Cablegate: Gonaives Still Digging Out After Flooding

DE RUEHPU #1511/01 3031659
P 291659Z OCT 08




E.O. 12958: N/A

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2. (SBU) Gonaives continues to dig out from mud that covered the
city in tropical storm flooding in August and early September. The
World Food Program plans to continue mass feeding programs, which
benefit most city residents, until Christmas. Finding alternative
shelter for 33,000 displaced persons as schools used as shelters are
emptied for the opening of classes is the biggest challenge facing
international aid organizations. The Venezuelans funnel their
assistance directly through the mayor. MINUSTAH suspects he diverts
some of it. There have been demonstrations accusing the mayor of
corruption. The security situation is calm, although crime is
returning to normal levels. The Argentinean battalion responsible
for Gonaives is now completely focused on humanitarian operations.
End summary.

3. (SBU) Ambassador visited the northeastern city of Gonaives
October 22 to view the extent of the damage sustained in four
hurricanes and tropical storms in August-early September. She was
accompanied by PolCouns, an Embassy USAID economic growth official,
and the Haiti Program Directors of IOM and CHF.

4. (U) These storms inflicted worse damage and more fatalities
(almost 500) on Gonaives than on any other city in Haiti. The city
which is barely above sea level, lies at the end of an extensive
coastal mud flat at the end of the Artibonite valley. Decades of
watershed degradation and hillside erosion make Gonaives vulnerable
to flooding during heavy rains. The city still lies under a layer
of dried mud up to one meter deep. Main thoroughfares have been
partially cleared but remain covered by hard-pack mud. Mud cleared
from these roads lies in piles along the side of the road awaiting
removal. Most side streets remain covered in mud and remain
impassible by vehicle traffic. People were shoveling mud from their
dwellings and depositing it in the street. Since virtually all
vehicular traffic is concentrated on a few central arteries, these
are choked with traffic. Dump trucks loading and transporting mud,
or stalled in deep holes obscured by water, are a major traffic
obstruction. Stretches of liquid mud and standing water continue to
obstruct short stretches of road. The most efficient means of
transport in Gonaives is the motorcycle and bicycle.

The Assistance Picture

5. (U) World Food Program (WFP) representatives reported they are
feeding virtually the entire city of Gonaives, and plan to do so
until Christmas. This requires 4,500 tons of food. More was needed
for areas outside of Gonaives. Coordinating with community block
leaders WFP, is transitioning from dispersed food distributions to
recipients in multiple localities to mass distributions in eight or
ten central distribution points, each targeting 25-30,000 people.
WFP plans to phase out mass food distributions in December and
target the most needy (especially children and pregnant/lactating
women) and schools; also, to undertake nutritional activity and
initiate food for work programs. MINUSTAH's civil affairs
representative in Gonaives, Jens Kristensen, reported that food
distribution was effective and being coordinated with community
leaders, who have not diverted donated items.

6. (U) WFP reported that shelter is a looming problem.
Approximately 33,000 people remain in shelters, of which 23,000 are
sheltered in schools. The latter, however, have to be cleared if
school in Gonaives is to begin on the target date of November 10.
(Note: the school year in the rest of Haiti began over one month
late, on October 6, due to hurricane damage. End note.) WFP lacks
the tents or accommodations in other buildings to house these
displaced persons. WFP was thinking of giving them a ''return
package'' of equipment to help people return to still-unrepaired

7. (SBU) The WFP representatives complained that the Government of
Haiti places the full burden of the humanitarian response on the
international community. The GOH has no plan to feed or shelter its
displaced citizens. No one in the GOH is ready to assume

PORT AU PR 00001511 002.2 OF 003

responsibility. WFP met with school directors in an unsuccessful
attempt to coordinate the movement of persons out of schools used as
shelters. Nevertheless, these directors, anxious to get their
buildings ready for the opening of school, often expelled their
homeless residents with little notice. Once gone from shelters,
these victims are difficult to locate and target with follow-on

8. (U) Overlaying the assistance picture is the cleanup challenge.
Roads, public buildings and homes have to be cleared of mud. WFP
said the means at hand were insufficient. They estimated it will
take 200 trucks nine months to clear the city of mud.

Return to Normalcy as Political Tensions Rise

9. (SBU) Kristensen said MINUSTAH is observing a return to relative
normalcy in Gonaives. Security is improving to the point that WFP
is considering replacing MINUSTAH troop security escorts for food
distributions with a less visible security presence, such as UN
Police units. Some assistance foodstuffs are turning up in local
markets, but not in large quantities. It is considered normal that
people would sell some of their donated food to purchase other
goods. On the other hand, MINUSTAH also observes a significant but
not large-scale revival of crime and demonstrations against mayors
suspected of influencing food distributions. There is an increase
in reported rapes, 4-5 being reported in the previous two weeks.
MINUSTAH has seen only one reported rape in a shelter.

10. (SBU) MINUSTAH's Kristensen and an aide reported that the influx
of assistance has created fodder for conflict between mayors and
authorities in the Artibonite Department, and between Principal and
Deputy Mayors. (Note: Haitian municipalities elect a mayor and two
deputies. End note.) The Departmental Delegate (Note: an official
appointed by the central government to monitor the use of national
funds by local elected officials. End note) accused the Mayor of
Gonaives of corruption in the use of Government of Haiti assistance
funds. Kristensen stated that Gonaives Mayor Stephen Moises
personally supervised the offloading, storage, and distribution of
food and other donations from Venezuela. Rumors persisted that he
diverted some of these goods for his own purposes. The Mayor has no
influence over the much greater food and non-food assistance
provided by other donors, but neither does he try to coordinate use
of the Venezuelan aid with UN and other relief agencies.

11. (SBU) An aide to Kristensen reported that the influx of
emergency appropriations from the Government of Haiti has created
conflict between mayors and deputy mayors in many municipalities in
the Artibonite Department. Currently, the Ministries of Interior
and Planning required that mayors, but not their deputies, sign
agreements on use of these funds. MINUSTAH thought that requiring
the co-signature of at least one deputy mayor would encourage mayors
and their deputies to agree.

MINUSTAH Troops Primarily Focused on Humanitarian Work
--------------------------------------------- ---------

12. (SBU) The Artibonite Department, of which Gonaives is the
largest city, is under the responsibility of an Argentinean
Battalion. Battalion Commander Lt. Col. Ricardo Secotaro told the
Ambassador that the local population is civil and respectful toward
his troops, albeit not overtly friendly. He assessed the security
situation as ''calm, with no serious problems.'' There are no
kidnappings. Areas outside Gonaives are quieter. The Haitian
National Police (HNP) is present in some areas of the Department but
has been largely absent in the aftermath of the hurricanes. Now the
Pakistani Formed Police Unit (FPU) and UN Police work with the HNP.
(Note: Ambassador observed only one HNP officer in the course of
the day in Gonaives. End note.) The overriding problem in the area
is the obstruction of roads. Secotaro's battalion is focused
predominantly on humanitarian work by providing medical assistance
to the local population. They had carried out scores of medical
rescues and evacuation of the severely injured. His troops had
carried out over 500 evacuations by land, air and sea, including
evacuation of 19 Cuban doctors. They had helped distribute over 2.5
million food rations and 250,000 liters of water.

Gonaives Mayor: More Aid Needed

PORT AU PR 00001511 003.2 OF 003


13. (SBU) Gonaives Mayor Stephen Moises greeted the Ambassador by
reading a florid speech commending the work of the U.S. and the
international community in Gonaives. In the following conversation
with the Ambassador, he said there was much left for the
international community to do. The central government has given
Gonaives heavy equipment, which it was using for cleanup. Three
million cubic meters of mud had to be removed. The Mayor noted that
food assistance was going well and that 90 percent of the food
problem was solved, but he complained that the mayor's office was
''excluded'' from the assistance process. (Comment: We believe the
mayor would like to share in the political - and possibly the
material - benefits of having a hand in the distribution of
international assistance. End comment.)

USAID Projects Visited

14. (U) Ambassador visited the La Quinte River Bridge, where the
river overflowed its banks and began the flooding of the city. The
IOM Director explained a program that will begin soon to re-open an
irrigation canal from the La Quinte River that will irrigate rice
and corn fields. However, massive work to restore the watershed
above the river is needed if future flooding is to be prevented.
Ambassador also visited the Sisters of Charity clinic, which
receives WFP food rations. With USAID funding, IOM refurbished the
800 meter-road leading to the clinic.

15. (U) Because of extreme traffic congestion and mud in the center
of town, the Ambassador was unable to visit the Gonaives hospital
that is being cleaned up by CHF, or visit the Raboteau community,
one of the city's large slum communities that have generated crime
and gang activity.


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