Two Years After the Haiti Earthquake, Western NGOs and Foreign Aid Fail to Rebuild


Eight years before the earthquake that devastated Haiti on January 12, 2010, I was working on my undergraduate thesis. It covered the history of Haiti since its independence from France in 1804. Ever since, I have spent significant portions of my academic and professional career focusing on what needs to be done so the international community will respect Haiti, and I’ve determined a key ingredient: Haiti needs a stable representative government, a self-sufficient government that is capable of effectively advocating for its people.

I am convinced Haiti’s future success depends on Haiti’s government, and requires that its citizens and expatriates work together. They need to persuade the international community to respect their right to self-determination and forge ahead as one, collectively designing and executing each step of Haiti’s future.

Since early 2010, foreign governments and private donors have pledged billions of dollars to help rebuild Haiti. Two years after the earthquake, however, much of that money has not been disbursed. When money is given to Haiti, it usually goes directly to NGOs, sidestepping the Haitian government. This is a clear example of why Haiti must unite and demand a direct say in the policy decisions that affect them.

Due to the international community’s general perception that the Haitian government is too corrupt and inept to handle direct management of foreign aid money pledged to the Haitian people, international governments and private donors overlook Haiti’s leaders as viable partners. When it comes to the disbursement of aid and the creation and implementation of the policies toward Haiti that receive foreign funding, the majority of aid is given directly to international NGOs. This money is used at the NGO’s discretion, a practice that is frustrating more and more Haitians each day as the pace of reconstruction slows.

In January 2009, economist Paul Collier submitted a report to the United Nations titled, “Haiti: From National Catastrophe to Economic Security.” Although this report was published a year before the 2010 earthquake, Haiti was still in the midst of rebuilding from a series of hurricanes over five years that caused widespread damage.

Just as relevant to Haiti’s future today as it was in 2009, the report recommends a new approach to progress, including a “partnership of mutual responsibilities” that would involve the Haitian government as a provider of basic services to its citizens. Today, NGOs assume the role of the government in providing basic services. If the government assumed this role, it would gain respect and cooperation in communities. In an effort to address the chronic instability of infrastructure in Haiti, Collier suggests using the model of the “Independent Service Authority (ISA), in which a quasi-independent public agency coordinates and co-funds NGO and private sector provision.” This system could be in place temporarily until the Haitian government gains the strength to function independently and serve its people.

Collier’s report suggests a reasonably sound blueprint that Haiti can build on to ensure a strong and effective Haitian government with the capacity to take care of its citizens.

Haiti’s future can and should be determined by solidarity between the Haitian government, its citizens, and expatriates. Together, all parties must work together and create a space to play a dominant role in setting the policy agenda for Haiti. If they don’t, outside entities will happily continue to do it for them.

In order to shape the policy, own the policy.

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons