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Sunday, Feb 26, 2017

Aid to Haiti needs to be redone

Hurricane season is pummeling Haiti again, and Washington's usual response won't suffice. Since 1935, Haiti has been hit by 10 massive hurricanes - four in 2008 alone. Earthquakes are less frequent but more devastating. The earthquake of Jan. 12, 2010, killed more than 200,000, injured another 300,000, and left an estimated 1 million homeless. The day after the 2010 earthquake, The Associated Press reported that North American, European and other governments had already pledged a combined total of nearly $40 million in aid. Personnel and materiel were arriving already, too. The Americans were sending in the Marines - more than 2,000 of them - along with ships, helicopters, and transport planes.
With this massive outpouring of aid - nearly $4 for every Haitian man, woman, and child pledged in the first 24 hours alone - why is it that there is so little to show for it? National Public Radio reported that, as of the third anniversary of the quake, as many as 350,000 people still lived in camps with inadequate shelter or sanitation. Very little reconstruction has taken place. Even the National Palace has not been rebuilt. So, where did all that money go? First of all, much of it never got there. The Guardian reported that little over half of pledged aid was actually delivered in the first two years. Of course, much of the aid was to meet immediate needs for food, shelter, and medical care. Still, aid meant for reconstruction or development suffers from fundamental flaws that minimize the benefit to the recipient nation, since much of the money flows directly back to the donor nations. The most glaring flaw in governmental aid programs is the standard requirement that contractors from the donor nations be used in the expenditure of any government aid funds. This policy ensures that the economic benefit of these investments returns almost exclusively to the donor nation. Another crucial flaw occurs when aid agencies push their projects through without adequate local consultation or knowledge of local conditions. For instance, one of the few housing developments completed in the Port-au-Prince area since the 2010 earthquake was built in an area of coastal plain totally exposed to another storm surge. Haiti needs a different model of aid: the model of development partnership. Under this model, aid programs serve the needs of the recipient, not the interests and objectives of the donor. From the identification of need to the design and implementation of projects, local officials and technicians must be consulted or given principal decision-making roles. It is important, too, that development projects use local resources. If cement is needed, don't bring it in from the donor nation; build a cement plant. If engineers or economists are needed, use local professionals to the extent possible. Otherwise, the impact is minimal. And it barely deserves the name of aid. Tenior Guerrier is a community activist in Haiti.