Let Haitians Take the Lead
By Michele Wucker
Amid the rubble, Haitians trying to find reasons for hope can look to the chance to rebuild. Although there are as yet no reliable estimates of what it will cost, it's clear that Haiti will need a long-standing commitment of amounts far beyond what has been committed to past rebuilding programs -- and any new development schemes should look to past attempts to avoid repeating their mistakes.
One of the clearest mistakes of past development efforts in Haiti was that there was never enough money available to meet Haiti's needs. Much of the money that Haiti did receive went to repaying debt and shoring up the currency, and too little was left over to invest in education, health care, and other essential infrastructure. Bosnia and Kosovo, to cite just two examples, received five times more aid per capita to rebuild after their conflicts than Haiti did after the Jean-Bertrand Aristide's government was returned to power in 1994. Haiti needs a significant long-term commitment from international donors, which should include debt forgiveness to maximize the amount of funds being invested.
To avoid other past mistakes, plans for recovery must actively involve Haitians and use the rebuilding as a chance to engage Haitian civil society. The most successful aid organizations combine strong contingents of Haitian staff with training and support provided by a smaller core of international staff -- rather than relying heavily on highly paid international consultants. Food and other aid programs should more actively incorporate Haitian communities in aid distribution plans, rather than relying mainly on militarized deliveries.
Haitians have a long-standing gripe with international governments, donors, and some aid organizations for swooping in and deciding what's best for Haiti, with too little input from Haitians themselves and too little regard for unintended consequences. Haitian governments have repeatedly fallen when lawmakers tried and failed to pass unpopular economic policies that international donors required as a condition for aid.
This time, Haiti needs far more coordination among the more than 10,000 NGOs working in Haiti. The Haitian government needs financial support and technical assistance to build its own capacity to partner with private groups.
Michele Wucker is executive director of the World Policy Institute and author of Why the Cocks Fight: Dominicans, Haitians, and the Struggle for Hispaniola.
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