Archive for March, 2010

Plan Calls for Rebuilding Haiti Away From Port-au-Prince

NYTimes.com

Prepared by a group of urban planners from the Haitian government agency responsible for the country’s development, the plan is built around a bold central idea: to redistribute large parts of the population of Port-au-Prince to smaller Haitian cities, many of them at a safe distance from areas most vulnerable to natural disaster. In the process the plan would completely transform Haiti from a country dominated by a single metropolis to what the planners call a network of smaller urban “growth poles.”

Architecture – Plan Calls for Rebuilding Haiti Away From Port-au-Prince – NYTimes.com.

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Videos from Haiti volunteer project with HODR

I shot a fair amount of video in Haiti using a simple, low-end flip digital video camera.  I have loaded a number of the raw clips online, and I have an ongoing project to edit them into vignettes capturing the Haiti experience.  While that is ongoing, here are a couple that  I have found, and even in their raw form, are pretty cool, funny, insightful, sobering, etc.

1) Lunch at HODR – 6 days a week, volunteers are hard at work, and stop only briefly at lunch time to refuel and avoid the most intense sun of each day.  On this day, two videos document

  • Laura enthusiastically describing the delicious buffet that has been faithfully prepared by Venus (our chef),
  • while Ben posits on what the meat might actually be, and Neil waxes philosophic about life at HODR  in Leogane versus other operations.

A microcosm on the insanely complex Haiti challenge

This article closely resembles the personal experiences I discussed in my post about the local bar adjacent to the HODR camp in Leogane

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March 27, 2010

Quake Accentuated Chasm That Has Defined Haiti

By SIMON ROMERO

New York Times

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — The lights of the casino above this wrecked city beckoned as gamblers in freshly pressed clothes streamed to the roulette table and slot machines. In a restaurant nearby, diners quaffed Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin Champagne and ate New Zealand lamb chops at prices rivaling those in Manhattan.

A few yards away, hundreds of families displaced by the earthquake languished under tents and tarps, bathing themselves from buckets and relieving themselves in the street as barefoot children frolicked on pavement strewn with garbage.

This is the Pétionville district of Port-au-Prince, a hillside bastion of Haiti’s well-heeled where a mangled sense of normalcy has taken hold after the earthquake in January. Business is bustling at the lavish boutiques, restaurants and nightclubs that have reopened in the breezy hills above the capital, while thousands of homeless and hungry people camp in the streets around them, sometimes literally on their doorstep.

“The rich people sometimes need to step over us to get inside,” said Judith Pierre, 28, a maid who has lived for weeks in a tent with her two daughters in front of Magdoos, a chic Lebanese restaurant where diners relax in a garden and smoke flavored tobacco from hookahs. Chauffeurs for some of the customers inside lined up sport utility vehicles next to Ms. Pierre’s tent on the sidewalk near the entrance.

Haiti has long had glaring inequality, with tiny pockets of wealth persisting amid extreme poverty, and Pétionville itself was economically mixed before the earthquake, with poor families living near the gated mansions and villas of the rich.

But the disaster has focused new attention on this gap, making for surreal contrasts along the streets above Port-au-Prince’s central districts. People in tent camps reeking of sewage are living in areas where prosperous Haitians, foreign aid workers and diplomats come to spend their money and unwind. Often, just a gate and a private guard armed with a 12-gauge shotgun separate the newly homeless from establishments like Les Galeries Rivoli, a boutique where wealthy Haitians and foreigners shop for Raymond Weil watches and Izod shirts.

“There’s nothing logical about what’s going on right now,” said Tatiana Wah, a Haitian planning expert at Columbia University who is living in Pétionville and working as an adviser to Haiti’s government. Ms. Wah said the revelry at some nightclubs near her home, which are frequented by rich Haitians and foreigners, was now as loud — or louder — than before the earthquake.

The nongovernmental organizations “are flooding the local economy with their spending,” she said, “but it’s not clear if much of it is trickling down.”

Aleksandr Dobrianskiy, the Ukrainian owner of the Bagheera casino here in the hills, smiled as customers flowed in one recent Saturday evening, drinking Cuba Libres and plunking tokens into slot machines.

He said business had never been better, attributing the uptick at his casino to the money coming into Haiti for relief projects. That spending is percolating through select areas of the economy, as some educated Haitians get jobs working with relief agencies and foreigners bring in cash from abroad, using it on housing, security, transportation and entertainment.

“Haiti’s like a submarine that just hit the bottom of the sea,” said Mr. Dobrianskiy, 39, who moved here a year ago and carries a semiautomatic Glock handgun for protection. “It’s got nowhere to go but up.”

Sometimes the worlds of haves and have-nots collide. Violent crime and kidnappings have been relatively low since the earthquake. But when two European relief workers from Doctors Without Borders were abducted outside the exclusive Plantation restaurant this month and held for five days, the episode served as a reminder of how Haiti’s poverty could give rise to resentment and crime.

The breadth of Haiti’s economic misery seemed incomprehensible to many before the quake, with almost 80 percent of the population living on less than $2 a day. A small elite in gated mansions here in Pétionville and other hillside districts wields vast economic power.

But with parts of Port-au-Prince now in ruins, tens of thousands of people displaced by the quake are camping directly in the bulwarks once associated with power and wealth, like Place St.-Pierre (across from the elegant Kinam Hotel) and the grounds of Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive’s office.

The city’s biggest tent camp, with more than 40,000 displaced people, sprawls over the hills of the Pétionville Club, a country club with a golf course that before the quake had its own Facebook page for former members. (“Had the best Citronade; I bet I drank thousands of them, no exaggeration,” one reminiscence said.)

Pétionville’s boutiques and restaurants stand in stark contrast to the parallel economic reality in the camp now at the Pétionville Club. Throughout its maze of tents, merchants sell dried fish and yams for a fraction of what the French cuisine costs in exclusive restaurants nearby like Quartier Latin or La Souvenance.

Manicurists in the camp do nails. A stylist in a hovel applies hair extensions. The camp even has its own Paradis Ciné, set up in a tent with space for as many as 30 people. It charges admission of about $1.50 for screenings of “2012,” the end-of-times disaster movie known here as “Apocalypse.”

“The people in the camp need their diversion, too,” said Cined Milien, 22, the operator of Paradis Ciné.

Still, a ticket to see “Apocalypse” is a luxury out of the grasp of most people who lost their homes in the earthquake. Some of the well-off in Pétionville who have reopened their businesses have done so cautiously, aware of the misfortune that persists on their doorstep.

“It’s kind of hard for people to dance and have fun,” said Anastasia Chassagne, 27, the Florida-educated owner of a trendy bar in Pétionville. “I put music, but really low, so like the people walking outside the street don’t hear, like, ‘Hey, these people are having fun.’ ”

Not everyone in Pétionville has such qualms. Mr. Dobrianskiy, the casino entrepreneur, said he was pleased that Haiti’s currency, the gourde, had recently strengthened against the dollar to a value higher than before the quake, in part because of the influx of money from abroad.

And on the floor above Mr. Dobrianskiy’s casino, a nightclub called Barak, with blaring music and Miami-priced cocktails, caters to a different elite here: United Nationsemployees and foreigners working for aid groups. They mingle with dozens of suggestively clad Haitian women and a few moneyed Haitian men taking in the scene.

As hundreds of displaced families gathered under tents a few yards away, the music of Barak continued into the night. A bartender could not keep up with orders for Presidente beers.

“Those who are gone are gone and buried, and we can’t do anything about that,” said Michel Sejoure, 21, a Haitian enjoying a drink at Barak. Asked about the displaced-persons camp down the street, he said, “I would want to help but I don’t have enough, and the government should be the ones that are actually helping these people out.”

“But,” he said over the booming music, “they’re not.”

Grant Fuller contributed reporting.

Fascinating, Counterintuitive Study on Capitalism and Altruism – NYTimes

Moral Lessons, Down Aisle 9

By JOHN TIERNEY

New York Times

March 22, 2010

Like Diogenes with his lamp, researchers have traversed the world looking for an honest man — or, more precisely, for people who act in the same fair, unselfish way toward everyone. If you wish to learn to follow this golden rule, which of these strategies is best?

a) Move to a village in the Amazon and go foraging with the indigenous Tsimane people.

b) Move to a Dolgan and Nganasan settlement on the Siberian tundra, herd reindeer and join the Russian Orthodox Church.

c) Visit a Himalayan monastery and follow instructions to “gaze within” and “follow your bliss.”

d) Join a camp of nomadic Hadza hunter-gatherers sharing giraffe meat and honey on the Serengeti savanna.

e) Join a throng of Wal-Mart shoppers buying groceries on the Missouri prairie.

Well, the Siberian church might impart some moral lessons, but your best bet is to go shopping, at least by my reading of the experiments reported in the current issue of Science. It doesn’t have to be Wal-Mart, by the way — any kind of grocery store seems to have an effect. Wal-Mart just happens to be popular with the exceptionally fair-minded residents of Hamilton, a small rural town in northwestern Missouri. They scored higher in a test of fairness toward strangers than did any of the less-modern communities in Fiji, Papua New Guinea, Africa, Asia and Latin America.

The study doesn’t prove the moral superiority of Missourians, because traditional societies emphasize different virtues, like providing food and comfort to relatives. But the results do help explain a central mystery of civilization: How did small family clans evolve into large cities of cooperative strangers? Why are New Yorkers sometimes nice even to tourists?

Being nice made evolutionary sense when we lived in small bands surrounded by relatives, because helping them helped our genes survive. And we had a direct incentive to be fair to people who would later reciprocate kindness or punish selfishness. But why even consider returning a stranger’s wallet you find in a taxicab? Why leave a tip in a restaurant you’ll never visit again?

Some evolutionary psychologists have suggested that we have an innate sense of fairness left over from our days of living in small clans. According to this theory, our inherited instincts cause us to be nice to strangers even when we’re hurting our interests, just as our ancient taste for fat and sugar causes us now to eat more calories than are good for us.

But there’s more to it than just inherited instinct, says Joseph Henrich of the University of British Columbia, who led the study’s team of anthropologists, psychologists and economists. They found wide cultural variations by observing more than 2,000 people in 15 small communities participate in a two-player game, called Dictator, with a prize equal to the local pay for a day’s work.

One player, the dictator, was given the authority to keep the entire prize or share part of it with the other, unseen player, whose identity remained secret. Along with this power came the assurance that the dictator’s identity would also remain secret, so that no one except the researcher would ever know how selfish the dictator had been.

The most lucrative option, of course, was to keep the whole prize and stiff the anonymous partner. But the Missourians on average shared more than 45 percent of the prize, and some other societies were nearly as generous, like the Ghanians living in the city of Accra and the Sanquianga fishermen on the coast of Colombia.

But most of the hunter-gatherers, foragers and subsistence farmers were less inclined to share. The Hadza nomads in the Serengeti and the Tsimane Indians in the Amazon gave away only a quarter of the prize. They also reacted differently when given a chance, in variations of the game, to punish another player for hogging the prize.

Selfishness offended the Missourians so much that they would punish the player even though it cost them money. But the members of traditional societies showed little inclination to punish others at their own expense. “There are lots of norms in these small-scale societies for how to treat one another and share food,” says Dr. Henrich. “But these rules don’t apply in unusual situations when you don’t know anything about the kinship or status of the other person. You don’t feel the same sense of responsibility, and you act more out of self-interest.”

The researchers found that people in small communities like the Hadza camp (population about 50) were less willing to inflict punishment than people in larger communities like Hamilton (about 1,800). That makes practical sense: the more strangers there are, the more need to keep them from exploiting one another. But what enabled those larger societies to grow in the first place?

Dr. Henrich and his colleagues identified two distinguishing factors.

People belonging to a modern “world religion,” like the Islamic faith of the Orma cattle herders in Kenya or the Christian faith of the Dolgan reindeer herders in Siberia, tended to share more of their prize than did adherents of local religions. As larger communities became possible after the invention of agriculture, the researchers write in Science, “intersocietal competition may have favored those religious systems that galvanize pro-social behavior in broader communities, perhaps using both supernatural incentives (for example, hell) and recurrent rituals that intensify group solidarity.”

But a second factor seemed even more important. In explaining attitudes toward fairness, Dr. Henrich and his colleagues found that the strongest predictor was the community’s level of “market integration,” which was measured by the percentage of the diet that was purchased. The people who got all or most of their food by hunting, fishing, foraging or growing it themselves were less inclined to share a prize equally.

Grocery shopping may seem an unlikely form of moral education, but the researchers argue in Science that the development of “market norms” promotes general levels of “trust, fairness and cooperation” with strangers. (You can debate that point at nytimes.com/tierneylab.)

“Markets don’t work very efficiently if everyone acts selfishly and believes everyone else will do the same,” Dr. Henrich says. “You end up with high transaction costs because you have to have all these protections to cover every loophole. But if you develop norms to be fair and trusting with people beyond your social sphere, that provides enormous economic advantages and allows a society to grow.”

One such dynamic society was ancient Greece, whose ethical norms spread as it grew, widely, and perhaps it was no coincidence that those ethics were developed by philosophers debating alongside merchants at the central marketplace called the agora. In retrospect, maybe Diogenes and his lamp didn’t really have all that far to go.

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/03/23/science/23tier.html

#Haiti update on current HODR Projects

Working with Hands On Disaster Response at such an early stage was a distinct honor, and we got to not only clear the foundations for new home sites, but also lay the foundations for many HODR programs that are now blossoming. They are scheduled to be onsite in Leogane through at least the summer, and possibly beyond, so apply for a slot at www.HODR.org

Enjoy this video update from Marc Young, HODR Operations Director

HAITI: Project Leogane 30 Day Report (from HODR)

I am very honored to have been part of the early stages of the operation in Haiti, and it is inspiring to see how expansive the operation has become in a matter of a few weeks.

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It’s been 30 days of Project Leogane, and we’re off to a running start! Check out this brief video recapping our first month of programs, as well as our Haiti photo collection on flickr.

Here’s a quick look at what we’ve been working on and how we’ve ramped up.

Rubble

In one month, we’ve cleared over 30 slabs! Land is extremely limited in the urban/semi-urban areas most affected by the earthquake, so each home that we clear is a chance at a fresh beginning, a jumpstart to the rebuilding process. Our volunteers have thrown themselves into the work, sledge hammering concrete roofs and columns, hack sawing twisted rebar, and pushing loaded wheelbarrows. Also emerging from the rubble are the stories of each family who lived there; they’ve worked alongside us to clean up, salvage what they can, and begin rebuilding.

Special thanks to the kids of Leogane who work cheerfully and energetically with our teams each day! Their attention to safety is rewarded with a wheelbarrow ride through the neighborhood. The Canadian army has also been a tremendous asset to the city of Leogane with their heavy equipment and can-do attitude. Once HODR teams fill the streets with rubble, they arrive to truck the debris away.

read more here -> Hands On Disaster Response.

#HODR It’s better to support volunteers than gala’s. NYC #Haiti Benefit to raise Less Cash Than Attention http://ping.fm/R4Ruv


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