A WINDOW ON TWISTED TRUTHS IN HAITI
December 29, 2011--Dr. Mark Schuller’s Smoke and Mirrors in Haiti* opens a window into the twisted truths, exaggerations and self-fulfilling prophecies that still bubble forth from post-earthquake Haiti, mostly from NGOs, UN organizations, and activists like Schuller himself. Putting aside what strike me as an almost personal attack—accusing me of leaking the report and of actively blogging the story in an attempt to attract the press--here’s a list of clarifications,
1. Whoever it was who sent the BARR to press, technically the report was not “leaked.” It had been vetted and approved for publication by USAID-Haiti staff. The AP and AFP would not otherwise have published articles about the report. Schuller, who sometimes publishes in newspapers, must know that (my blogs came after the story broke).
2. USAID-Haiti (as opposed to USAID-Washington) never repudiated the findings of the BARR report. They simply said they had not commissioned the death count. Specifically, USAID-Haiti director Carleene Dei told the AP that,
"We tasked the organization to assess the impact of rubble removal and structural assessment efforts on the return of Haitians to neighborhoods and determine if, and how, we could improve upon our efforts. Any comment on the death toll of the tragic earthquake of January 2010 that affected so many, is beyond the scope of the commission and purely reflects the views of the author."
3. Although USAID-Haiti distanced itself from the death count, it was in fact an integral part of the task I was commissioned to do. Specifically, USAID commissioned me to estimate the number of Haitians who had returned to their homes. That task could not be accomplished had we not known how many of those people were dead, a point so obvious as to make the frequent claim from activists like Schuller that I was somehow acting as a rogue researcher absurd: let me say it again, the dead would not return home and therefore had to be subtracted from the count of absentees. Had we used the Haitian government estimate of 316,000 fatalities, we would have concluded that not only had all survivors returned home, but that we had some 20,000 extra people (this would have made it even more difficult to explain the people in the camps)
4. It was USAID-Washington staff that rejected the BARR survey findings. This difference, for those inside the bureaucracy, is significant. USAID-Haiti was most concerned with the stalled recovery effort; USAID-Washington was responding to the political fallout. Specifically, according to the June 4th AP article,
"Mark Feierstein of the U.S. Agency for International Development said the report is problematic because the authors used a statistical sampling that was not representative. The study didn't include data from heavily damaged areas in Haiti's countryside or from the number of houses that collapsed and killed people”
Each of those claims is either false or misleading.
a) First off, although the BARR sample was not perfectly representative of the total population of 3 million that the UN defined as living in the earthquake strike zone, it was representative of ~2 million of those people and they were overwhelmingly living in the hardest hit areas. What this means is that when we generalized the BARR data to the remaining 1 million people we were sure to overestimate-- not underestimate--the impact of the earthquake. USAID knew this. The decision to use that population was deliberate, chosen in conference with USAID supervisors specifically because we wanted the findings to be as defensible as possible.
- b) Of course we included collapsed houses; not to do so would have contradicted the entire purpose of the survey, which was to estimate how many people had returned to their prior residences or the place where that residence had been. In cases where the house was completely destroyed and/or no residents were present, we gathered data from neighbors (who knew very well how many of their neighbors had died). It is also worth pointing out that the question we asked people was not ‘how many people died in the home when the earthquake struck,’ but ‘how many people who lived in the home died when the earthquake struck,’ meaning wherever it was they were at that time.
5. Why USAID-Haiti had different things to say about the BARR findings than USAID-Washington is part of the politics of the Haiti recovery effort. This is not the place to elaborate, but suffice it to say that there were two US government bureaucracies at work. USAID-Haiti had been promoting the repair of damaged and destroyed houses over the building of new ones. Being the decision makers, USAID-Washington and the State Department trumped them, insisting on pursuing the construction of massive new residential developments and, in the process, bogging the entire reconstruction process down in a quagmire of land tenure controversies, exorbitant and even fraudulent lawyer and surveyor fees, and controversies over what were habitable sites. While this was going on there was the evolving nightmare of tent cities largely filled with opportunists—albeit many of them poor—hoping to get one of the promised new homes. This opportunism is something that anyone who knows Haiti would have anticipated (especially in light of the poverty and 50 years of indiscriminate charity). I will return to this issue of the camps in a moment, but first,
6. There are at least four other studies of which I am aware that corroborate the BARR findings regarding the death count. They too have not been published because the NGOs, UN organizations and governments involved are sensitive to the reaction seen with the BARR. Among these is another BARR survey. It was a census of Ravine Pentad, a neighborhood considered by the US government to be among the most earthquake devastated sectors in all of Haiti. Prior to the census we were told by the NGO staff working in Ravine Pentad that 2,000 of 6,000 residents had been killed. We found that neither of these figures was correct. 4,421 people lived in the neighborhood at the time of the earthquake; 142 were killed. That translates to 3.2 percent of that population (one third the rate the government claimed for the entire strike zone).
7. The government counting methods were indeed seriously flawed. It was not me who concluded this. AP, Miami Herald and Radio Netherlands journalists all came to the same conclusions, calling the methods into question and documenting that those methods involved not simply poor counting; there was no counting at all. The issue was never pursued further, not by anyone; not by journalists, UN, NGO, or government officials. They all began repeating the government claims when data from their own staff and citizens suggested that those figures were inflated by factors of 900 % or greater. Here’s a few examples,
The Government of Haiti (GOH) reported 30% of its 60,000 civil servants were killed. But the real figure may be closer to or less than 1 percent. Not only the BARR suggests this, but I base this on the only data the GOH ever released: high government officials and the police, ostensibly the hardest hit sectors. But when all was said and done, two of Haiti’s 141 senators, congressman, and ministers were killed (1.2%). Seventy-seven (77) of 10,544 Haitian police (0.7%) were killed. In short, the government appears to have inflated the number of civil servants killed by a factor as high as 15 to 30 times that indicated by the only data they ever released.
Fatalities for UN personnel were almost identical to the government figures. Specifically, the UN lost 101 of 9,151 international staff in Haiti at the time of the earthquake (1.1%). That’s a terrible tragedy, but a far cry from the 10% death toll they have accepted for the general population. Most of fatalities were in the same building, the Hotel Christopher.
Losses for US embassy personnel and citizens were even less than 1 percent. The US Embassy lost 1 of 172 foreign staff members (0.6%); and 6 of 800 of its Haitian staff members (0.8%). As for the 43,000 US citizens in Haiti at the time of the earthquake: 103 were killed (0.2%).[i]
Canadians: 58 of 6,000 citizens in Haiti at the time of the earthquake were killed (1.0%).
The Dominican Republic: 24 of 2,600 (0.9%); 22 of whom died in a single building.
NGOs, orphanages, and missions also accepted the inflated figures despite the fact that fatalities among their own staff members hovered around 1% and in most cases were less. Oxfam reported on its home page the earlier Haitian government figure of 230,000, yet it only lost one of 100 employees in Port-au-Prince at the time of the earthquake. Catholic Relief Services cited the same figures but lost none of its 100 employees in Port-au-Prince. World Vision home page says that “at least” 230,000 were killed in Port-au-Prince, but it lost none of its 95 staff member in Port-au-Prince at the time. MSF said the earthquake, “killed hundreds of thousands of people,” but they lost 7 of their staff of 800 in Port-au-Prince at the time. The Red Cross lost no one. God’s Littlest Angels--featured on CBC, ABC, CNN, and Larry King--lost no one. Most NGOs lost no one.
- Businesses were the same: Triology telephone company lost 5 of 576 employees (0.9%) ; Digicel telephone company lost 2 of 900 employees (0.2%); the cement company CEMEX lost 0 of 115 employees; Petionville Golf and Tennis Club lost 0 of 100 employees, not a single employee even lost a home.
8. In every case in which there is solid data with which to cross check the BARR study, the findings are substantiated. For example, researchers from Colombia University and Karolinska Institute used cell phone signals from Digicel phone company to track the movements of earthquake survivors in the months following the disaster. One thing they came up with is rather precise estimates of how many people fled to the provinces after the earthquake: 570,000. The UN organization OCHA claims to have actually counted the number of people who fled to the province: they came up with a figure of 511,405. The BARR data very neatly covered both estimates, indicating that the number of people who fled to the provinces was in the range of 465,246 to 584,754 (p < .01). These organizations also came up with rates of return to the city; rates that almost exactly fit the rate of home return found in the BARR. These examples of the probable accuracy of the BARR were key points in USAID Haiti staff’s decision to accept the BARR findings. A more recent example corroborating BARR data comes from Schuller’s study of 800 randomly selected families living in the camps. Schuller found that on average respondents had migrated to Port-au-Prince in 1993; BARR found the exact same thing.
9. Schuller tells us that a challenge to the BARR findings came from Muggah and Kolbe, former researchers for the Geneva Small Arms Survey. He calls their study (announced in a July 12, 2011 op-ed in the LA Times) “much more methodologically grounded.” But he offers no indication that he even knows what the methods were--in either study (as with Muggah and Kolbe, BARR was a random survey of approximately the same area; it differed in that we selected 54 clusters rather than lone homesteads, we had more than three times as many households in our sample--5,158 vs 1,700 residences, and BARR analysis employed a more powerful 99 percentile range while Muggah and Kolbe used p < .95). He also criticizes me for not using rounded numbers in my estimates without noting that Muggah and Kolbe do the same thing (so do most researchers). There are, in fact, some problems with that study. Not least of all Muggah and Kolbe inexplicably found that 6x as many children vs adults were killed, yet we know from a postquake CDC hospital study that more adults were injured and we know from pediactric studies that children are more likely than adults to survive and recover from similar orthopedic injuries. But more to the point here, a) its findings were not as far from the BARR findings as many believe, b) Kolbe latter retracted most of her critiques of the BARR (the critiques derived from the fact that, for some unexplained reason, Muggah and Kolbe could not obtain the 100 page annex describing the methods), and last but not least, c) Schuller will surely change his opinion of the Muggah and Kolbe study when he realizes that it challenges his defense of the camp residents as coming from destroyed homes, finding that less than 10% of people in the camps at the time of their study came from destroyed houses (Muggah and Kolbe estimate that there were only 70,000 people in the camps who came from destroyed houses in Port-au-Prince).
There are a range of other critiques launched by Schuller that are simply wrong or misleading. But most biting to me is that Schuller has accused me of disturbing the Haitian ancestors by drawing attention to the dead and questioning the numbers. From one anthropologist to another, that’s a pretty serious charge. I would turn it on its head and say that I’m honoring the ancestors by not allowing opportunists to heap an extra 250,000 unverified souls in the grave with them. But what Schuller is really concerned about is not the dead; he’s most concerned about the living. Me too. With that in mind, let me move beyond the death count and get to the real “smoke and mirrors”
Yes, there are poor people in the camps. Most camp residents--even the majority who are not direct victims of the earthquake in the sense that they come from destroyed homes—qualify as poor and desperate. Indeed, it should go without saying that the poverty and desperation that prevail in Haiti are such that if at any time in the past 20 years the international community in Haiti (earthquake or no earthquake) began to hand out massive quantities of food and water, provide treatment to people for ailments, and promise free homes, camps would have sprung up. Anthropologists such as Schuller know this all too well. Schuller also knows that the camps grew not so much as a direct response to the earthquake but to the slow and unequal pace of aid delivery that followed. On January 20th, day eight after the earthquake, the International Organization for Migration (IOM)—the organization that would take charge of the camps in Haiti—estimated that only 370,000 people were living “under improvised shelters.” What anyone would or should have expected is for that figure to begin to decline in the weeks after the earthquake as survivors returned to their homes and put their lives back together. But it didn't. Or at least the numbers reported by activists such as Schuller and organizations such as OIM didn't decline. Instead they increased. They increased for 7 months, long after the last aftershock. The camps grew until July 2010, when IOM claimed there were 1.5 million people living in 1,555 camps. That’s a population equal to half of the total in the strike zone.
In effect, the reported numbers of people living in the camps moved in the opposite direction of what would have been expected. Instead of the numbers increasing in the week after the earthquake and then decreasing over the next six months, they kept increasing. So what happened?
It is unlikely that there were ever 1.5 million people living in the camps. BARR data suggests that at the height of the exodus, about 68% of residents in the earthquake impacted region left their home (that extrapolates to 2,040,000 people); only about half of those people (30% of the total population in the earthquake strike area) went to camps (900,000). And they did in fact begin returning home soon after the earthquake: Within weeks the real figures of people living away from their homes reversed direction, meaning stopped increasing and began to decline. BARR tells us that 70% of people who had left their homes had returned home by July 2010, when OIM estimated there were 1.5 million in the camps. From whence came the majority of people alleged to still be in the camps is another issue. Based on the BARR data I can’t determine how many people were in the camps; I can only estimate how many of them were from destroyed houses. But Schuller should have a pretty good idea.
What Dr. Schuller does not tell us in his essay is that in the studies that the French NGO ACTED carried out on behalf of IOM—and to which Schuller links his own work – was that they found that 92 of the 1,152 sites visited had only empty tents, meaning that no one at all was living there. Of the 1,061 camps that did have tents with people living in them, 712 (67%) contained at least some empty tents. In one area (Ganthier), 73% of the 213 tents were empty. In the commune of Croix-Des-Bouquets, 6,525 tents located on 63 sites were empty (30% of all tents in that area). In the southern regions of Grand Goave 736 empty tents located on 34 sites were empty (49% of tents all tents in that area). In Léogâne, 1,770 tents located at 74 sites were empty (36% of all tents in that area). Overall, 15% of all tents in the sites that ACTED checked were empty. As for how many people in total were living in those tents that did have people in them and how many were lying about it: we don’t know but, to their credit, IOM personnel did acknowledge that the average reported 'household size' in the camps was 4.1, and in some areas as low as 3.3 (compared to 5.2 to 5.8 for Port-au-Prince homes), something that suggested to the authors of the IOM report that, “some IDPs have decided to keep some household members in the IDP sites so as to retain access to services in the sites, while other family members return or resettle elsewhere.” Similarly, Kit Miyamota, owner of Miyamota Inc, the corporation that designed and oversaw the MTPTC/UNUPS/PADF house assessment program that visited and evaluated every house in Port-au-Prince and repaired 2,000 of them recounted in 2011 that,
When we repair yellow houses, we get know the owners and renters very well since we stay there for an average of three days. Our Haitian engineers know their living status. After we repair yellow houses, approximately 100% of people return for 24 hours a day. But about 90% of them keep the unoccupied tents in the IDP camps since they hope to receive services and money to remove them. (Personal Communication by Email, 2011)
But despite all of that, Schuller and the IOM authors used their findings to defend the camps as full of authentically homeless. (Now there are some ‘smoke and mirrors.)
Is it ethically excusable to misrepresent how many people are living in the camps in an effort to bring in more aid? Perhaps. But I would argue that there are problems with it. As a researcher I would argue that blindly defending people in the camps obscures the fact that much of aid that did get spent on reconstruction and recovery was spent sloppily on impoverished people who were trying to get a piece of it and not on getting people back home and helping them rebuild. While NGOs, IOM, and other well intentioned people and organizations were focusing on camps, most of the people who owned or rented destroyed homes went back to them to rebuild and put their lives back together, and most received little to no help at all in doing it. This is one of the main lessons from the BARR survey. A careful re-reading of Muggah and Kolbe’s report and subsequent research tells us the same thing.
With all that in mind, and getting to what I think is the most important point that should come out of this controversy, these twisted vistas from NGOs, UN organizations and activists such as Mark Schuller obscure much harsher truths. What we saw in Haiti regarding the camps, their growth and the poverty that drove that growth has arguably less to do with the earthquake and more to do with two centuries of meddling in Haitian affairs on the part of the major international powers. The meddling has been especially acute in the three decades preceding the earthquake, when Haitian agricultural exports were systematically eliminated by discriminatory US and EU import regulations while domestic agricultural production on which 60% of the Haitian population directly depended was destroyed by insensitive and even deliberate attempts to subjugate the Haitian market to US and EU imports. Specifically, a) compelling the Haitian Government to remove tariffs on imports, thereby exposing the Haitian farmer’s products to open competition with inexpensive and highly subsidized produce from the US and Western Europe, and b) what appeared to most American and European taxpayers to be the good hearted gesture of flooding the Haitian market with food aid (this was in fact a very deliberate part of neo-liberal economic policy and a promotion of US and European agricultural exports; for those interested in details I invite them to read my 2008 book, Travesty in Haiti).
Today, with the help of well intended activists such as Schuller, it’s almost as if that history is being rewritten so that economic despair begins with the earthquake and justifies not merely a continuation of prior policies but a radical intensification of them, not least of all the indiscriminant and unnecessary importation of food aid—despite claims in the media to the contrary.
Approaching a conclusion, and getting back to the main point: yes there was an earthquake and yes, there was massive destruction. But the nature of that destruction and the misappropriation and poor managing of the aid has been obscured by ‘smoke and mirrors’ in the form of misinformation coming from NGOs, UN organizations and well intended activists like Schuller.
Mind you, I am not pointing the finger at the Haitians who say they are earthquake victims when in fact they are victims of something else. For me it’s not their shame. It’s not the shame of impoverished Haitians who posture as victims—whether as earthquake victims or as a parent trying to pass his/her children off as orphans or restavek in the hope of getting a subsidized education. The Haitians who do so are responding to the systematic elimination of traditional livelihoods and adapting to the few opportunities available: specifically the charity and ‘development’ that has been an integral part of supplanting their livelihoods. And while I did not deliberately concoct data or an elaborate scheme to embarrass Haiti and the international community, Schuller is indeed correct in stating that I am an ardent proponent of exposing the role that we--aid workers and researchers-- have played in that process. And that brings me to the real “smoke and mirrors”: the roles of charities, the UN, NGOs and, unfortunately, some activists and their tendency to twist and contort data that doesn’t suit their objectives and attack solid academic studies that contradict their simplistic tallies of victims so that they can present alternative truths that, perhaps with the best of intentions, lend support to donor campaigns but may not be contributing to the long-term good of the Haitian people. The death count and depiction of camps are only two examples of the misinformation that were used to collect over US$2 billion in aid. Here’s a couple more:
- Destruction of buildings: The GOH initially reported that 83% percent of Port-au-Prince's buildings were destroyed. Shortly after that the figure was modified to 280,000 of 434,328 buildings--65% of all structures in the strike zone- “collapsed or severely damaged.” One year after the earthquake, Miyamoto Inc. and the Haitian Ministry of Work, Communication and Transportation finished evaluating and counting all houses in Port-au-Prince and they found that 20% were destroyed or severally damaged (in the sense that both vertices were compromised). About 7% of those had collapsed. If we take the entire 20% as the figure for destroyed houses and apply it to the ~580,000 homes that were in the earthquake impact zone, that extrapolates to 116,000 houses. Mind you, it is the Haitian Ministry of Transportation,and Public Works that came up with those figures and they actually visited and evaluated some 70% of all the homes. Yet, in November 2011, the GOH declared to donors and Oxfam repeated the claim in its report, The Slow Road to Construction, "250,000 ,maisons detruites" (250,000 houses were destroyed).
- Rubble: In the month after the earthquake, US Army Corps of Engineers put the estimated total rubble in Port-au-Prince at 20 to 40 million cubic meters, enough to fill 8,000 to 16,000 Olympic swimming pools. Two years later, when all was said and done, the best estimate appears to be less than 4 million cubic meters, one fifth to one tenth of the original count, enough to fill about 1,500 swimming pools. Yet, with the help of their congressional and senate representatives US owned companies such DRC and AshBritt—both rather famous for criminal allegations, the latter having earned an ugly reputation in Katrina cleanup and the owner of the former once sued by the US government for defrauding it out of more than $25 million during Hurricane Mitch—managed to absorb over 100 million dollars in aid for rubble removal. When people complained to the US Embassy that Haitians were being cut out of the profits, the companies partnered with entrepreneurs such as Gilbert Bigio, the Israeli Consulate-General and reportedly Haiti’s richest man. Note also that these “humanitarian corporations” and “humanitarian entrepreneurs” began their cleanup efforts billing at a figure of about 500% the cost per cubic meter that it should have been, US$60 to 80 in the months after the earthquake compared to US$15 to 20 that It became one year later.
Children: Early on after the earthquake, we read headlines such as, “Haiti Orphans ‘Extremely Vulnerable’: Aid Groups Worry Up To 1 Million Kids Without Proper Care At Risk of Disease, Child Predators”(CBS News, January 27, 2010). The organizations responsible for feeding the information to the press were UNICEF and Save the Children. It helped bring in a lot of donations. UNICEF originally called for $120 million to deal with the crisis; when the agency reached US$229 million in six months, it upped the figure again, adding another US$127,243,000. By the end of the year, it had received a total of US$291 million. Save the Children originally called for $9.8 million in donations; when it reached that, it raised it to 20 million, then to $36.6 million, then to $65 million; by August 1st 2011, it had $87 million, almost ten times its original request. There are literally hundreds of smaller organizations that together brought in hundreds of millions more in donations, and whose major driving force was concern for children the earthquake had left orphaned or were lost or separated from parents. But just what were the real dimensions of that crisis and what did they do about it? No bonafide case of either child trafficking or sex slavery was ever confirmed. All we ever got was the 10 Baptist missionaries against whom there was never any proven accusation—except perhaps their naïveté. So how about the 1 million orphaned, separated or lost children? When asked ten weeks after the earthquake ‘just how many lost children and orphans are still out there?’, Marie de la Soudiere, the head of UNICEF's program to unite lost Haitian children with their families, told CBS 60 Minutes correspondents that “We feel it's upwards of 50,000." To Soudiere’s credit, that’s considerably modified from the one million figure that aid agencies were claiming earlier on. But how many lost and abandoned children had UNICEF, at that point-- ten weeks after the earthquake--reunified with their families? The answer is twenty. Yes, “twenty.” Did anyone ever ask just what happened to the one million? What about the 50,000? One year after the earthquake, in its January 7, 2011 annual report, UNICEF reported that together with its 430 orphanage and NGO partners, it had registered 4,948 children who were orphaned or separated from their parents. For any conscientious UNICEF employee, that’s certainly an improvement over the numbers in the three months following the earthquake. But-- and here comes the smoke and mirrors--of that figure, only 1,265 had been reunited with their families. And almost half of those children, 506 of them, had nothing at all to do with the earthquake; they were separated from their parents before January 12th 2010. Moreover, UNICEF won’t reveal the exact figures, but most of the remainder were not lost or orphaned; they were restaveks, child domestic servants whose parents had “given them away”--what most activists and NGOs refer to as “child slaves” (another issue smothered in misinformation and inflated numbers, one that portrays Haiti as the greatest slave state since the US Antebellum South, a rather ironic accolade for a nation descended from the only successful slave revolt in history).
Once again, I feel compelled to ask: is it okay to misinform or to stand idly by while others misinform in the name of fund raising for the poor? I think that many people involved in aid in Haiti have, by their actions, answered yes. As for me, in the end I just don’t know. Maybe. But what I do know--and I am sure that Schuller will agree—is that most of the post earthquake money donated by caring people the world over, including the Haitian Diaspora, was wasted or went into the pockets of foreign bureaucrats and businessmen, Haitian elite, and aid workers. I also know that the actual work on the ground and the money that was delivered into the hands of poor Haitians is by and large a fiasco. So does Schuller. And if you don’t believe us just ask one of the poor and--if not direct victims of the earthquake destruction--desperate and vulnerable people still hopefully waiting in the squalid camps for a piece of the aid or ask one of the many who has rebuilt and moved back into his or her home without any outside assistance.
I want to make it clear that I don’t object to UNICEF and its partners collecting billions of dollars for the earthquake relief effort. But I do object to the misinformation that I think is a big part of the lack of accountability that came later. People who donated to the earthquake should have the right to accurate information about what happened in Haiti and what is still going on.
Having said all of that, I share something with Schuller. I too consider myself to be working on behalf of, and for the good of, the poor in Haiti. But I, and others who are more anthropologist than activist, subscribe to a different method of accomplishing that task. We think of ourselves as devoted to using scientific methods to help donors understand what is really happening in Haiti. I would argue that this is the only responsible way that we, as outsiders, can give an authentic voice to the impoverished Haitians who, as Schuller will certainly agree, are so often ignored. If Mark Schuller, or anyone else, would like to discuss what those methods are, I would welcome the opportunity.
* SMOKE AND MIRRORS IN HAITI, by Professor Mark Schuller, published in Counterpunch, Dec 21, 2011.
[i] In the first few months after the earthquake it was not exactly clear what the US data was telling us. The US Embassy could not locate 2,000 US citizens. But this is not unusual at the best of times, and because of benefits and inheritance it seems likely that if someone were killed they would have been reported. In the interim, it has become clearer that no more than that figure were killed. As of May 10, 2011, the official figure cited was actually less than the 104 in the original embassy statement: 103 US fatalities (see House of Representatives 1016 - Assessing Progress in Haiti Act (Lee, D-CA) http://rsc.jordan.house.gov/UploadedFiles/LB_051011_HR1016.pdf
ii] It was Save the Children staff, quoted several times in the press, who attributed to UNICEF the claims of 1 million orphaned, separated or lost children. It’s not clear if UNICEF ever said that. But just as importantly, they never denied it. Moreover, UNICEF stirred up much commotion about child trafficking and sex slavery. Officially, it began on January 22nd when UNICEF gave a press conference in which the spokesman for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Rupert Colville, took the podium and warned that “child enslavement and trafficking is an existing problem and could easily emerge as a serious issue over the coming weeks and months." UNICEF adviser Jean Luc Legrand didn’t wait for ‘coming weeks and months.’ In the same press conference he announced that, "We have documented let’s say around 15 cases of children disappearing from hospitals and not with their own family at the time." Among all the major media outlets only Aljazeera pointed out that UNICEF officials were unable verify that the 15 children were missing or even to give details. They were not able, as AlJazeera put it, “to connect the anecdotal observations in post-earthquake chaos with trafficking.” But it did not seem to matter. A virtual media hysteria was born.