NGOs’ Postcard from Haiti: it’s not a pretty picture

In January, PovertyCure noted the real problems with international "aid" in Haiti. The problems haven't gotten any better. Julie Walz and Vijaya Ramachandran from the Center for Global Development reinforce the fact that NGOs and international aid are doing next to nothing to improve the situation in the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. They state: The $9 billion that was disbursed to NGOs and other intermediaries in a period of twenty-seven months has been spent largely without consultation of local Haitians.  Almost no one we interviewed had been contacted by members of the foreign assistance community to discuss local needs. Perhaps most disheartening is this:

We repeatedly heard stories about the unintended economic and social consequences of the influx of foreign workers.  Housing costs in certain areas have skyrocketed – rentals easily go for over $30,000 per year, with some houses being rented for a lot more. Restaurants and supermarkets in certain areas of Petion-ville cater exclusively to foreign tastes, and prices of basic goods have been driven up to a level that even middle-class Haitians cannot afford.  Social norms and practices have been impacted as well.  We heard stories about how houses built by NGOs after the quake were not appropriate for most Haitian families–tradition dictates a partition in the house, no matter how small, but the new homes did not have these.  Rumors that access to temporary tents meant access to permanent housing in the long term caused families to split up, sometimes with disastrous social consequences.  The leader of a small, grassroots NGO explained to us that he now has difficulty drawing people to meetings and outreach unless he provides food or compensation for participants, like the foreign NGOs do.  The Haitian concept of “konbit” (working the land of other farmers as part of the community) has been challenged as foreign NGOs have started to pay farmers on an individual basis for soil-conservation and community farming.  One of our interviewees pointed out to us, gently, that some NGOs are “slowly destroying the fabric of Haitian society.” (Emphasis added.)

The international aid machine seems to run on the mantra of "do the same thing over and over, but expect different result": little or no consultation with locals, catering to foreign workers and not focusing on local needs, and tearing apart the most fundamental unit of society - the family - but somehow expecting economic recovery. The underlying assumption of this whole enterprise is, "The poor of Haiti (or any other developing country) can't handle things themselves; we need to step in and do it for them."

Peter Greer, of Hope International addressed this topic succinctly:

Doing the long-term development, helping people provide for their own needs, is not a quick fix. The easiest thing to do is to have an abundance of things, and to give it away, and that’s going to make a difference for today. It’s much more difficult to work with that family, help them get on their feet, help them provide for their own needs. That doesn’t happen with a light switch. It doesn’t happen by just giving them something. It happens through relationship, it happens through long-term investment of time and resources to build up individuals, so that they can take care of their own needs and take care of their own families.

It is time to help Haiti: not by creating more "quick fixes", but by truly partnering with the men and women of that nation to help them provide for themselves.


Jul 162012
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