Saturday, December 11, 2010

NGO's Keep the Cholera Epidemic Under Control in and Around Port-au-Prince, but for How Long?

I went to Haiti to cover the elections and the cholera epidemic on November 25th- Dec 4th.
Here are links to my multimedia work on the Atlantic's website about the elections-

Cholera cases in and around Port-au-Prince have stabilized. That's what I was told the week ending on December 2nd when I visited five cholera clinics. But Licia Betor who runs the Real Hope for Haiti Clinic in Cazel warned this positive news could change at any time. The decrease in new cases is due to education which is a positive sign, but Betor fears people will grow complacent, tire of the stringent hygiene measures they have been encouraged to practice and go back to their old ways. Haitians now know they need to get to clinics early if they have cholera's main symptoms: vomiting and/or diarrhea. In some cases a patient who goes for help immediately can be rehydrated, given antibiotics and sent home the same day. Most are discharged in two days; young children and the elderly with weaker immune systems get hit the hardest and often stay five days or more. On November 29th when I visted Cazel, the 25 bed clinic had eight patients; on Nov 14th it housed 48. As I was leaving a team of 15 people carried a 72 year old woman on a bed frame padded with cardboard up a steep hill to get to the clinic, a reminder that the epidemic is far from over.

Samaritan's Purse has two cholera clinics, one in Cabaret, a small town 45 minutes north of Port-an-Prince and one in Cité Soleil that opened on November 30th. By the end of its second day, 60 patients had been treated and 35 beds were taken in the new 200 bed facility made of plywood and plastic. In the tent city next to the clinic the displaced people living there are unhappy with the clinic's proximity. They say they are helpless to do anything about it. Dorsius Gefrard complains the smell of chemicals used at the clinic can't be good for them. They are worried their families are now in greater risk of disease.

Doctors Without Borders has 30 cholera treatment centers in Haiti, including 13 in Port-au-Prince. They are seeing approximately 1,200 new cases a day. New cases are expected to rise around the holidays since cholera is a socially transmitted disease. Empty beds are being made ready now in anticipation of a spike in cases. Patients often arrive in a coma, caused by a rapid loss of fluids and electrolytes. They come to the clinics by wheelbarrow, tap-taps (pickup trucks converted into public transportation) or carried by friends, family and neighbors on stretchers, beds and sometimes doors. Often there are multiple infections within families. Fedline Charle's mother, who stayed at her bedside, was later admitted to the same clinic and treated in a tent for adults. Fedline, like the other patients, rests quietly: cholera leaves its victims with little energy.

Wharf Jeremy, one of the poorest parts of Port-au-Prince, has a high rate of fatalities. The neighborhood illustrates the difficulty in irradicating the disease. Cholera cases spiked there after Hurricane Tomas, when a creek that passes through the area flooded homes with contaminated water. An NGO recently installed a unit of portable toilets on the stream's banks where people defecate out in the open. Ilna Lorna, whose job it is to clean them, has had rocks thrown at her by residents. She says she has given up trying to persuade people to use them.

The Haitian Ministry of Public Health has a phone number to call if you find a cholera victim's body. Body collectors arrive within 48 hours. They stuff the mouth with cotton, wrap the head in gauze, tie the arms together and spray the body with bleach before putting the corpse into a body bag, Bodies are taken by truck to a mass grave in Titmayn. The site is near the mass graves of earthquake victims who were buried in January. Charite Charle's body was removed while her two children watched. They are now orphans with nowhere to go. They were living on the street with their mother across from the National Cathedral where she died. The Haitian government estimates that cholera has claimed the lives of more than 1,800 people so far.

The prediction that Haiti would be plagued by disease after the earthquake is now a reality. Despite stabilizing new infections in a handful of clinics, cholera is killing people every day. The disease threatens to become a disaster as deadly as the earthquake. Though the elections have taken the spotlight off public welfare, cholera remains Haiti's biggest threat.
How you can help- visit the website of these NGO's and contribute
Real Hope For Haiti Rescue Center -

Photo captions: top: Jeff Kalason, 9 years old, recovering in cholera treatment center in the Tabarre section of Port-au-Prince run by Doctors Without Borders/
Charle Fedline recovering rests alone after her mother who had been at her bedside had to be admitted to the same clinic run by Doctors WIthout Borders/ Patients recovering at cholera clinic/ Board of Health workers prepare to remove cholera victim from the street to take her to a mass grave north of Port-au-Prince
Bottom- starting from top: Felisse, a 72 years old woman, waits for help at the Real Hope for Haiti Cholera Clinic/ Charle Fedline recovering from cholera/ Licia Betor, who runs the Real Hope for Haiti cholera clinic, cares for Edner Ramo, 52/ 15 people carry Felisse, a 72 years old, woman on a bed frame padded with cardboard to get to the Real Hope for Haiti Cholera Clinic/ Mother and son at a Doctors Without Borders cholera clinic in Port-au-Prince/ Waterway near a cholera clinic in Tabarre/ Solancia Celestin, 11, recovers at the Real Hope for Haiti Cholera Clinic in Cazel/ Gerard Nerulus, 6 years old, at the The Real Hope for Haiti Cholera Clinic

Saturday, October 09, 2010

BP Oil Left Behind in Louisiana

I got a call from Grace Welch asking me to come to Terribone Parish to see the oil BP is leaving behind as the clean-up efforts to an end. Welch is a Pointe-au-Chien Indian from Pointe-au-Chien, LA. The community has taken a bad blow from the BP oil spill since most people make a living from fishing, shrimping, crabbing and oyster harvesting. Though their ancestral fishing grounds weren't as badly polluted as Bay Jimmy in Plaquaemines Parish or the beaches near Grand Isle, the marsh was fouled by BP oil. The marsh grass along the shores in Lake Chien and Lake Raccaurci that got coated in oil in May has died. Today a gooey swath of oil lines the shore. BP never cleaned this area. Some boom was put out after the oil had already gotten into the marsh and then was later removed. That was the extent of the clean up, Russell Dar Dar, an elder tribe member told me.

A few members of the tribe are still employed by BP in Terribone Parish, working off Cocodrie where they are removing oil drenched absorbent boom that has washed up on marshland. Once this boom is picked up, the clean up in Terribone Parish will be over. BP claims it will do the marsh more harm than good to clean it up. Where is their scientific justification coming from? Could it really be that leaving thick oil on the shore that has already killed the grass, to sink deeper into the soil, is a good thing? I watched birds hunting shrimp , sticking their beaks into the oily goop to catch their prey. Maybe a little oil isn't a bad thing?

A company called Gulfsavers has a solution that is not invasive to the march. Their product, made with oil-eating microbes, would help speed up the natural decomposing proccess. They have been unable to get BP to buy their product and are hoping enough donations will come in so that they can get some of their product in place and do their part in cleaning the marshland.

Dar Dar and I watched a shrimp boat at work just a few yards from the oil coated shore, in waters recently re-opened to fishing. We both wonder who would want to eat those shrimp if they saw the spot from which they came. Dar Dar has collected oysters that are being tested by the the Bucket Brigade ( so he can decide whether or not he will resume oyster harvesting for the Thanksgiving season . Dar Dar is worried about the future. He no longer trusts what he is told. The BP oil disaster taught him the power of lies: If they are repeated often enough, people believe them. Dar Dar goes by what he sees and is having his own testing done.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Third Major Fish Kill in One Week

On September 19th, BP pronounced its Macando well dead. End of story? Hardly. A September 19th trip along the coast of Bay Jimmy in Plaquemines Parish proved the oil is still out there , and more and more fish kills have been reported. According to the AP, Wildlife and Fisheries are writing off the recent fish kills: Lack of oxygen caused by low tide and high temperatures suffocated the fish, they say. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration stated oxygen levels had fallen by 20 percent if areas of the gulf where plumes of oil were found according to an article in the Times of London by Jacqui Goddard.

P. J. Hahn, director of the Coastal Zone Management Department of Plaquimines Parish, agrees the fish suffocated, but he isn't so sure the BP oil disaster isn't in some way connected. He showed me the spot in Bayou Robinson where he found a new fish kill on Sept. 18th, the third reported in one week. Finding the spot wasn't too hard, the smell unmistakable. Birds and dolphins were feasting on the dead fish like an X marking the spot.
The predominant species found floating on the surface were menhaden, also called pogie, mixed with crab and catfish. Unlike the first major fish kill on Sept 15th, a thin coating of oil was visible on many of the fish. Though fish kills are a common occurrence at the end of the summer, their current frequency and scale are unprecedented, Hahn explained. It is impossible to rule out oil or dispersant as factors until tests are done.

Hank Bart, an ichthyologist at Tulane's Natural History Museum, concurs. "Fish kills are caused by organism booms, either bacterial or algae, that suck the oxygen out of the water. The cause for such growths come from a variety of circumstances that can't be determined without testing."

Plaquemines Parish president Billy Nungesser, who has been fighting for faster and greater action all along, acknowledged it is good to hear the well is finally dead; however, he stressed he will fight BP and the government till the end to make sure his parish has been made whole again, as promised. Plaquemines Parish's district attorney is conducting his own tests with the help of a specialist from Alaska, not relying solely on the federal government's testing. On the upside, scientists and lawyers in the region won't be short of work any time soon. "can anybody look the American people in the eye and say it absolutely has nothing to do with dispersants, the oil, or the breakdown of the oil, or does anybody care? I mean somebody has to be as upset as I am?" Nungesser asked.

WWL TV in New Orleans followed up by interviewing an agent from Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries, who said no testing was deemed necessary because his agents found no sign of pollution at the site of the fish kills. 30 minutes later the another representative from Louisisana Wildlife and Fisheries called WWL and said the fish from Bayou Robinson would be tested after all.
To see the story shot by Phin Percy for Fox 8 on the fish kill click here

Images- all images were shot on Sept. 19, 2010: fish kill in Bayou Robinson, oil in Bay Jimmy

to see more images of Bay Jimmy and the fish kill click here

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Death Toll Grows as The Page Is Turned on Iraq by President Obama

August 31, 2010, Obama declared it is "time to turn the page" on Iraq, yet he didn't declare the war is over. The page may be turned but the story is not over. A visit to Arlington West illustrates the open book as more causalities are added to the records, and more markers are added in the sand.

Week ending August 22, the week the last combat troops were pulled out of Iraq, more soldiers were killed in Iraq.The war in Iraq is over for some, but not for the remaining 50,000 troops still deployed in Iraq. Or the first soldier killed after the last combat troops were pulled out.

Arlington West: Every Sunday in Santa Monica a group of volunteers organized by Veterans For Peace puts out markers to memorialize American soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan. Each white marker represents one dead soldier; each red one, ten. The blue markers signify soldiers killed the in the last week. Visitors add messages and mementoes to the markers. Symbolic coffins for each of the weeks dead are carried out onto the beach. The week ending August 22, 16 coffins repressing the three soldiers killed in Iraq and 13 killed in Afghanistan were placed among the markers. Members of Veterans for Peace are on hand to help veterans and family members memorialize the dead and educate people passing by about the cost of the wars.

Thursday, August 05, 2010

It's Not Over Til It's Over!

While the end may be near for the rogue BP oil well, the damage to Louisiana's wetlandscontinues. More oil is washing up, oil that has sunk into the ground is resurfacing and tropical storms push it deeper into the marshes. Scientists are concerned about the long term effects on the Gulf of Mexico's wildlife and fish from the toxic combination of dispersants and oil. Click here to see some of the oil being recovered from the water.

Admiral Thad Allen reports seeing little to no oil on recent flyovers. Plaquemines ParishPresident Billy Nungesser disagrees. On a trip out to Barataria Bay, Nungesser assessed the damage first hand. A low tide coupled with Northern winds made it possible to see oil washed deep into the wetlands. Fiddler crabs covered in oil scurried along the banks, while gulls fished the polluted waters.

Booms, skimmers and jack-up barges have been removed despite the protestation of parish presidents. Though a total environmental catastrophe appears to have been averted, it is too early to assess the long term damage to Louisiana's wetlands. It is unclear how much of the oil-saturated marsh grass will die, but any such loss will speed up coastal erosion. Click here to see footage of the Damage to the Marsh as seen from an airboat.

There is a growing concern among locals that the oil disaster story is being whitewashed. BP's pr team seems eager to call the disaster a wrap. Doug Suttles,Chief Operating Officer of BP Exploration and Production, reminisces about his first flight over the disaster in a July 20th BP video. He gushes about the extraordinary effort that he says has worked extraordinarily well. "There is just not a lot of oil out there, " he says . Nunngesser begs to differ. I sat down and talked to him after a trip to Barataria Bay. Listen to what he has to say here.

For images of the oil that is still out there click here. If this is what the 25% of the remaining oil looks like, the wetlands are still in trouble. Bob Cesca's article "The BP Disaster Continues Despite Cheerful Happy Talk" will make you question most major media sources' willingness to accept the Joint Information Center's pr. Who's doing the talking, the Coast Guard or BP or have they become one and the same? Who is allowing BP to pull up their assets, the booms andskimmers and barges, and run? Hurricane season has yet to peak. Kudos to Billy who speaks his mind when no one else will. As a sign on Route 23 that takes you through the heart of Plaquemines Parish says, "God Bless Billy."

Monday, July 12, 2010

Coast Guard's Reversal On Press Restrictions

The Coast Guard has reversed its restriction on the press!

I just received an email from the Joint information Center: "NEW ORLEANS -- National Incident Commander Admiral Thad Allen today announced new procedures to allow media free travel within the 20-meter boom safety zones if they have followed simple procedures for credentialing, and provided they follow certain rules and guidelines."

The Coast Guard's about face comes just after I finished writing my latest blog entry. It is important for everyone to know what the Coast Guard did and why it was wrong. For a while I thought I was living in a police state run by corporate interests, which added to the horror of the BP oil disaster. I embrace the Coast Guard's reversal.

I went out with wildlife and fishery agents on July 3rd to get around the new restrictions. As of June 30th, you have to keep 65 feet away from booms or cleanup vessels. We inspected two protected rookeries, Cat Island and Queen Bess. Absorbent boom full of oil washed up on the shore of the islands. I saw only one boat with two men working on fixing the boom at Queen Bess Island. Could it has been that BP private contractors wanted the 4th of July off, just likemost federal employees? If I were handling BP's PR, I'd put cleanup crews on overtime andmake sure bird rookeries were cleaned up. A more effective way to stop the disseminationof images of dying creatures might be to stop the oil from getting to the birds' habitat in the first place. And then there'd be no need to take away the media's first amendment rights.

The pictures that most damage BP's image are those of oil-stained animals. Those pictures cause President Obama problems too. He had to answer to his daughter who is worried about the pelicans, he pointed out while addressing the press on his second visit to Louisiana.

The BP oil spill, the largest, most disastrous spill in United States history, affects us all. That, and the First Amendment, is why restrictions on the press should challenged. We as a society should not let corporate polluters, in this case BP, in cooperation with the government control the media. It's true that the Joint Information Center, run by BP and the Coast Guard has provided many opportunities to the press, but that does not give them the right to make independent reporting difficult via regulations disguised as public safety rules, or by using intimidation tactics, turning away journalists at every pass as documented many times by those covering the story.

Read here about the Coastguard's media liaison's connection to BP's PR agency
Listen to what Billy Nungesser has to say about the new restrictions here-
listen to Anderson coopers outrage about the media restriction here

Restricted zones, joint information centers, decontamination areas, embedded media: Am I in a war zone or Louisiana? New restrictions on the media make it almost impossible to properlytell the story. So much for transparency. Despite all the dispersants that have beendumped into the Gulf of Mexico, the oil washes up opaque. BP has chosen to spend $50 million on PR while leaving the birds on major rookeries in danger. Protecting our national resources should not become a political battle. Should we turn to BP's hired hack reporters to get our news? See BPs blog here To those who try to defend the new restrictions I say, gooutside with a camera, step back 65 feet from your subject ( an estimate of how far the boom keeps you from your subject beofre the new rules went in effect) then step back another 65 ft and see what kind of picture you get. After you do that, see if you can get Coast Guard Admiral Thad Allen to disclose which officials asked him to enact these "safety measures." (Thad Allan is off the hook with the call for him to reveal that information since he has given he retracted his 65 ft rule)

To see a new photo essay I created on the oil disaster on The Atlantic's site click here:

images: top, me on Long Beach in Mississippi
bottom- boom that had been around Cat Island floating in Barataria Bay/ Absorbent boom full of oil washed onto Cat Island by Hurricane Alex

Friday, June 11, 2010

BP Oil Leak Update In Pictures

Politicians and BP officials who assure the public all that can be done is being done to protect and clean up the Gulf Coast might want to reconsider such statements. That is not what I have seen. Brown pelicans on Queen Bess Island are living dangerously close to splotches of oil stuck inside and outside the boom meant to protect the island. Many of them have been rescued by wildlife and fishery officials, while countless others have died. The cleanup effort ramps up when VIP's are around; other than that, the cleanup and containment effort is sporadic at best. Last weekend, Christopher Hernandez of Grand Isle called members of the press down to show them around the day after 600 workers were bussed in to clean the beach for Obama's visit. Post-Obama, the cleanup crews numbers dwindled and their work hours were almost nonexistant.

For a multi-media story for the Atlantic featuring Chris and his take on BP controlling the media on Grand Isle, Also check out a photo essay for the Washington Post on the Pointe au Chien Indians I have updated my set on Flickr and it will continue to grow.

Images- top to bottom -A reporter puts his hand in an oil patch on the surface of Barataria Bay/Sign on Grand Isle, where BP's oil spill has shut down the fishing industry and washed up on shore/Brown pelican covered in oil on Barataria Bay off the coast of Grand Terre Island/ Chris Hernandez, Street Superintendent of Grand Isle, on Grand Isle beach/Baby tern stuck in an oil patch on Grand Isle beach, rescued by Chris Hernandez/ Pelican, being cleaned at Fork Jackson in Buras Louisiana/ Living quarters for cleanup workers on a barge stationed in Lake Barre/ Jake Billiot, a Pointe-au-Chien Indian, in front of the place of business where he used to sell shrimp in Point aux- Chene. The shrimp season was canceled on May 30th due to oil from the BP leak contaminating the waters. Jake has been a fisherman his whole life. Jake signed on to work for BP putting out boom since no other work is available to him