Trainees of Knight International Journalism Fellow Covers Stagnant Construction Process in Haiti

Jan 232011

Trainees of Knight Fellow Kathie Klarreich covered the stalled construction of a waste management plant for Haitian daily Le Nouvelliste. As part of her fellowship project, Klarreich trained these reporters to track how billions of inflowing aid money is being spent to ensure a transparent recovery process. The piece covers the Haitian government's decision to suspend construction on a water sanitation plant though the project is 80% complete.

Spain Sends a Bad Signal

Discontinuation of the construction of a waste management plant in Titayen got a splash of cold water from the Spanish agency funding it. Meanwhile the National Office of Drinking Water and Sanitation (DINEPA), the state agency’ responsible for waste management and sewage, countered information that was published on this subject in Le Nouvelliste’s January 22 edition.

Port-au-Prince, Haiti, (January 23, 2010) : A press release by the Spanish embassy denounced the government’s decision to stop construction of Haiti’s first modern sewage treatment plant just two weeks before its scheduled completion. "Spain, one of DINEPA’s main partners, deplores the fact that construction has been stopped because of a land dispute,” the note said. The Spanish Agency for International Cooperation (AECI), which has committed $2 million to the project, has asked the government of Haiti to intervene to resolve the problem.

The stoppage is particularly unfortunate because of the increased need of space (for sewage waste to be deposited) since the earthquake of January 12, 2010, the note said, adding that the onset of the cholera outbreak last October also tightened the cord of support from Spain for DINEPA projects.

Meanwhile, DINEPA, in an e-mail addressed to Le Nouvelliste, countered information published in the papers in a January 21th article that quoted a source close to the UN as saying that the President of the Republic personally intervened to halt the work. "Indeed, His Excellency, the President of the Republic, has never ordered DINEPA to close the site,” the email said. “This decision was taken by DINEPA because of a dispute which broke out during the execution of the work.” This, despite the fact that the work is 80% complete.

Grégory Mevs, who was implicated in the dispute in the January 21 article denied any personal of familial involvement in the land dispute. DINEPA conferred in their note that “ We have had no contact with the Mevs family on this dossier.”

Steps to build this modern landfill began in February, 2010, eight months before the onset of the cholera epidemic. Two sites were being considered after research by the mayors of both Cité Soleil and Croix-des-Bouquets. Titayen was chosen over the nearby site of Saint Christophe because of that site’s proximity to the memorial cemetery for earthquake victims."

In November 2010, the Mayor of Croix-des-Bouquets, in the presence of the head of DINEPA, reiterated his agreement to launch the emergency site and expressed his willingness to accompany the process, insisting on the fact that there was no danger of land conflict and that the site in question was part of state land,” engineer Gérald Baptiste, DINEPA’s director, clarified in an email.

Construction of the sewage treatment plant in Titayen started on November 24. 2010. The very next day a private individual claimed ownership of the land. Negotiations, DINEPA said, began with this person in December with property papers being filed with a notary.

A private company also filed papers in December. “This company appears to have, since 1998, an act of ownership from the Haitian state for this site, which was earmarked for industrial, commercial and residential development,” DINEPA wrote. "This project presented to DINEPA is still at a very sketchy stage and has not evolved over the past 12 years."

Decision to stop work at Titayen was taken on 30 December 2010. DINEPA said it did so for security reasons.

The sewage treatment center conforms to environmental norms and technical standards, and was being constructed in such a way as to ensure to a third-party both security and sustainability, DINEPA wrote. Furthermore, the topographic configuration and its immediate environment factored into the decision to choose this site. The plant, DINEPA concluded in its statement, would not be incompatible with an industrial, commercial or residential development project.

Jean Pharès Jérôme pjerome@lenouvelliste.com Dieudonné Joachim djoachim@lenouvelliste.com