Building Haiti Back Better, V.2

By Robert Maguire, Focus On Haiti Initiative, 18 October 2016.

As the painfully slow process of cataloguing the destruction wrought in early October by Hurricane Matthew and assisting its survivors continues, my in-box fills with emails from various organizations soliciting donations for hurricane relief.  I am struck that the messages are usually from the same non-Haitian organizations I heard from following Haiti’s 2010 earthquake.

Immediately after the storm, however, an email of a different sort arrived: from the Embassy of Haiti in Washington, DC.  In it, Haiti’s Ambassador does not solicit funds.  Rather, he outlines the known impact of the storm and acknowledges that there will be an urgent feeling among Haiti’s friends “to mobilize and initiate [relief] efforts.”  The ambassador, however, cautions against that instinct, advising that it is more “beneficial” to engage in “a coordinated and strategic relief effort to avoid mistakes from the past.”

Implying that salient among those mistakes was ignoring Haitians and their institutions to support almost exclusively what a former World Bank President once referred to in Haiti as the cacophony of international NGO “flag-draped, feel-good projects,” the ambassador stated that he “strongly encourages all who wish to help to work with the local organizations and institutions on the ground in order to gain their input on the actual needs of the affected communities.”  He advised, in particular, that “(y)ou should know that local municipalities can also be good partners.” In closing his message, he underscored that “(i)t is imperative that we take caution when offering assistance not to contribute to the destruction of local institutions by bypassing or undermining them.”

Strong language, eh?  Those prior missteps must have left deep scars from the perspective of the government (and citizens) represented by Haiti’s Ambassador in Washington, DC.   The cacophony of 2010 post-quake efforts (and funds spent on them) brought little lasting change to ordinary Haitians whose lives had been turned upside down by the natural disaster.  And as seen in early October, Haiti and its people were just as vulnerable to a natural disaster from the sky as they were almost seven years earlier to one from under the ground. Continue reading