12 January 2013

Successes and Challenges in Post-Earthquake Haiti

Three years since a massive earthquake struck Haiti, the country continues to recover and rebuild. Significant gains and serious setbacks make for a changing evaluation of the nation's progress. Trying to determine whether the recovery has been successful or not has been a relatively hard question to answer.

An estimated 80% of all the debris has been cleared, 200 new schools have been built and roughly 3 million children have received vaccines against polio, measles and rubella championed UN Foundation CEO Kathy Calvin in a press call on Wednesday.

Challenges remain. Over 350,000 Haitians are still living in tents and many of the aid pledges made in the wake of the earthquake remain unfulfilled. Some are apt to point out the failure of the response over the past three years.

"[I]t is evident that many good intentions imploded at the expense of the people they were meant to help," wrote journalist Ian Birrell in the Guardian at the end of December. "Haiti stands as the latest sad example of how self-aggrandising assumptions of the global aid industry can backfire so badly. The humanitarian business should reflect hard on the failures."

The participants on the press call were more optimistic. Jessica Faieta, Deputy Assistant Administrator and Deputy Director, at the Regional Bureau for Latin America and the Caribbean, UN Development Programme (UNDP), said that the debris removal was still a problem, but pointed to successes like the creation of 300,000 jobs of which 40% have gone to women.

Haiti - Alison McKellarAlthough the UN peacekeeping mission has transformed from one that provides security to one that provides relief, UN Department for Peacekeeping Operations Public Affairs Officer Andre-Michel Essoungou said that Haiti has regained stability in the areas of politics and security. “Almost everyone who has visited Haiti agrees that there has been tremendous progress over the past few months,” said Eileen Wickstrom Smith, Deputy Coordinator for Assistance in the Office of the Haiti Special Coordinator, U.S. Department of State, in agreement with Essoungou.

This is at a time when some donors are rethinking their aid to Haiti. Canada's Minister for International Cooperation, Julian Fantino, said that the country was putting its aid to Haiti 'on ice' citing a lack of progress. “The fact is that Haiti is still in poor condition — will we continue to do the same thing in Haiti? I think not! Because we are not seeing the progress which Canadians are entitled to expect,” said Fantino in an interview with La Presse.

When asked to react to the decision by a Canadian journalist, Faieta said she was 'saddened' by the news. Both she and Smith pointed out that progress would be slow. "We need to look into the contest as to where the country is coming from," said Faieta. Smith added, "Haiti is not going to become a middle-income country overnight...We would like to see the Canadian government continue its progress."

The mixed progress is harder to evaluate due to the murky spending situation. Some $9 billion has been donated to Haiti and the NGOs that are working there, says a report from Vijaya Ramachandran and Julie Walz of the Center for Global Development. The two found that it was hard to know what exactly happened to the money once it was disbursed to the NGOs and private contractors that actually implement programs.

The problem is twofold. First, there is not a proper level of transparency that makes it possible to determine where the money is going. Second, the money going into Haiti is largely bypassing the Haitian government. Ramachandran and Waltz recommend that improved transparency measures and partnering with the government may help ensure that the aid money going into Haiti is effectively used.

“Right now what we’ve got is a process dominated by donors and NGOs,” Vijaya said in a recent interview. “The government is almost a bystander. If we can pilot some projects where the government can seek the services of NGOs through contracts, I think that would help increase the accountability of NGOs and private contractors providing the services. It would also enable the Haitian government to build some control over the process of how much services are delivered, reduce replication, and maybe increase efficiency and accountability in the long run.”

Haiti faces further challenges following the recent hurricane season. Crops that were rebuilding were destroyed through the storms and a recent drought. USAID is investing in 100,000 farmers in northern Haiti with the goal of increasing crop yields and incomes. At the same time, it is prepared to distribute food aid to the families that were impacted by the weather.