[permaculture] Aiding Haiti: Let’s get it right this time

Permaculture Cooperative permaculturecoop at gmail.com
Mon Feb 8 18:20:33 EST 2010

Perspectives on Finance, Development, and Environment
  Aiding Haiti: Let’s get it right this

Timothy A. Wise <http://ase.tufts.edu/gdae/about_us/researchers.html#wise>

Before I joined the Global Development and Environment
1999, I was the executive director at Grassroots
a Boston-based aid organization.  With a focus on structural change and
empowerment, Grassroots started an emergency program in Haiti after the
first ouster of President Jean Bertrand Aristide in 1991.  Later, we watched
up close as the large US-funded aid effort, after Aristide’s return in 1994,
undermined Haitian government priorities, undercut food production, and
weakened civil society institutions. The aid empowered foreign aid agencies
and multinationals rather than Haiti’s people.  We documented the aid
disaster with a report: “Feeding Dependency, Starving

Will history repeat itself in Haiti now?  The outpouring of private aid,
much of it from the pockets of people in the US, has been encouraging.  But
what should donors and agencies support if they want to avoid repeating
history?  Aid goes not to projects or services but first to service
providers, to agencies themselves.  And aid is power.  Those who get more
aid end up stronger than those who don’t.  When the crisis is over, who do
we want to be stronger *as an institution*, and therefore better able to
address or avert such crises in the future?

Here are a few guidelines I came up with:

*1.      **Support agencies that build local capacities and institutions–* Some
aid agencies, including most of the largest and best-known in the US, are
“operational”, that is, they set up offices in-country and provide services
themselves, often hiring large numbers of local residents to work for them.
Operational agencies often weaken local institutions, drawing qualified
staff out of relatively weak local organizations. Wherever possible, support
agencies that work primarily through local partner institutions.

*2.      **Support privately funded initiatives, not government contractors
– *The US government is the largest aid provider in the US and it contracts
much of that work out to US-based aid agencies.  More than half the budgets
of many of the largest US-based aid agencies come from the US government.
So what?  Well, first, private money is relatively less important to such
efforts, which tend to be multimillion-dollar activities.  Second, those
agencies naturally tend to be accountable mainly to the US government, not
to its private donors nor, more important, to the local communities they
serve.  Third, official US aid programs are among the most political in the
world, often hewing to State Department objectives and guidelines first and
humanitarian guidelines and needs second (or third or fourth).

*3.      **Buy local and support regional economic development – *Procurement
is everything, a massive stimulus program.  The question is, whose economy
is it going to stimulate? USAID *brags*that 75% of all its aid comes back to
the US – paying US consultants, buying US products, etc. As Ecuador’s President
Rafael Correa said when he visited
“There is a lot of imperialism among the donors. They donate first, but most
of it goes back to them.”  Government * and *private aid should stimulate
the Haitian economy.

*4.      **Agriculture matters – *Sure, Haiti needs food aid right now. It
also needs agricultural investment and protection for its farmers from the
low prices caused by food aid and unregulated imports. In the 1990s, food
aid poured in, trade liberalization opened the borders to subsidized US
rice, and Haiti’s rice production fell dramatically.

*5.      **Small is beautiful – *The aid industry is dominated by the
largest agencies, which compete for and win government contracts.  The last
things Haiti needs are aid agencies with more resources and power in-country
than the government.

*6.      **Rebuild government institutions – *Private aid often comes with
an anti-government bias. Haiti’s government has, quite literally, been
reduced to rubble. Aid should prioritize efforts to build strong, responsive
government institutions.  Early
precious little funding going to the Haitian government. Aid should also
respond to Haitian government priorities, such as agricultural development.
In the 1990s, less than 5% of US aid went to agriculture even though it was
the government’s highest priority. In the meantime, creditors should cancel
Haiti’s $891 billion debt <http://www.ipsnews.net/news.asp?idnews=50228>,
not just restructure it.

* *

Disasters often generate strong movements for social change, and the
recovery effort itself is important not only economically but politically.
This time, let’s not feed dependency and starve democracy.

Note: The Center for Economic and Policy Research has launched a new
blog: Haiti:
Relief and Reconstruction

Nicholas Roberts & Kirstie Stramler

Denmark 36 96 49 02
Australia 02 8003 6993
USA 310 598 2989

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