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Because Human Rights Matter in a Disaster

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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”

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?”

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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