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Pulitzer Center Update January 20, 2015

This Week: Haiti's Unsteady Land


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On the island of Hispaniola, conflict over land is putting people’s future on unsteady ground.

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Multiple Authors
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Farmers on their expropriated land on the Haitian island of Île-à-Vache. Image by Allison Shelley. Haiti, 2015.


In a dispatch for The New Yorker, Pulitzer Center grantee Jacob Kushner reports that five years after a devastating earthquake struck Port-au-Prince, Haiti's efforts to rebuild its economy and infrastructure have been thwarted by contentious land ownership issues and a lack of "clear knowledge of who, precisely, owns what."

Resolving these long-standing issues has been a low priority for Haiti's government, says Jacob, even as its leaders court investment by tourism, mining, and other industries affected by questions of land ownership.

Last week, a day after the fifth anniversary of the quake, a deal to set terms for new elections fell apart and Haiti's parliament dissolved, leaving President Michel Martelly to rule by decree. According to Jacob, "the latest bout of political turmoil makes it even less likely that Haiti will be able to address the basic conflicts over land that threaten to inhibit the island's economic development."

Pulitzer Center grantee Allison Shelley contributed a photograph to Jacob's New Yorker piece and is also working on her own project on land use issues in Haiti. Her photo essay appears in the Los Angeles Review of Books.


An estimated 3 million Syrians have fled that country's civil war. A small portion of them—perhaps 150,000—have found their way to Europe. In a series of reports for NPR, Pulitzer Center grantees Joanna Kakissis and Holly Pickett have been documenting the struggle of these refugees to carve out a safe haven in an environment that is not always welcoming.

In her most recent feature for NPR's Weekend Edition, Joanna tells the story of three middle-aged siblings who, with the help of smugglers and fake papers, have managed to reunite in Germany.

"When we left after our home was first bombed, we thought maybe we can travel for a couple of years and then return when things calm down. We really thought we could build our home again in Syria," one of the brothers tells Joanna. But those hopes have been dashed. The man's daughter, aged 4, shows off to Joanna how she can count in German. She's fast forgetting how to do the same in Arabic and her only memory of Damascus is the sound of gunfire.


One of the harsh truths about the Ebola virus is that it continues to pose a mortal threat even after it has claimed the life of its victim. This makes burying the dead a risky business in Liberia. To help curb the spread of the disease, the Liberian government in August ordered mandatory cremations, a decision that was deeply unpopular.

"Families in the West African country make annual pilgrimages to visit the graves of their deceased ancestors; when their bodies are incinerated and stored in large collective bins, this sacred rite is stripped," writes Pulitzer Center grantee Brian Castner. "Liberian funerals involve washing the body, styling the hair, and dressing up the deceased. And the family members clean their own faces with the same water in which they washed their loved one. There are really few better ways to catch Ebola."

The cremation order was rescinded earlier this year, and new safe burial procedures have been put into place. In this feature for Vice, Brian and photographer Cheryl Hatch document how the bereaved of Liberia bid farewell to their loved ones in the age of Ebola.

Until next week,

Tom Hundley
Senior Editor


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Land Rights

Land Rights