NGOs Falling Short in Haiti

CNN has a pretty good review of the pitfalls of foreign aid, looking at how the massive effort in Haiti could end up harming the country in the long run. Given that there are about 10,000 NGOs at work in Haiti right now, and that the United States has already spent $700 million on aid to Haiti, it would be good to have some signs that it's not, you know, making things worse.

What's the right way to provide aid?

“There's nothing worse than a bunch of foreigners coming in to fix everything," said David Humphries, a spokesman for CHF International, a humanitarian organization that is in Haiti. "Self-esteem and buy-in are very important for any community. They need to say, 'This is our building, our hospital.'"

Local input can also avoid wasting precious resources, Humphries says.

"You can build a hospital, but if there's no functional road to it, it's a white elephant," Humphries said. "People will despise it. Go in the community, get their input and employ them."

Good advice. So when the NGO Refugees International went to Haiti last month to study how the relief effort was going, what did they find?

Currently, coordination and communication between Haitian civil society and UN and international NGOs are largely missing, with both sectors operating along parallel and separate lines. Local organizations have a hard time accessing meetings at the UN compound in Port-au-Prince, where UN agencies and international NGOs have established task-specific cluster groups to improve communication across operating agencies, discuss specific needs, and coordinate activities in order to avoid overlap and maximize outreach and coverage of a response. Haitian groups are either unaware of the meetings, do not have proper photo-ID passes for entry, or do not have the staff capacity to spend long hours at the compound.

Sounds about right. The CNN piece also pointed out how U.S. farm subsidies have helped undermine Haiti's agriculture. A country that used to be able to produce all its own rice is now the fourth largest importer of American rice.

Unfortunately, the CNN article also aired generic complaints about companies flocking to Haiti because of the availability of cheap labor:

“Even those companies that promise to help rebuild Haiti must be viewed with suspicion, one scholar says.”

As millions of Chinese factory workers have shown, being “exploited” in a factory for a few years can be the key to springing one's family out of poverty for good.

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  • ||

    You know, they need all the help they can get right now.


  • ||

    Actually, they need the right kind of help; not aid that will foster dependency for a generation or more. Knee jerk charity can harm as well as help. Thoughtfulness and respect counts...

  • Cal Ulmann||

    Kevin Carson would disagree about the exploitation.

  • dennis||

    I like Kevin Carson, I think he is one of the most important voices in the libertarian conversation, and if I had several hundred million dollars I would happily fund his work along with some other libertarian theorists, but I disagree with his vehement anti-corporate stances. That said, his ideas (even where I think they are mistaken) deserve to be dealt with respectfully and thoughtfully, as doing so can only strengthen libertarian theory. I'd rather deal with Carson's criticisms of contemporary libertarian ideas than a typical left wing or right wing critic, as Carson's ideas aren't intrinsically stupid.

  • Kolohe||

    what Dennis said

  • NeonCat||

    So they need an NGO to make IDs? Maybe we can encourage judges to make that a sentencing option when people who make fake IDs are caught. Call it community service.

  • ||

    Oh, the UN dipshits in their compounds, holding meetings, creating committees, and not letting the dirty locals in. Standard UN operating procedure, then. I wonder, though, where are the child prostitutes? I suppose we just need to give that a little more time.

  • Jeffersonian||

    You're missing the whole point here, folks. It's not about improving the lives of Haitians, it's about white liberals feeling good about themselves.

  • Bern||


  • Brett Knoss||

    This is intersting because in January the CEO of Oxfam said if we rebuild Haiti as it was we have failed, and my thoughts were at best we can build the Haiti of several weeks agod and any further progress will have to come from the Hatians themselves.

  • Brian||

    I don't know. Wasn't it lots of "local input" that made Haiti the fourth world shitheap it was?

  • dennis||

    To a degree, but there were a lot of shenanigans by other governments that certainly didn't help things.

  • ||

    Unfortunately, the CNN article also aired generic complaints about companies flocking to Haiti because of the availability of cheap labor

    It wouldn't be a CNN story without some sort of gratuitous cheap shot at Teh Eevul Corporashinz.

    ps- fuck those NGO parasites; in the left ear, with a jackhammer.

  • ||

    A country that used to be able to produce all its own rice is now the fourth largest importer of American rice.


    Export subsidies are awesome; we need more!

  • ||

    Actually ... it cuts both ways. Sure, it undermines Haiti's farm sector. On the other hand ... it makes rice cheaper for Haiti's poor.

  • Allison||

    Right. So we can pay other countries to buy our rice, effectively. By artificially reducing the price with tax money for the farmers, the only people who win are the corporations which buy the products from the farmer and sell to everyone else.

  • Elizabeth A. Terrell||

    Even public radio is catching on to some of the aspects of this situation we'd normally only be talking about in free market friendly forums-

    NPR: What Haiti Needs More Than Charity: Trade (3/3/2010)

    APM/NPR: Foreign aid that hurts rather than helps (3/4/2010)

    The question is can we convince the general public that an immediate long term policy change would do much much more for Haiti than throwing money at the situation. Stories like the ones above suggest they ARE convince-able right now. I find that very encouraging.

  • Kolohe||

    Currently, coordination and communication between Haitian civil society and UN and international NGOs are largely missing

    The real problem is that throughout the third world, the 'intitution' of civil society is very weak - and if it weren't weak, the place likely wouldn't be considered third world.

  • Barack Hussein Obama||

    This is Bush’s fault. Haiti inherited this earthquake from Bush.

  • Al Macintyre||

    Seems to me there is a need for a newspaper, in French & Creole, to be delivered to the camps, maybe posted on a bulletin board, with a cover to protect from rain.

    It would communicate what we in the outside world know what's going on that the Haitian civil society has been missing.

    How fund this? Think ads by people who are declaring themselves running for Haiti offices in the upcoming election. What have they and their supporters done since the quake & what do they promise to do if elected?


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