Magazine article Foreign Policy

5 Lessons from Haiti's Disaster

Magazine article Foreign Policy

5 Lessons from Haiti's Disaster

Article excerpt



All humans need money--they need it to buy food and water every day. And no matter how hard the government or the aid industry tries, people will want for all three things until they are employed.

The world pledged some $10.2 billion in recovery aid to Haiti after Jan. 12's devastating earthquake. Imagine how many people that money could employ, putting them to work on tasks like removing rubble (only 2 percent of which has been cleared to date), rebuilding key government buildings, and planting trees in a country that is almost entirely deforested. And yet so far, just 116,000 people have been employed in this way. Haiti has 9.8 million people, and at least half were unemployed even before the earthquake. If we focused our efforts on the singular task of getting them jobs--even if we did nothing else--Haiti's reconstruction could be a success.


The international community doesn't know best. Local people do. NGOS like the one that I am lucky to work with cannot replace the state--nor can the United Nations or anyone else. We don't have the expertise, and we won't stay forever. We don't have the same stake in building a community that the locals themselves have. And if aid is to work, it can't fall apart when the expats leave.

On this, almost everyone agrees. But the opposite approach has characterized Haiti relief. The dollar figures tell the real story: A mere 0.3 percent of the more than $2 billion in humanitarian aid pledged by major donors has ended up with local authorities. That money will hardly compensate for the 20 percent of civil servants who died in the quake.

Some donors argue that the Haitian government is rife with corruption and mismanagement--and that infusing it with money will only make matters worse. But we need to strengthen the public sector, not weaken it. And that will take a working budget. It's impossible to be transparent and track your budgets when you lack computers, electricity, and even the personnel to do so. Until the government has the resources it needs, Haiti will remain the republic of NGOS.


Today, some 1.3 million Haitians live in tent camps amid often squalid conditions--yet no one has been able to convince them to resettle. …

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