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.