IOM).  Melanie Teff said Haitians still living in camps often have "no one to turn to for help."

"Young men come with weapons and rape the women. They haven't reported it, because the hospitals, the police — everything was destroyed in the earthquake," reports Hannah, a nurse who sleeps in a makeshift tent in a volatile camp outside of Port-au-Prince.

Bill Clinton, the co-chair of the commission overseeing Haiti's reconstruction, expressed frustration with the slow delivery of promised funds by donors who have delivered about $732 million of a promised $5.3 billion in funds for 2010-11, along with debt relief.

What’s needed according to Haitian officials, citizens and other experts are communication systems, project management, security, food, jobs, housing, mediation, regulatory easing to doing business, and political stability.  According to Transparency International, an NGO which studies corruption levels worldwide in their annual Corruption Perceptions Index, Haiti has a particularly high level of corruption making the rebuilding job even harder.   

INCREASINGLY, PRIVATE EFFORTS ABOUND: 

As the Western Hemisphere's poorest nation struggles to rise up from one of the most destructive natural catastrophes in recent history, Haiti and the huge international aid operation assisting it are looking to private enterprise and investment to be the powerhouse of reconstruction.

Despite $11 billion pledged by donors, the aid commitments work out at $110 a year for each of Haiti's 10 million people, a per capita sum which paled in comparison with huge needs in housing, infrastructure, health and education, on top of daunting humanitarian costs.

In the 2010 Doing Business report prepared by the World Bank, which ranks business conditions around the world, Haiti already lagged at 151 out of 183 economies.

To help Haiti, companies such as The Timberland Co. says it plans to plant 5 million trees in the next five years in Haiti and in China’s Horqin Desert, two regions “that have long suffered severe and widespread impacts from deforestation.”   And to increase its efforts, the shoe marketer is also launching the Timberland Earthkeepers Virtual Forest Facebook application. Consumers can help Timberland plant additional trees in Haiti (above and beyond the five in five commitments) by creating a virtual forest on Facebook.  The larger the virtual forest, the more real trees planted.  

(PHOTO: NASA, deforestation on Haiti/Dominican Republic border)The environment is one of the most significant factors most experts point to as both a past problem and a future solution for the beleaguered country.   In 1925, Haiti was lush, with 60% of its original forest covering the lands and mountainous regions. Since then, the population has cut down an estimated 98% of its original forest cover for use as fuel for cook stoves, and in the process has destroyed fertile farmland soils, contributing to desertification.

In addition to soil erosion, deforestation has caused periodic flooding, as seen with Hurricane Jeanne in September, 2004. While Jeanne was only a tropical storm at the time with weak winds, the rains caused large mudslides and coastal flooding which killed more than 1,500 people and left 200,000 starving and homeless. The UN and other nations dispatched several hundred troops in addition to those already stationed in Haiti to provide disaster relief assistance. Looting and desperation caused by hunger resulted in turmoil at food distribution centers.

Earlier that year in May, floods killed more than 3,000 people on Haiti's southern border with the Dominican Republic.

Haiti was again pummeled by tropical storms in late August and early September 2008. The storms – Tropical Storm Fay, Hurricane Gustav, Hurricane Hanna and Hurricane Ike – all produced heavy winds and rain in Haiti. Due to weak soil conditions, the country’s mountainous terrain, and the devastating coincidence of four storms within less than four weeks, valley and lowland areas throughout the country experienced massive flooding. A September 10, 2008 source listed 331 dead and 800,000 in need of humanitarian aid in light of the flood. 

And, this, many experts agree, is just where Haiti’s reconstruction effort should begin – and could, in fact become a model for the rest of the world if done well.

(PHOTO: the Haiti Huddle 2010, Douglas Cohen) Last week’s Haiti Huddle 2010 an effort of Helping Hands for a Sustainable Haiti, an organization founded by Lisa McFadin and Thera N. Kalmijn at San Francisco’s Fort Mason, brought together development, humanitarian and investment experts from both the US, Haiti and from other countries tackled several crucial issues.

The groups’ main mission was to work on breaking the logjam of red tape which has seemingly kept 1.3 million people living in refugee camps for the past nine months by focusing on culturally-appropriate solutions for and by Haitians; and working on practical sustainable solution to recreate an environmentally, socially, and economically sustainable Haiti.  

According to John Engle, of Haiti Partners, “Education and community infrastructure are the foundation to get to a meaningful development plan.  The country must recognize what got us here. A lack of investment in education and lack of cultural sensitivity and in fact connectivity and communication is why little to no progress has been made in the emergency of what many Haitians are still dealing with.“ 

Sam Bloch, Country Coordinator in Haiti of Grass Roots United says, "There were literally hundreds of NGO's on the ground before the earthquake focusing on community empowerment, collaboration and providing basic resources. But even before the earthquake the fabric of this community was torn and broken. Starting now it must be re-woven.  The Haitian community in country and in the larger Diaspora must re-unite and mobilize, in collaboration with all the organizations that pushed us aside after the disaster. We need to reconnect the service providers for such services as counseling, education, water, structures, food systems with community leaders.”

In fact one of the most important efforts that must be made according to Douglas Cohen, Founder of the Sustainable Haiti Coalition is, “Massive investments in education for longer term solutions, jobs, building schools, and revamping curriculum that includes wireless transmission for the whole country and which provides educational materials, and increases teachers’ salaries; paving the way to inter-active curricula; films, and video highlighting Haitian success stories, with Haitians implementing their own solutions.”

Other private efforts include electricity generators from E-Power, a $56.7 million Haitian-South Korean private investment that has forged ahead despite the January 12th earthquake; as well as an industrial park and garment manufacturing operation involving Sae-A Trading Company Limited, one of South Korea’s leading textile manufacturers, in a potential investment of between $10 million and $25 million being backed by the IFC and the U.S. State Department.

Last month, an Argentine entrepreneur announced a project with the Haiti-based WIN business group to build a $33 million, 240-room airport hotel in Port-au-Prince and there are government plans to create several special economic zones across the country. These would concentrate private businesses and investments in manufacturing, tourism and services, creating essential jobs and housing and driving development.

ELECTIONS COMING UP IN HAITI:

(PHOTO: Singer, activist Wyclef Jean, VIA Treehugger) In Haiti, campaigning for next month's November 28 presidential elections is well under way. Nineteen candidates are vying to lead the earthquake-ravaged nation; and with Haitian-American musician Wyclef Jean out of the race there's no clear front-runner. It could be a contentious battle for one of the toughest political jobs in the world.

The next president will have to oversee the reconstruction and try to redirect what was already one of the most dysfunctional nations on earth.  Before the quake, roughly 80 percent of the population lived in poverty. Roads, electrical lines, sewers and other infrastructure were in desperate need of repair. Now, they need to be completely rebuilt, along with most of the capital city.

Allegations of fraud in Haitian elections are practically inevitable, but this year's balloting faces additional challenges. The quake destroyed 40 percent of the polling stations in the country, killed tens of thousands of voters and displaced hundreds of thousands of others; and  numerous people lost all their documents and no longer have voting cards.

(PHOTO: Haiti's Presidential Palace, Wikipedia) But whatever happens in Haiti’s elections, and whoever wins the crumbling Presidential palace, will have their hands full, eleven months later with the still critical priority of getting the lives of Haiti’s citizens along with the entire infrastructure of a long and storied nation, back on its feet again.  And this, will certainly take a global village effort – private, NGO, corporate, government, and otherwise. 

--- Written by HUMNEWS staff.

"WE ARE THE WORLD: FOR HAITI"