July 17, 2011; Source: Toronto Star | The co-founder of Partners in Health, Paul Farmer, has a new book out on his experience in delivering assistance, both through PIH and as the UN’s deputy special envoy to Haiti working with special envoy Bill Clinton. In “Haiti after the Earthquake,” Farmer writes about a subject that has become something of a scandal for the Clinton Foundation.

In his book, Farmer recounts accompanying President Clinton on a visit to temporary shelters that were constructed for displaced Haitians: “The model t-shelter Clinton visited was inhabited by a woman who had nothing good to say about her new home. She launched a stream of invective in Creole even as the disaster-relief folks were describing, in English, the sturdiness of the t-shelters — ‘these are built to withstand high winds and to serve as transitional shelters that can tide people over until more permanent shelters are built; they’re much safer than tents.’ The model inhabitant scowled and complained, ‘Who would want to live in a house like this? The walls could be split open with a kitchen knife.’”

In the aftermath of the quake, the Clinton Foundation’s first contributions to Haiti — “hurricane-proof . . . emergency shelters that can also serve as schools . . . to ensure the safety of vulnerable populations in high-risk areas during the hurricane season” — have been revealed to be shoddy and dangerous for the earthquake victims. An investigation of the foundation’s trailers by The Nation found the following:

  • The temperatures in the shelters/classrooms reached over 100 degrees, causing kids headaches and other illnesses such as eye irritations (perhaps also due to the mold they came with);
  • The trailers also showed high levels of formaldehyde, a known carcinogen (and also a cause of asthma and other lung diseases);
  • The trailers were manufactured by Clayton Homes, which is being sued here in the U.S. by the Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA) for having provided formaldehyde-laced trailers to Hurricane Katrina victims;
  • Clayton Homes is owned by Berkshire Hathaway, the money-making machine of Warren Buffett, who was an early and high-profile member of the Clinton Global Initiative.

In its defense, the Clinton Foundation said it picked Clayton through a limited RFP, the applicants reviewed by a team of experts including the UN’s International Organization for Migration (IOM). However, an IOM spokesperson said that the foundation used a “no bid process.” The Clinton Foundation refused to provide the names of the experts or provide any other information about the bidding process.

Since The Nation’s report, the Clinton Foundation has pledged “to send experts to Haiti . . . and fix any ‘structural deficiencies’ in the trailers” and Farmer said he would investigate on his own.—Rick Cohen