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Cholera in Haiti: UN Accountability Under The Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement

Uncontrolled vomiting hits first, along with profuse, watery diarrhea.  Within minutes, your body begins to dehydrate, your muscles will clench and cripple.  Your kidneys will fail next.  Then your brain goes into a coma, and your body goes into shock.  You’ll come out of it though, eventually, if you find treatment right away.  But if you can’t find treatment, you could die.  If treatment comes too late, you could die.  If the symptoms strike so fast that you have no idea what hit, it’s likely you will die.cholera - 5

This is cholera, a disease that has infected close to a million people in Haiti, and depending on which numbers you credit, has killed between 10,000 and 30,000.  Though easily prevented and treated, its onset is sometimes so sudden and severe that victims can die of systemic shock within an hour of the first stomach cramp.
Not a trace of cholera in Haiti had been reported in more than a century worth of health data.  But it exploded upon arrival in October, 2010.  One hospital near the epicenter of the outbreak admitted more than 400 cholera patients in a single day – just three days after the first reported fatality.  Forty-four of those patients were dead by nightfall.

It took only a few weeks for cholera to reach every corner of the country.  It seeped into neighboring Dominican Republic almost as fast, and eventually sickened people in the US, Mexico, Venezuela, Cuba, and a long list of other countries across the Caribbean.  Haiti has become ground zero for the world’s deadliest cholera outbreak.

cholera - 3How did this happen?  Continue reading “Cholera in Haiti: UN Accountability Under The Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement”

NYC Passes New Disaster Legislation After Hurricane Sandy. Now The Hard Part.

Property owners and other qualifying individuals in New York City will be given additional time following a disaster to repair and clear their property, without incurring penalties for certain municipal code violations.  New disaster legislation passed by the City Council takes effect August 8, 2016, and applies retroactively to fines imposed after Hurricane Sandy.

Sandy - homes destroyedI’ve posted a detailed summary of new developments here.  In this post, I’ll explain why the scope of protection under one of those laws, Int. 1037, depends on how quickly and effectively the City implements a recovery program following the next major disaster.  The record from Hurricane Sandy is not encouraging, but perhaps the benefit of that experience will produce better results in the future.

 

 

A Quick Review of Int. 1037

Continue reading “NYC Passes New Disaster Legislation After Hurricane Sandy. Now The Hard Part.”

What is a Disaster Lawyer, Anyway?

I get this question a lot.  For me, it’s someone who uses the law to empower people whose rights are overlooked or outright violated in a disaster.  We advocate for people who were socially vulnerable and politically marginalized even before the disaster, and therefore especially susceptible to human rights abuse after a disaster.

Hurricane Katrina was my first direct experience with a mega-disaster, and it’s important to be clear about what happened. The strength of the storm and where it landed are accepted as reasons so many people died, or struggled to stay afloat in the drawn-out aftermath. But life was fated for people across the Gulf Coast long before Katrina, by government policies that determined who lived where; whether and when they could escape; and if those who made it out were encouraged to return home.  I saw the same thing play out in Haiti, and witnessed it from a distance in the Philippines, Nepal, and virtually everywhere else an earthquake hit, a hurricane struck, or a drought crept in.  The most important thing I learned from Katrina and these other events is that disasters do the most damage along political fault-lines that already exist.

I also learned something else from Katrina.  Continue reading “What is a Disaster Lawyer, Anyway?”

Lead and Legionnaires’: Involuntary Manslaughter on the Table in Flint

If you want to know more about “involuntary manslaughter” charges that investigators are discussing in Flint, then read on.  This post doesn’t present all of the evidence that could support criminal charges, or try to prove someone guilty of a crime.  But it does tell you what involuntary manslaughter actually means, and highlights some important findings from a recent Task Force report.  It also identifies a few things standing in the way of criminal charges.

The attorney investigating the water crisis in Flint announced in February that he would consider involuntary manslaughter charges against anyone who was grossly negligent in handling an outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease that sickened 87 people over a 17 month period, and has so far killed 11.

Legionnaires’ causes flu-like symptoms, and can be deadly to people with suppressed immune symptoms. Continue reading “Lead and Legionnaires’: Involuntary Manslaughter on the Table in Flint”

Flint: Why It’s Not A “Federal” Disaster

Michigan Governor Rick Snyder has asked the federal government to declare Flint a major disaster on account of the city’s lead water crisis. That would make $96 million in sorely needed federal aid available to clean the water, fix the broken infrastructure, and provide health care to people who will suffer the life-long consequences of lead poisoning.  But the Obama Administration said no, prompting an appeal from state and local lawmakers who are desperate for extra cash.

So what gives?

Federal disaster declarations are governed by the Stafford Act, which limits when the President, through executive agencies, can declare a disaster.  The law provides for two types of declarations: an “Emergency” or a “Major Disaster.”  Some federal aid is allocated in an Emergency, but much more is allocated in a Major Disaster.

An “Emergency” is defined as “any occasion or instance” that requires federal assistance to supplement state and local efforts and capacities to save lives, protect property, or avert a catastrophe. Continue reading “Flint: Why It’s Not A “Federal” Disaster”

If You’re in Vanuatu and Survived Cyclone Pam, Read This Now:

Read This NowYou have a right to life with dignity.

You have a right to adequate shelter, to food, to safe drinking water, and to sanitary hygiene facilities.  You have a right to health care, to remain with your family, to privacy.  You have a right to access humanitarian aid.

You have a right to be safe.

Your government owes you these and other rights.  They also owe you a remedy for the harm that’s caused when these rights are violated.

You also have a right to control your destiny.  A disaster response system has been put in place that may or may not have been designed with your input.  But the right to “consultation,” as lawyers call it, means that decisions about camps and shelters (and every other aspect of the response and resettlement) – whether made by the government of Vanuatu, the UN, an NGO, or other international actors – must reflect YOUR priorities, not theirs.  If you don’t have a seat at the table, if your voice is not being heard, then you are not being consulted.  And that is a human rights violation.

Have you heard that the recovery is slow because of logistics, or money, or the scale of devastation?  That certainly may be true.  Or it may not.  Continue reading “If You’re in Vanuatu and Survived Cyclone Pam, Read This Now:”

Reflections on The Sendai Framework

Sendai Framework - kidsSome meaningful critiques:

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