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Posted: Mon Sep 27, 2010 2:24 pm
by Guysanto
Disaster relief means that more than 1.5 million people should not continue to live in destitution. The longer it takes, the more the misery becomes accepted as a mere inconvenience. Over five billion dollars have been promised to be disbursed over the next five years, and over ten billion dollars over the next ten years, at which point the Haitian dilemma will supposedly have been solved. But we wonder: When will those fabulous sums of money be spent to rescue poor Haitians city by city, tent by tent, one by one? It appears that Foreign Aid is most cautious when the need is most urgent, when lives are wasted by the bushels, and conditions of life most wretched. Many will undoubtedly raise the question: "What have the beneficiaries done with all that money? They still live in misery." Need we remind them that, while the donors have met numerous times to brainstorm on how much to give, over what period of time, and under what conditions, hardly any funds have actually been spent on the people of Haiti. And when you consider the plans for country development that have been bandied about as the next big thing for Haiti, you realize that foreign aid consultants and already rich industrialists stand to make the most out of disaster relief, not the people who need it the most.

Imagine giving business vouchers or investment seeds directly to the people most affected by the disaster and urge them to create business among themselves (as if they were not already imbued with the notion!) After all, the funds were raised in their name. The skeptics would say: "No, the people are not sophisticated enough to know how to invest. How could they be trusted to insure their own survival?" But let's observe what happens in our current state of inaction: The people still live in filth. The tractors are not showing up. Isn't it a pity that all those who were saved, heroically, in a few glorious weeks, when the entire world watched on TV, now get to die having exhausted their quota of fame, waiting for the donated funds to be distributed? Isn't it a pity that many of those survivors we've cheered on have gone on to live anonymously in tent cities spread out in a city in ruins? To live, and to get sick, raped, abused, and left to die. But, the skeptics will continue to say: “when will those people ever learn to manage all the money that has been given to them?”

And life goes on as before, now in the expectation of elections that seem more comical than functional. In the meantime, Haitian people adjust to a higher level of misery, to living and dying like no other people in this hemisphere. Yet, those are heroic people. All the roads appear to lead to more of what they've seen before. All the horses have seemingly left the stables a long time ago. Yet, those are people who stubbornly believe in the spirits of their ancestors. Their faith is unshakable. They are true believers. Hardcore believers! “Up on the mountains,” a correspondent related, “those people have HOPE for breakfast.” In its current condition of environmental deterioration, Haiti has reached a breaking point.

So, let us speak unequivocally to would be donors and their multitude of agents. All those high-level meetings, from which the victims are largely excluded, they can keep on scheduling them if they must, but this is our plea: Give the people their due, for they have just begun to fight for their place in the sun. Live hard and Die hard, that is their lot in History. But remember this: "Nan pwen priyè ki pa gen Amen," a Kreyol proverb that states that all prayers must come to an end, sooner or later. We are not talking here of the sort of prayers that expect magic from heaven. We refer to local actions that may be broadened and coordinated eventually, that would incite awareness in the community about how foreign aid is actually disbursed and to find effective channels to demand that the Haitian majority benefit directly and immediately from the big hoopla that was generated around their misfortune.

Tent cities are not a solution we can settle for. As you well know, many stand to make a lot of money from the "disbursement" of aid. However, the majority itself has to get involved. When cocaine falls from the sky, they know exactly what to do with the windfall. So, why can't we trust them to participate a lot more in their own resettlement and development? One does not wish for cocaine or opium to take deep roots in the country, but there must be a clear alternative.

A focus on national projects, led by a responsible state, is appropriate but should not be exclusive. Local development, managed by the communities themselves, deserves to receive a share of the relief because some of them have a positive track record. A few organizations like FONKOZE have been reliable partners in funneling cash to those local development efforts. Developing one community will not solve the country's problems, but it provides a relief valve. When a community is sufficiently developed, there are fewer reasons for its people to abandon it and converge on the city. You need the central government to provide the infrastructure (roads, electricity, etc) to facilitate economic exchanges between the diverse communities. Of course, there are other priorities of the highest order, such as Security, a functioning Judicial System, etc. But our point is simply this: if one collects money in the name of the Haitian people, then there is a MORAL OBLIGATION to spend a significant amount of this money on the Haitian people, now, when their needs are most urgent, well in excess of consulting fees, staff development, fancy transportation vehicles, and executive salaries.

We are not advocating for huge sums of money to be distributed indiscriminately to people in an imaginary line or to be dropped from the sky. We are suggesting that ways must be found immediately (or as soon as possible) for whatever funds that were collected to be put to work to the benefit of the Haitian masses and earthquake victims (it's hard to make a difference, if any, between the two). Money works continuously over time and overtime! If it's not working for its intended recipients, you can be sure that it's working for someone else.

Whether they spend the money on seeds, on teacher salaries and student tuition, on means of transportation such as mules and donkeys, on feed to sustain the mules and the donkeys; on farming chickens, guinea fowls, ducks, turkeys, goats, cows, rice, beans, corn, millet, plantains, etc; on large-scale planting of coconut, palm and whatever other kinds of trees; on sewing machine and accessories; on plant culture and fish culture; on better housing; on vocational schools to create a skilled workforce of mechanical and electrical technicians, shoemakers, and the like (we are not talking of university degrees here); on waste disposal and recycling methods; on clinics, on vaccines, on encoding the best practices of herbs and local remedies, and we could go on, those who have collected the funds should not be short of ideas on how they could stimulate the survival economy and how to transform it. They could use a system of business vouchers that could be granted to those who are deemed trustworthy and small business savvy by their community members. They could make use of local experts, and we do have them! They could boost production systems that have proven their worth in the past, but that are struggling due to the lack of cash or financing. There is plenty more that can be done with the money, aside from keeping it in some foreign bank, while waiting for the Haitian political class to get its act together or for the affluent class to devise more ways of enriching itself further on the backs of the less fortunate.

There is plenty of room for thoughtful action. And there are capable, inventive, honest people all around Haiti who can make it work. This is not about making a plan to bypass the government of Haiti! What we want to address is the current paralysis we are witnessing. We need a Citizen Cry for Action that cannot be easily ignored or dismissed. We have previously suggested many ways in which Haitian citizens could be empowered for small-scale development (such as the production of food and the acquisition of skills), that should not threaten any realistic plan of national development. Haiti needs a strong and competent central government which can wrestle control back from this multi-faceted occupation the International has become, with armed security forces from the United Nations, and 10,000 NGO's representing just as many non-coordinated layers of ineffective aid distribution.

Though the Haitian government needs to assert much greater control of the relief effort, it should not be expected to be in charge of all development work that is happening throughout the country, as the private sector must play a decisive role in supporting the decentralization of state functions and the deployment of needed resources. If there are billions to be spent on Haiti, there is nothing wrong with using a fraction of that to stimulate local community development. The Clinton Global Initiative goes to great lengths to honor a few Haitian men and women of valor. Exemplary as those highlighted efforts may be, there are simply not enough.

On their recent visit to Haiti, in August 2010, former U.S. Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush put out this statement: “We were inspired by the courage and resilience of the Haitian people in the face of such devastation. We had the opportunity to witness firsthand the stories of hope that are emerging in post earthquake Haiti – the stories that compel us to keep working for a future in which every Haitian can, not just survive, but thrive.” Though we share that vision, we are honor bound to note that such stories were equally taking shape even before the earthquake, though they were largely ignored by the media. Quite frankly, we would settle for occasional stories of misfortune against a rising tide of hope, which is hardly discernible at this point.

“The challenges are profound,” the statement continued, “but the resolution of the Haitian people is fierce. We join them in our determination to help Haiti not just rebuild, but to build back better. Your generous contributions are supporting our work in Haiti to create jobs and economic opportunity, toward long-term recovery.” So far, we essentially agree. Our profound difference comes with the persisting appeal to charitable donations when no general accountability from the charity and public sectors has been established and rigorously put in practice.

“Even if you have already given, we ask you to consider another donation. Your contribution makes an enormous difference as we help Haitians rebuild their lives and livelihoods.” We would revel in believing that claim, but the evidence so far is wholly unsatisfactory. Why should new donations be expected, when the public has yet to see their previous donations put to work or even budgeted? The fact remains that Haitians cannot build new lives and livelihoods for themselves until they have the economic means to do so.

Haitians need to get off the charity and dependency tracks for real! They cannot afford to wait for ambassadors of good will and the emergence of national leaders to address the basic needs of their communities. Hence, our present advocacy aims to reinforce already existing community projects with a proven track record, as well as to spur the creation of new ones that can and should be managed by trusted community members. Teach them how to fish, as the saying goes, and build the facilities where donors can see their dollars at work and sense that their donations will not be needed indefinitely.

With uncommon will and shared trust, and with the generous involvement of Haitian hands and minds in their communities, that is certainly possible. It has happened in various parts of the country before, in farming, in education, in clinics and related fields, albeit on an infinitesimal scale. It is now urgent to apply already donated funds to create a seismic wave of hope in Haiti, from mountain top to mountain top.

Guy S. Antoine
September 2010

Posted: Tue Oct 05, 2010 7:11 pm
by Guysanto
What do you think should be done with the funds that were collected in the name of the Haitian people? What (and how) should it be done is the issue, because holding on to the funds indefinitely... for whatever reason, is morally reprehensible.

Corruption is a red herring. True, a great number of Haitians at all levels of government AND non-government functions are indeed corrupt. So are Americans (My God, the illegal profiteering from the Iraq war that went unpunished - to the tune of billions and billions of dollars!) So are Russians. So are Dominicans. So are ___ (fill in the blank). We cannot wait until there is no more corruption in Haiti, because then Haitians alone would be angels in a world full of demons. And that's not going to happen. But there are good, compassionate, competent people too everywhere, even in Haiti! How do we seek them and give them some responsibilities in terms of managing the well-being of their brothers and sisters? Instead of finger pointing which leads to NOWHERE, the challenge here is to find a solution.

There is a central point that we could all agree on: There is a current disaster in Haiti. Funds have been collected for the victims. Consequently, there is a logical and moral imperative. The funds MUST be spent to help the disaster victims.

Certainly, there are a variety of ways to do that. But it must be done. If the funds are not spent to meet the disaster for which they have been collected, this would in fact constitute corruption of the highest order. Let us then think of solutions and propose them with a unified voice... for once!