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The New Humanitarian | In Nepal, a rushed earthquake rebuild leads to a mountain of debt

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Parang Tamang’s new home is slowly rising among the patchwork of half-finished buildings and piles of rubble in Gatlang, a mountain village in Nepal’s north. But so is his financial debt.

 

Parang’s home was flattened during the powerful earthquakes that struck Nepal in April and May 2015, killing 9,000 people across the country. More than three years later, government reconstruction subsidies haven’t been enough to cover the cost of rebuilding, so Parang turned instead to local lenders.

 

“The money I borrowed to rebuild my home is expensive,” Parang told IRIN. “The interest is 36 percent per year. The bank won’t pay me, so people in the village lent me the money.”

Parang isn’t alone. In July 2017, the government set a series of shifting deadlines to encourage people to access reconstruction subsidies. Over the last year, a rush to to meet these deadlines has triggered unintended side effects: people are taking on risky high-interest loans; some are building tiny, uninhabited homes they can’t afford to finish.

 

Advocates for earthquake-hit communities fear this large-scale borrowing could lead to a “debt crisis” that would cripple Nepal’s economic recovery.

 

A survey by aid organisations tracking reconstruction progress found a “drastic increase” in people resorting to loans to supplement government rebuilding funds since the start of 2017. Two thirds of respondents polled in December 2017 reported taking out loans to rebuild; 12 months earlier, it was only 1 percent.

“People weren’t rebuilding, so we had to do something,” said Manohar Ghimire, deputy spokesman for Nepal’s National Reconstruction Authority, which was set up shortly after the earthquake to manage the rebuild on a five-year timeline.

 

The latest deadline came and went in mid-July, though Ghimire says this is likely to be extended again.

Ghimire calls the deadline pressure a success, as construction rates have risen over the last year. Today, more than 800,000 households qualify for government subsidies, which are distributed in three separate payments totalling $3,000, depending on the stage of construction. More than 440,000 have received the second of these payments – a year ago, only 55,000 people had.

 

The problem with a quick build

 

Villages like Gatlang and surrounding Rasuwa District were among the hardest hit by the 2015 earthquakes – more than 70 percent of buildings here completely collapsed; more than 95 percent needed major repair or outright reconstruction, according to government statistics. But money alone hasn’t been enough to counter rising construction costs that exceed the government subsidy, confusion about the deadlines, or a lack of building skills.

 

Rijan Garjurel is the district coordinator in Rasuwa for the Housing Recovery and Reconstruction Platform – a coordination body that supports all government departments, NGOs, and donors working on reconstruction. He says the deadlines saw many people rush to collect the grant, even if they lacked the resources or skills to build safer, earthquake-resistant homes as the government intended.

Instead, they’re erecting fragile one-room structures beside their still-damaged homes – the reconstruction grants can only be used for new construction, rather than retrofitting old homes.

 

“They are just building for formality to receive the grant,” Garjurel said. “I often hear, ‘this is my government house, and this is our house.’”

 

He says the deadline has pushed people to forego using local building materials like stone, which is inexpensive but time-consuming to prepare. Instead, many here use imported brick and concrete blocks, which are quicker to build with but more expensive.

Recent surveys estimate that the typical cost of rebuilding is at least $6,500 – more than double the government subsidies.

 

“Transportation is expensive and so the money is not enough to get materials here,” said Dawa Gumbu Tamang, the elected head of Gatlang. “Many people start and then can’t carry on as they run out of money so houses are half built.”

 

Patience is a virtue

 

Reconstruction experts warn it is unrealistic to speed up such a large-scale reconstruction process in Nepal, where building costs are high and many lack the skills to rebuild entirely on their own.

 

“Deadlines are not going to speed these people up,” said Maggie Stephenson, a consultant who has advised NGOs and donors on recovery efforts. She added, “Who is in a bigger hurry than households themselves to rebuild their homes?”

 

Stephenson, who has also worked on earthquake reconstruction in Pakistan and Haiti, says recovery in other disasters has shown that a successful rebuild takes time.

 

After the 2005 earthquake in Kashmir, she says, it took at least five years to rebuild rural homes; urban homes there are still being constructed, 13 years later.

Stephenson says Nepal’s commitment to extending reconstruction grants to more than 800,000 homes is “remarkable”. But it also requires more support beyond funding, as well as a degree of patience – a situation that isn’t helped by frequent international media stories suggesting the rebuild pace has been “slow”.

 

“The point of an owner-driven housing programme with a grant as a subsidy means that you’re reliant on people mobilising their own resources as well,” Stephenson said, “and that’s going to take a much longer time.”

 

She says international donors and NGOs must do more to help rebuilding households overcome other roadblocks that have stalled construction, including boosting skills training so that more people know how to build and access the right materials. They also need to provide clearer information on the complex grant approval process, and do more to help typically marginalised groups like rural women and the elderly. Stephenson says this kind of essential technical support has only reached a quarter of the earthquake-affected communities who need it.

 

Chewang Gyalmo Ghale received training under such a programme. Practical Action, the UK-based development organisation, helped fund and train her to cut stones, which she sells to people rebuilding their homes in her village in Rasuwa District.

The money she earns is helping to finance her own rebuild. But she’s still living under a tarp – she says she hasn’t been approved for a government grant to finish her house, though she’s not sure why.

 

The grant money wouldn’t be enough to cover her rebuild anyway. It’s not enough for most of her neighbours, either.

 

“Many people here have had to take out loans to pay me to cut stones,” she said.

 

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Deaths and human rights violations in Haiti denounced

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11 de noviembre de 2019, 11:10Port-au-Prince, Nov 11 (Prensa Latina) The Je Klere Foundation denounced dozens of deaths and the systematic violation of human rights during the ongoing crisis in Haiti, and blamed the government and members of the opposition.

Since the beginning of the most recent wave of anti-government protests, in mid-September, ‘atrocities were committed’ in the communes of Savien, Martissant, Village-de-Dieu, De Mapou (Les Cayes), Canaan 70 in the commune of Cabaret, ‘with the utmost impunity,’ the foundation’s report deplores.

The human rights organization said it is difficult to determine the number of deaths, and suggested that the crimes ‘are committed with the agreement, at least tacit, of the government,’ a statement rejected by authorities.

In the text, Je Klere criticized the use of force by police and stressed that in many cases it can be described as systematic and a massive violation of human rights.

It also recommended that President Jovenel Moïse ‘avoid a bloodbath in the country or foreign intervention,’ and recommended that the judiciary act independently to punish human rights violations.

Nearly fifty people died on the sidelines of the protests in Haiti, 19 of them killed by police, according to data from the United Nations and non-governmental organizations.

Demonstrations calling for the resignation of President Jovenel Moïse and rejecting the interference of the international community in the internal affairs of the nation have kept the main roads and arteries of the country blocked, in what has been called Operation Peyi Lok (country blocked).

Last weekend, five opposition groups agreed to appoint an appeal’s court judge in the event of the president’s resignation, who would be accompanied by a prime minister of the opposition.

Jean Reynald Lubérice, general secretary of the Council of Ministers posted on social media that the opposition aims to ‘destroy democracy.’

‘If the president of the Republic proposed to suspend the Constitution, as did the representatives of the system gathered in a luxurious hotel room, everyone would shout scandal with reason and denounce a dictatorial project,’ he said in reference to the reforms to the magna carta proposed by opposition sectors.

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Haiti Anti-Government Protests Lose Momentum

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WASHINGTON/PORT AU PRINCE, HAITI – Only a few hundred people responded to the opposition’s call Sunday to protest in the streets of Haiti’s capital to continue pressuring President Jovenel Moise to step down.

On previous Sundays, tens of thousands have filled Port-au-Prince streets from morning to sundown.

Have the protests lost momentum? VOA Creole put the question to opposition leaders marching on Sunday.

Sen. Ricard Pierre said he thinks bribes and fear were partly to blame for the small crowd.

“A significant number of Bel Air residents have died – an area that heavily supports the efforts of the Alternative (opposition group). We have people hiding out in the poor neighborhoods because the government has threatened to kill them,” the senator told VOA Creole. “There have been efforts to distribute weapons to residents of the slums. They’ve been offered money, offered food. But despite the massacres endured by the poor people, there are some of them in the streets today fighting (for a better life).”

VOA could not confirm the senator’s allegations.

Downtown, evangelical pastor Prophete Mackenson Dorilas, who, perched atop a carnival-style truck had been surrounded by thousands of followers during October protests, was seen marching in the street with only a handful of protesters. He blamed fear and the absence of his truck for the low turnout.

“The first truck we were offered, I turned down because it wasn’t what I requested. So, they said they would bring me another truck, and I’m still waiting. Some members of my church had intended to join the protest, but they heard the police was targeting protesters, so they ran away,” Dorilas told VOA Creole, adding that the people also need motivation.

“The churchgoers don’t like to see me walking on the street. They like to see me up high,” he said.

Also marching with about a dozen protesters was former Haitian Army Col. Himmler Rebu, who described his participation as the right thing to do.

“There are two efforts happening simultaneously. There are those (members of the opposition) who are in offices working on plans and strategy, and there are those who are accompanying the people marching in the streets. So today, that’s my job, ” he said.

Up north

Early Sunday, tires were seen burning in the middle of a main road in the northern city of Cape Haitian. There were also roadblocks made of tree branches, rocks, metal and debris.

“These roadblocks are here because President Jovenel still refuses to resign. We will keep blocking the streets, and we will keep protesting until the president leaves,” a protester told VOA Creole.

Opposition summit

Back in the capital, members of the opposition spent the weekend meeting at the Marriott Hotel to discuss the transition process that would be activated if Moise were to resign.

“We are in agreement on four aspects of the transition: governance, control, steps forward and duration,” announced opposition Sen. Youri Latortue, who heads the Haitian Senate’s Ethics and Anti-Corruption Committee. No further details were given.

On the subject of who would replace Moise, the group decided that the choice would be made by a five-member committee comprised of a representative of each opposition group. The transitional president would be chosen among the Supreme Court judges. The committee would also choose a prime minister.

“This is a historic event,” prominent businessman Gregory Brandt, who represented the private sector at the meeting, told VOA Creole. “The country has been suffering through a complicated situation for two months now. We aren’t selling merchandise, we aren’t receiving merchandise. Port-au-Prince is beginning to face a scarcity of basic goods. We’re facing an unprecedented humanitarian crisis, so we must sit down in all seriousness to discuss how we can resolve this crisis.”

US aid

Last week, Rob Thayer, director of USAID’s “Food for Peace” program, told VOA Creole the agency has earmarked 3,500 metric tons of emergency food aid for Haiti, which will be distributed to those in need.

In addition to the food aid, the U.S. Navy hospital ship USNS Comfort has been docked off Haiti’s shores since Nov. 6 for a seven-day medical and humanitarian mission. According to the U.S. Embassy in Haiti, the ship’s staff has seen more patients per day in Haiti than on any other stop of their five-nation tour.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo expressed concern about the situation in Haiti last week on Twitter.

“The #USNSComfort has arrived to provide much needed medical services in Haiti. We call on all of Haiti’s leaders to come together to solve the ongoing political & economic gridlock through dialogue & institutions. We stand with all Haitians who peacefully call for accountability,” Pompeo tweeted.

President Moise

Meanwhile, Moise has been busy naming new cabinet ministers, meeting with members of the diplomatic corps, and giving interviews to the foreign press. He has also increased his visibility on the streets, in the national press and on social media.

“Since my first day in office, I have always preached the same thing – togetherness, unity – because the country is tired,” Moise said during a Nov. 7 speech. “Our (nation’s) motto is Unity is Power. But unfortunately, this system (of government), the system that uses people, gives us a different motto which is, Divide and Conquer. Whenever a person wants to enrich himself, he pits us against each other. And when we’ve taken the bait and died in battle, who benefits? Not us.”

Early Sunday morning, before the anti-government protest began, Moise visited police stations in Carrefour and Petionville, his press secretary announced. According to a press statement received by VOA Creole early Monday morning, Moise sought to see the working conditions for the policemen and asked for a detailed report on the current status of affairs that will be used to “better address the needs of the agents of the PNH (National Police of Haiti).”

Yvan Jasmin Martin in Cape Haitian, Renan Toussaint and Yves Manuel in Port-au-Prince and Ronald Cesar in Washington contributed to this report

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The Haiti Sentinel | Haiti: At Least 15 Dead in Latest State-Sponsored Terror Attacks says Human Rights

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15 people have already been murdered in the attacks being conducted by terrorists gangs in the control of former police officer, Jimmy “Barbecue” Chérizier and gangleader Ti Sonson, according to an investigation conducted by the National Network for the Defense of Human Right (RNDDH). Chérizier, one must recall, was involved in the massacre on the neighborhood of La Saline in November 2018 where more than two dozen were murdered.

On November 6, alone, “they murdered at least fourteen people. Thirteen died in a house that was burned and another beheaded in Mayard. The corpses of all the victims were washed away. Several people were shot and wounded. Vehicles that were parked at the side of the road were set on fire,” said RNDDH in a press release. 21 homes and 11 vehicles have been burned in the attacks.

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