FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Humanitarian Aid in Haiti

by JAKE JOHNSTON

“Donors and aid organizations prefer to be the boss of their own money. And they want to be in charge of how to spend it, where to spend it, and if to spend it at all,” Linda Polman, author of The Crisis Caravan: What’s Wrong with Humanitarian Aid, recently told an interviewer.  The statement goes to the root of what many believe has been the greatest failure of the relief effort in Haiti: the exclusion of Haitian voices from the decision-making process.

As the two-year anniversary of the earthquake approaches, hundreds of thousands of earthquake survivors remain in camps with little or no basic services. Even though many aid organizations still have large pools of funds, some are pulling out of camps and discontinuing essential services such as the provision of water and sanitation. One hundred and twenty-five thousand transitional-shelters (T-shelters), small structures meant to last up to a few years, are expected to be built eventually, but this number is based on what NGOs pledged, and not the needs on the ground. The result is that, even after these shelters are completed, hundreds of thousands of people will still be left solely with “emergency” solutions, generally not much more than one or two tattered tarps, that were meant to last no longer than a few months.

With billions of dollars pledged and conditions in camps still deteriorating, the question remains: Where is the money, and has it met any of the real needs of the Haitian people? This is the subject of an upcoming documentary by Michele Mitchell and her team with Film@11 airingon PBS in January. Mitchell told me, “one thing I heard constantly, first from Haitians and then even from some aid workers, was that the Haitians in the camps, the people who the relief money was supposed to help, were almost entirely excluded from the planning process. If the NGOs weren’t asking questions, how did they know the right thing to do?” In Haiti: Where Did the Money Go? the viewer is taken from interviews with some of the largest NGOs operating in Haiti to interviews with those in the camps. The juxtaposition of the grandiose accomplishments listed by the NGOs (and the lifestyles which some aid workers have) with the squalid living conditions in the camps makes clear the severe disconnect between the Haitian people and those who are supposedly there to help.

The problem is not simply with NGOs, but with donors as well. And it is largely systemic. As an aid worker from one of the largest relief organizations in Haiti told me, “[t]he NGO pool in the last 10 years has turned from a pool of actors to a pool of contractors,” adding, “[p]eople fly from crisis to crisis at 10 cluster meetings and write proposals for funding… If they generate a contract they deliver a job, if they don’t then they piss off.” With all the scrambling around for money and proposal writing, one critical voice is left out: the beneficiary’s.

Nowhere is this clearer than in the provision of shelter, which remains the most glaring failure of relief efforts nearly two years after the quake. Anindependent evaluation of agencies providing shelter, commissioned by the International Federation of the Red Cross, illustrates this disconnect clearly.  The evaluation finds that shelter provision was based more on supply, i.e. what NGOs wanted to deliver, as opposed to demand, i.e. what Haitians actually needed. “Affected people were not consulted nor their capacities considered, the response was what those with the [foreign] money decided,” one Haitian interviewee told the evaluation team.

The construction of transitional shelter was constrained by the tremendous amount of rubble clogging the capital and while the evaluation found that “money was not an issue for the shelter response,” there was very little allocated to rubble removal. Why? In the words of the evaluating team, “donors… had already allocated their funds for T-Shelter construction,” while NGOs were “reluctant to spend their privately-raised funds.” Perhaps a new T-shelter makes for a better fundraising picture than a wheel-barrow of cement.

Meanwhile, as the construction of “T-shelters” was delayed further and further and conditions in the camps continued to worsen, NGOs either would not, or could not change tack. This was due to “commitments with donors” as well as an “unwillingness to work in other transitional shelter options,” according to the evaluation. It’s better PR to put your NGO logo on a new T-shelter than on a rental subsidy or repaired home.

As for the shelter that has been provided, family size was not considered and a two-tarps-per-family standard for “emergency” shelter was not based on families’ actual ability to create an adequate shelter. Unsurprisingly the result was that “emergency and interim shelter did not enhance protection or reduce the risks of gender-based violence, including sexual exploitation and abuse.” In fact, as the evaluation team explains, nearly “all the participants in the focus groups described the conditions of the emergency shelter solution as ‘infrahuman’, ‘unbearable’, or simply ‘very bad.’”

As the two-year commemoration of the earthquake approaches, there will be numerous reports on the billions of dollars raised by NGOs or pledged by donors, and how relatively little of it has been spent on the ground. Certainly anyone donating $10 dollars to a relief organization probably assumed it would be spent to alleviate the massive suffering caused by the earthquake. Two years later, the suffering continues and hundreds of millions of dollars are sitting in interest-bearing accounts. It’s an appalling situation that should be investigated by the U.S. Congress, but equally troubling is the growing evidence that much of the money that has been spent has failed to address the real needs of the Haitian people.

To this day, there is no meaningful plan to deal with the housing crisis and the hundreds of thousands who remain displaced. Despite the billions pledged and donated, the little that has reached the ground has failed to sustainably address the issue. If solutions are to be found, and Haitians’ rights are to be respected, foreign donors and NGOs should begin by listening to those they are in Haiti to help and start reacting to demand, not supply.

Jake Johnston is an international researcher at the Center for Economic and Policy Research. He writes on Haiti-related issues for the blog Relief and Reconstruction Watch.

This article originally appeared in the Caribbean Journal.

More articles by:

Jake Johnston is a Research Associate at the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington, DC.

November 20, 2017
T.J. Coles
Doomsday Scenarios: the UK’s Hair-Raising Admissions About the Prospect of Nuclear War and Accident
Peter Linebaugh
On the 800th Anniversary of the Charter of the Forest
Sheldon Richman
Assertions, Facts and CNN
Ben Debney
Plebiscites: Why Stop at One?
LV Filson
Yemen’s Collective Starvation: Where Money Can’t Buy Food, Water or Medicine
Thomas Knapp
Impeachment Theater, 2017 Edition
Binoy Kampmark
Trump in Asia
Curtis FJ Doebbler
COP23: Truth Without Consequences?
Louisa Willcox
Obesity in Bears: Vital and Beautiful
Deborah James
E-Commerce and the WTO
Ann Garrison
Burundi Defies the Imperial Criminal Court: an Interview with John Philpot
Robert Koehler
Trapped in ‘a Man’s World’
Stephen Cooper
Wiping the Stain of Capital Punishment Clean
Weekend Edition
November 17, 2017
Friday - Sunday
Paul Street
Thank an Anti-War Veteran
Andrew Levine
What’s Wrong With Bible Thumpers Nowadays?
Jeffrey St. Clair - Alexander Cockburn
The CIA’s House of Horrors: the Abominable Dr. Gottlieb
Wendy Wolfson – Ken Levy
Why We Need to Take Animal Cruelty Much More Seriously
Mike Whitney
Brennan and Clapper: Elder Statesmen or Serial Fabricators?
David Rosen
Of Sex Abusers and Sex Offenders
Ryan LaMothe
A Christian Nation?
Dave Lindorff
Trump’s Finger on the Button: Why No President Should Have the Authority to Launch Nuclear Weapons
W. T. Whitney
A Bizarre US Pretext for Military Intrusion in South America
Deepak Tripathi
Sex, Lies and Incompetence: Britain’s Ruling Establishment in Crisis 
Howard Lisnoff
Who You’re Likely to Meet (and Not Meet) on a College Campus Today
Roy Morrison
Trump’s Excellent Asian Adventure
John W. Whitehead
Financial Tyranny
Ted Rall
How Society Makes Victimhood a No-Win Proposition
Jim Goodman
Stop Pretending the Estate Tax has Anything to do With Family Farmers
Thomas Klikauer
The Populism of Germany’s New Nazis
Murray Dobbin
Is Trudeau Ready for a Middle East war?
Jeiddy Martínez Armas
Firearm Democracy
Jill Richardson
Washington’s War on Poor Grad Students
Ralph Nader
The Rule of Power Over the Rule of Law
Justin O'Hagan
Capitalism Equals Peace?
Matthew Stevenson
Into Africa: From the Red Sea to Nairobi
Geoff Dutton
The Company We Sadly Keep
Evan Jones
The Censorship of Jacques Sapir, French Dissident
Linn Washington Jr.
Meek Moment Triggers Demands for Justice Reform
Gerry Brown
TPP, Indo Pacific, QUAD: What’s Next to Contain China’s Rise?
Robert Fisk
The Exile of Saad Hariri
Romana Rubeo - Ramzy Baroud
Anti-BDS Laws and Pro-Israeli Parliament: Zionist Hasbara is Winning in Italy
Robert J. Burrowes
Why are Police in the USA so Terrified?
Chuck Collins
Stop Talking About ‘Winners and Losers’ From Corporate Tax Cuts
Ron Jacobs
Private Property Does Not Equal Freedom
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
Mass Shootings, Male Toxicity and their Roots in Agriculture
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail