By PAT WATSON
What to do about Haiti? According to the United Nations, $4.5 billion had been pledged, following the earthquake in January 2010, but only about half of that has found its way there through foreign aid organizations. Governments and aid organizations in charge of those pledges are holding back, refusing to release funds until they can get solid agreement from Haiti’s leaders to control corruption and to put concrete plans in place for the recovery and other structures of governance. Or, as they call it these days, ‘building capacity’.
Haiti claims on the other hand that many of these aid organizations used the country’s tragedy to raise money but then refused to get the money to the people of Haiti.
According to Michaëlle Jean, UNESCO’s special envoy to Haiti, one per cent of the money committed to reconstruction has gone to the Haitian government and one per cent has gone to Haitian non-government organizations (NGOs).
There is still a lot of well-meaning aid going to Haiti but one gets the feeling that there is still not enough of letting the country make its own policies and set its own agenda. A ‘recovery commission’ set up in the aftermath of the earthquake was made up of outsiders and was not very effective. So there are many inefficiencies and weak coordination between NGOs. With 295 registered aid agencies in Haiti, only 19 have even given public reports on what they have done there so far.
Moreover, the recent political election and controversy surrounding it had slowed down the momentum of recovery and has been called a distraction. The minority government headed by President Michel Martelly is still trying to find its feet, although it has apparently made its strongest steps in restoring primary school education. Even so, 40 per cent of Haiti’s children aren’t in school, and there have been questions about missing education funds.
One has to question why this is happening, considering the Canadian government gave $50 million to match $50 million in public donations, the most money to Haiti of all the countries in this region. During the height of the crisis, Prime Minister Stephen Harper predicted that it would take a decade to build Haiti up from the earthquake. But, with painstakingly slow and only piecemeal rebuilding and half a million still not properly housed in and around Port au Prince, the region most affected by the earthquake, Harper’s projection now looks overly optimistic.
Canada’s outpouring of support following the devastating magnitude 7 earthquake that turned much of Port au Prince into rubble was the beginning of hope that the troubled Caribbean nation would finally have a chance to get up off its knees. But key politicians and bureaucrats were killed during that earthquake, thus leaving an already dysfunctional system even worse. So that, even now, there is still no coordinated plan to make the recovery more efficient.
Today, the afflicted region is still plagued by lack of infrastructure, overcrowding and unemployment as high as 60 per cent in some areas. Many people spend their waking hours doing what they can to generate some form of income, at their most basic level trying to sell a little something.
What can be ascertained through reports from various aid organizations is that money has gone most immediately to food, potable water, building or rebuilding schools and getting children back into schools. By one account, some 600 schools have been built since the earthquake, much of it using Canadian money.
Does humanitarian aid in Haiti do more harm than good?
Jean has said: “The most distressing evil is the lack of coordination among efforts to fight these ills. The terrible mess among projects that proliferate on the ground in the most chaotic of ways – all in the name of a good conscience and ill-conceived solidarity – has been turned into a real business scheme. Haiti has been turned into a vast laboratory for all manners of trial and error, a testing ground for deficient strategies that, for decades, have produced nothing truly viable. The aid and handouts system has become a business, a deal for some as it creates opportunities for embezzlement and corruption. Utter dependency on international aid built right into state structures becomes corrosive.”
Understandably, Haitians view life with a certain fatalism, but there has to be more ownership of their social and economic outcomes if real change is to come to Haiti.
A note on the Republican presidential primaries…
In the horse race between the Newt and the Mitt will the one who eventually outlasts the other be able to then overcome all the mud that has been flung on the way to the finish line?