Haiti Opinions

Reflecting On What Has Gone Wrong And Right

“[A]s we frankly assess and learn from what’s gone wrong in Haiti, we must also study and build upon what has gone right, and why,” UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake writes in a Miami Herald opinion piece. Lake calls what faced Haiti after the earthquake, including the current cholera epidemic, “enormous, unprecedented obstacles. But as we look back, we should remind ourselves not only that it might have been far worse, but that real progress has been possible, even in such dire circumstances.”

“Working together, Haitian relief organizations, 140 donor countries, international NGOs and the UN, including UNICEF have saved and improved many lives” by providing clean water, food, nutrition units and immunizations, Lake writes. After describing other efforts to help children find their families and go to school, Lake states: “This is only a start. In Haiti – as in every emergency – we can and must do a better job channeling pledged aid to people and communities in greatest need. We need to ensure better coordination among government, the international aid community and local NGOs. And we need to do more to support communities’ efforts to drive their own recovery.”

“When so much remains to be done, and when so many continue to suffer, it is no time for self-congratulation. But neither should it become an occasion for self-flagellation. To do so risks discouraging those who can still provide help – to the absolute detriment of the people who so desperately need it. … One year later, we have a choice – to wring our hands or to join them together in renewed commitment to help Haitians rebuild their wounded country. For how we can despair, when so many Haitians have not?” Lake concludes (1/11).

International Response To Haitian Earthquake Could Have Been Far Worse

In a Foreign Policy opinion piece, Charles Kenny, a senior fellow at the Center for Global Development and a fellow at the New America Foundation, highlights some of the notable achievements of the international response to the earthquake in Haiti. “It is worth thinking about how much worse it might have been,” he writes.

“Past humanitarian catastrophes in similar situations have seen mortality rates rocket in crowded, unsanitary camps as children in particular were felled not just by cholera but salmonella, meningitis, hepatitis, measles, respiratory infections, and malaria,” Kenny writes before highlighting several examples, including a 1994 cholera outbreak that killed 12,000 Rwandan refugees. “By contrast, a national surveillance system for disease set up by donors and the government in the aftermath of the Haiti earthquake found no evidence of epidemic spread or disease clusters in the first four months after the quake – indeed cases of respiratory infections, malaria, and diarrhea were all on the decline.”

“Quality of life for many in the camps may be better than it was before the quake,” he writes. “We should know by now that after an apocalypse is not the perfect moment for outsiders to come in and remake a country. … Progress on reconstruction has been achingly slow, it’s true. … [W]e’ll never do as well as the lofty rhetoric of those donor conferences might suggest,” according to Kenny. “Aid agencies and donor groups have done themselves and everyone else a disservice by inflating expectations about the speed of recovery. But what they can realistically deliver, and what they successfully delivered in Haiti, is the services necessary to elevate a hellish situation to a merely horrible one” (1/10).  

Too Soon To Give Up On Haiti, U.S. Approach Should Be ‘Pragmatic’

Romesh Ratnesar, a TIME contributing editor-at-large, examines different opinions about why Haiti “is still a basket case” in an column in the magazine.

“So who lost Haiti? The rapacious foreign aid workers or the feckless local politicians? The answer, of course, is both. But that doesn’t mean Haiti is doomed. The hopeful story of the past two decades is that of the astonishing rise of incomes and living standards across the developing world. The fact that these gains have come in places both where NGOs have a large presence (like Rwanda) and where they don’t (like China) shows that foreign aid organizations can play a vital role, though they do so best by stimulating private investment rather than providing social services. Ultimately, development does require the kind of responsible local leadership that doesn’t appear anywhere on the Haitian horizon. And yet numerous formerly poor, underperforming countries – from Indonesia to Mozambique to Brazil – have achieved a degree of stability and prosperity that would have been unthinkable a few years ago,” according to Ratnesar, who is a fellow at the New America Foundation.

“All of which means it’s too early to give up on Haiti. But it’s also an argument for a more pragmatic American approach to helping societies in need. … Our moral obligation isn’t to solve the world’s most intractable problems. It’s to act where we can do the most good,” he concludes (1/10).

Haiti’s Reconstruction Progress, Job Creation

“We know progress is not always visible, and we understand people’s frustration with the pace of reconstruction. But progress – though not as much as we need or as fast as we want – is here,” Kenneth Merten, the U.S. ambassador to Haiti, writes in a Washington Post opinion piece highlighting the global response to the earthquake in Haiti with a particular focus on U.S. efforts.

“The Haitian government undertook a proactive communication and flood-mitigation effort before the rainy season last year, and it led the international response to Hurricane Tomas in November. Haitian scientists in the Ministry of Public Health and Population identified cholera as soon as it appeared, and the ministry has coordinated the international response to the outbreak,” Merten writes. “For our part, the United States has employed 350,000 people in cash-for-work programs, which have boosted the economy. We have also invested in agricultural initiatives, helping increase crop yields by about 75 percent over the previous year’s harvest in some areas. And we have been a critical player in the effort to remove rubble.”

Merten also notes the way “[g]overnments, multilateral organizations and the private sector are collaborating to marry development dollars and private investment to create permanent jobs.” He highlights two State Department agreements that further illustrate his point. “During my three diplomatic assignments here, I have seen the importance of job creation for Haiti, and these kinds of agreements make me optimistic,” he writes. Merten concludes: “We face a long and difficult journey, and now we pause to mourn the dead. But we renew our commitment to the living by helping build a more prosperous and stable Haiti, and a future that its people want” (1/9).  

Lessons From Indonesia For Haiti

“All stakeholders involved in Haiti can learn important lessons from the Indonesia’s tsunami and earthquake recovery experiences,” according to a Miami Herald opinion piece by Daniel O’Neil, the senior director of Caribbean Programs at the Pan American Development Foundation.

O’Neil lists four items he learned during a trip to Indonesia with the World Bank that can be applied in Haiti. “Leadership: Indonesia’s president acted quickly by appointing a strong individual to oversee all the reconstruction efforts,” he writes. “Participation: Allowing home owners to rebuild their own houses and communities to lead their own reconstruction were keys to Indonesia’s success. … Money matters: Although the tsunami caused $5 billion in damage, the government raised and spent $7 billion on reconstruction. That additional 40 percent allowed them to build back better. … Accountability: The Indonesian government developed a strong monitoring system and used it to show how funds were being spent and the progress being made,” he writes (1/9).  

Foreign Aids’ Foreign Interests Are Hurting Haiti

“There is a dramatic power imbalance between the international community – under U.S. leadership – and Haiti. … It is not surprising, then, that this unequal relationship is reflected in the Interim Haiti Recovery Commission (IHRC), with members drawn equally from the foreign community and Haiti, and co-chaired by Bill Clinton and Haitian Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive,” Alex Dupuy, a professor of sociology at Wesleyan University and a native of Haiti, writes in a Washington Post opinion piece. He argues that the IHRC has “effectively displaced the Haitian government and is in charge of setting priorities for reconstruction.”

According to Dupuy, the “bulk of the money and profits” from funds channeled through the IHRC “are reinvested in the United States.” Dupuy writes that NGOs “reinforce the country’s dependence on foreign aid and further sap the capacity and responsibility of the government to meet the basic needs of its citizens.”

He points to former president Clinton’s testimony last March, which “said that compelling Haiti to cut tariffs on imported rice from the United States ‘may have been good for some of my farmers in Arkansas, but it has not worked [to help Haiti]. It was a mistake.'” In Dupuy’s opinion, “these are essentially the same policies that his IHRC is recommending. This obvious contradiction would boggle the mind only if one believed that members of the international community had the best interests of Haiti in mind rather than those of their own farmers, firms, NGOs and economies” (1/7).

Leave Jan. 12 For Haitians

“We did not mourn our dead as befitted, and of that we are not proud,” Ericq Pierre, a Haitian economist and agronomist at the Inter-American Development Bank, writes in an Inter Press Service op-ed. “Despite appearances, we dislike making a spectacle of ourselves. Some do so all day long, but one must not conclude that Haitians feel no reluctance to display their emotions in public.”

“[T]his numerous and massive presence of foreign friends come to our aid has become a heavy burden. Too many came, and have not gone. They came with too many propositions, too many resources, too many promises. They make too many decisions. They came with too much knowledge, and not enough know-how. So many embraced us, that in the end they embarrassed us. How can that be? With the warmth of their embrace, we are almost suffocating. Do they even realise this?” Pierre asks.  

“On Jan. 12, 2011, therefore, several organisations active in Haiti will try to use the earthquake’s anniversary to raise their visibility to Haitians and convince their financial supporters of the importance of their activities in Haiti over the past year. … It is understandable that organisations actually working all year long in Haiti would use the time around the earthquake’s anniversary to talk about their activities, and even to publicise and make their case. I only ask them not to organise public commemorations, celebrations, or inaugurations of any kind on Jan. 12, 2011. My suggestion is to choose any other date in January, except the 12th. Leave the 12th to the Haitians, finally to remember our dead alone” (1/7).

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