News stories of NGO and church groups in Haiti have focused lately on whether or not they are really helping Haiti and its economy for its future. "Parachuting" teams of doers of good deeds into the situation with little long term commitment or sending huge donations of food and goods without considering the impact on the local economy causes those who are working for relief and development to wonder. Are we helping or hurting?
Gathering in New York this week major donors are looking at how best to provide for the long term well being of Haiti. According to the Washington Post:
On Wednesday, at an international donor conference, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton is expected to outline U.S. plans to spend an additional $1 billion or so to rebuild the earthquake-devastated nation.
This time, U.S. officials say, they will do things differently.
The most dramatic change is an effort to build up Haiti's fragile government, instead of working around it.
Episcopal Relief and Development considers these questions in their work. The ability to work through local people enhances the prospect that the aid will support long term health and well being physically and economically.
Episcopal Relief and Development Senior Vice President for Programs, Abagail Nelson, says:
Episcopal Relief & Development has a long-standing partnership with the Episcopal Diocese of Haiti. We work through the church, which is an integral part of the local community. Because of this close collaboration, our work is guided by the priorities set by Haitians and all of our efforts take local context and needs into the highest consideration.
We concentrate on local solutions: buying and hiring locally helps us to employ Haitians, get dollars circulating and boost the local economy. We are also supporting the Diocese of Haiti as it reaches out to other NGOs working in the area and gains access to increased resources.
Episcopal Relief & Development is deeply invested in Haiti's recovery and will be there for the long haul. We are currently in the process of developing a multi-phased recovery plan, which includes: the provision of housing for those made homeless by the quake; the construction of permanent sanitation systems; stress and trauma counseling for caretakers; and cash-for-work programs that will create economic opportunities for Haitians while rebuilding the local infrastructure.
Some of the concerns are reported below:
Consider the plight of Haitian health care providers as reported in the Washington Post:
Jerry and Marlon Bitar are prominent Haitian surgeons, identical twins who have done everything together for all of their 48 years. They both studied medicine in France, returned to Haiti in 2000 to take over a clinic serving low-income patients, and built a separate private practice that has given them national prominence and paid the bills.
In the weeks following the deadly Jan. 12 earthquake, they worked 18-hour days side by side, performing 900 surgeries and amputations free of charge between both of them. And now, their lives are defined by the same split reality: "before the earthquake" and "after the earthquake."
Sitting in their cramped office, the brothers tell the story of most Haitian medical providers and hospitals. Since the earthquake, Haiti has been awash with doctors from all over the world providing the kind of top-notch care rarely experienced in this chronically poor country. It has been a gift of epic proportions, the Bitars say, in a place burdened with disorganized health care, and high rates of HIV and tuberculosis.
But as the immediate crisis starts to wane, more and more patients with maladies unrelated to the earthquake are turning to international health-care teams led by the World Health Organization, raising concerns about Haiti's ability to care for its own once the relief teams pull out and need for rehabilitation and long-term care grows.
The Bitars ask what appears to be a simple question: How can the country's medical structure be rebuilt when hundreds of humanitarian teams are still providing health care for free? The surgeons say they have no income -- not from the poor and not from their private practice. For one, 700,000 people are now homeless with no access to funds. For another, the hospitals, the Bitars and others say, are finding it hard to compete with the visitors. With no end in sight, some of the nation's doctors have already left, and others are considering leaving.
"We have not been able to make payroll for two months," Jerry Bitar said.
Marlon added: "I am very worried that many of our good doctors will leave. The humanitarian hospitals, they don't ask for any money. Yesterday, I went to one and saw two of my private-paying patients getting treatment there."
Or from the Seattle Times the goods that are sent but not needed taking up space and time that could be better used:
Early in February, a Puerto Rican barge arrived here loaded with boxes of donated food loosely stacked on pallets rather than stowed in easy-to-offload containers. The barge took several weeks to unload, claiming precious dock space that could have been made available to other vessels with aid supplies.
Seattle-based World Concern helped unload the barge, then sorted and distributed a portion of the eclectic mix of food, which ranged from potato chips to grape juice to canned spaghetti.
"This was a case of good intentions — but the road to hell is paved with good intentions," said Peter Nuttall, a World Concern aid worker.
Epic disasters such as the Jan. 12 earthquake that killed more than 200,000 people spur an avalanche of altruistic giving.
Many people open their wallets. Others want to send something more tangible such as food, medical supplies or clothing.
These shipments sometimes miss the mark, and the aid pipeline gets clogged with boxes of poorly sorted goods that are costly and difficult to distribute. Some of the donations arrive too late to be used; others were never even needed.
Food aid and cheap imports and their impact on the local food growing capability are the focus of an AP story
The earthquake not only smashed markets, collapsed warehouses and left more than 2.5 million people without enough to eat. It may also have shaken up the way the developing world gets food.
Decades of inexpensive imports — especially rice from the U.S. — punctuated with abundant aid in various crises have destroyed local agriculture and left impoverished countries such as Haiti unable to feed themselves.
While those policies have been criticized for years in aid worker circles, world leaders focused on fixing Haiti are admitting for the first time that loosening trade barriers has only exacerbated hunger in Haiti and elsewhere.
They're led by former U.S. President Bill Clinton — now U.N. special envoy to Haiti — who publicly apologized this month for championing policies that destroyed Haiti's rice production. Clinton in the mid-1990s encouraged the impoverished country to dramatically cut tariffs on imported U.S. rice.
"It may have been good for some of my farmers in Arkansas, but it has not worked. It was a mistake," Clinton told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on March 10. "I had to live everyday with the consequences of the loss of capacity to produce a rice crop in Haiti to feed those people because of what I did; nobody else."
Clinton and former President George W. Bush, who are spearheading U.S. fundraising for Haiti, arrive Monday in Port-au-Prince. Then comes a key Haiti donors' conference on March 31 at the United Nations in New York.
Those opportunities present the country with its best chance in decades to build long-term food production, and could provide a model for other developing countries struggling to feed themselves.
"A combination of food aid, but also cheap imports have ... resulted in a lack of investment in Haitian farming, and that has to be reversed," U.N. humanitarian chief John Holmes told The Associated Press. "That's a global phenomenon, but Haiti's a prime example. I think this is where we should start."