3 Principles to Ensure You Do (or Support) Effective, Appropriate Work in Haiti

November 30, 2011

In the first post following Lavarice Gaudin’s visit to Minnesota, we argued that development is political. Any NGO that ignores the political factors perpetuating Haiti’s poverty can’t contribute to meaningful, structural changes.

This time, we outline the steps you can take to get involved in a better way. These steps apply whether you’re an NGO looking to do work in Haiti, or a donor looking to give money. The Haiti Justice Alliance was established with the belief that these steps are critical to successfully working for real change in Haiti:

  1. Research the history of the problem you want to work on as well as the method you want to use to get involved;
  2. Empower people in Haiti through partnership rather than unilateral action;
  3. Complement existing efforts rather than duplicating them.


Why Don’t More People Do This Already?

There are, of course, many who work in Haiti effectively, but several obstacles make this regrettably uncommon.

For starters, US government involvement reads like a laundry list of pitfalls to avoid in Haiti. People who take their cues from US aid programs are almost certain to get it wrong.

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Links Round-Up: Minister Forced to Resign, Army Put on Hold, And More

November 23, 2011

Breaking News Alert

The Minister of Justice, Josué Pierre-Louis, resigned yesterday under pressure from Haitian parliament. He was charged with participating in the illegal arrest of an opposition party parliamentarian, Arnel Belizaire. Most believe the arrest was retribution for a public spat between Belizaire and the President.



President Michel Martelly delayed the re-establishment of the Haitian army pending a ‘civilian commission’ recommendation, due on Jan. 1. Most likely this change occurred because of insufficient funds, or pressure from international actors.

Pairs Well With: The homicide rate in Haiti is not only lower than implied by the media, but is actually well below the average for Latin America and the Caribbean, according to a new study.

Also Pairs Well With: Our post urging everyone to move past the debate over lawlessness in Haiti, which is one of the main justifications for bringing back the army.


Economy and Trade

The Ministry of Trade seeks to attract investors, declaring: Haiti is open for business (h/t @moiracathleen).

Pairs Well With: Two articles showing how wage and union suppression have been used to deny the benefits of foreign investment to Haiti’s poor. In other words, investment is great – but only if the right regulations are in place.

The emergence of a vibrant entrepreneurial class in Haiti is one of the best defenses against predatory foreign investment. That’s why it’s exciting to hear that one of our partner groups, the What If? Foundation, is starting a club focused on developing students’ entrepreneurial skills.

Pairs Well With: Haiti’s first annual Global Entrepreneurship Day just concluded, which serves as another positive model of promoting Haitian-driven business ideas, as imposed to foreign-imposed ones.


Aid to Haiti

The Center for Economic and Policy Research again picks up on a story that HJA previously covered: the fact that USAID’s reliance on enormous contracts decreases the quality of its aid to Haiti.

Pairs Well With: HJA’s two pieces that focus on the effect of tied aid contracts and “indefinite quantity contracts” (IQCs), which are used because they’re administratively cheap, even though they produce terrible results.

Development Is Political

November 14, 2011

We had a wonderful series of events last week with Lavarice Gaudin, director of operations for the What If? Foundation. Lavarice braved 13 talks over 3 days, which included a panel, public speeches, and class appearances.

Although he offered unique insights each time, several common themes emerged. This post picks up one of those themes for further discussion.

Power and Politics in the US-Haiti Relationship

“The US relationship with Haiti is like somebody who breaks your legs, and then asks: why are you crippled?” – Lavarice Gaudin

Lavarice Gaudin at the University of Minnesota. Photo Credit: Paul Miller.

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Lessons From The FOIA Series

August 30, 2011

In the final installment of our Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) series, we explore different ways the US could’ve handled the relief effort.

The first post revealed that most of our money went to two forms of aid – militarized aid and “tied” food aid – both of which the US is chastised for using because they’re either ineffective or harmful. The second post showed that most of the rest of the money went to the UN – followed by private contractors – and that within the UN, it was allocated in a manner that neglected Haiti’s biggest post-quake challenge.

This time we peek under the hood of the USAID system to understand what led to those choices. This perspective is essential not only for explaining why the relief effort played out as it did, but more importantly, for pointing the way forward from here.

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How The Government Used Our Money In Haiti: Part II

August 26, 2011

Part 2 of a 3-part series of posts based on our FOIA query.

We received data on how the US government spent more than $1.1 billion in Haiti during 2010 through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) inquiry. In our last post, we looked at the spending breakdown by mechanism. This time, we analyze the individual recipients of aid.

Haiti experts have repeatedly criticized the US for excluding the Haitian government and Haitian companies from the reconstruction. The FOIA data proves them right: USAID and the State Department gave money to 6 US government entities and 7 UN agencies, but none to the Haitian government. Moreover, no NGOs or contractors listed in the FOIA were Haitian.



The Big Recipients: Faith in Government

The graph below shows the largest recipients of aid. Military aid was excluded from this analysis, because we covered it last time. For perspective, the average disbursement size is roughly $7 million.

Most money went to governmental or intergovernmental efforts, followed by contractors, with NGOs receiving the least.


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How The Government Used Our Money In Haiti: FOIA Request

August 23, 2011

Part 1 of a 3-part series of posts based on our FOIA query.

This summer, Beltway chatter about Haiti crystallized around one question: where did all that reconstruction money go?

We decided to find out. We submitted a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to USAID. The goal was to learn 2 things about our post-earthquake spending in Haiti: 1) whom USAID had given money to, and 2) for what purpose.

USAID gave us information about aid from 3 government agencies: USAID, the State Department, and the Department of Defense[1]. It covered $1.1 billion of aid, all allocated in 2010 after the earthquake.

The first graph shows spending by “mechanism.” Think of the mechanism as the purpose for the aid in question.

For instance, the OFDA mechanism was for basic disaster relief: health, shelter, search and rescue, etc. The OTI mechanism was for programs focused on reconstruction (“Building Back Better”) rather than relief.

Calculated based on data provided by USAID through our FOIA Request

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Learning from Clinton’s Cancer Shelters: How We Give Aid Matters

July 24, 2011

Lab tests conducted as part of our investigation in Haiti discovered levels of [formaldehyde] in the 6th-grade Clinton Foundation classroom in Léogâne at 250 parts per billion…

Randy Maddalena, a scientist specializing in indoor pollutants at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, characterized [it] as “a very high level” … in “normal” buildings, you’ll see rates 12-25 times lower than 250 parts per billion, “and even that’s considered above regulatory thresholds.”

You should get those kids outta there,” Maddalena said.

That’s from last week’s Nation report on the Clinton Foundation shelters in Haiti. To construct the shelters, Clinton contracted with Clayton Homes. Clayton is currently being sued in the US for building formaldehyde-laced trailers after Hurricane Katrina.

The Clinton Foundation deserves harsh criticism for hiring a company known to build carcinogenic shelters in disaster areas. And while this would be embarrassing for any organization, it’s particularly inexcusable for Clinton. Why? Because this project was the Clinton Foundation’s first contribution to the Interim Haiti Relief Commission, a group Clinton also co-chairs, which exists to “review all projects proposed by Haitian government ministries and donors” to make sure they “fit Haiti’s needs.”

All Aid Isn’t Created Equal

But simply jumping on the Clinton-bashing bandwagon ignores the broader problem: the way our aid system is set up makes this result inevitable.

The story begins with a practice called “tying” aid. Tied aid is aid that has to be used on goods and services from the donor country. The practice is bad for people in poor countries, but great for contractors. As Oxfam puts it, tying aid means “the value [of aid] flows right back to the US.” Unfortunately, as the graph below shows, the US ties nearly all of its aid – far more than any other country.

US "tied aid" practices compared to those of other countries. Source: Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development 2006 aid monitoring report.

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USAID’s Assault on Haitian Agriculture

June 21, 2011

The US Agency for International Development unveiled the “WINNER” Program¹ in October of 2009, 3 months before the earthquake. The plan was ecological in focus: WINNER would enhance watershed management and conservation, and promote reforestation.

The goals of WINNER shifted, however, in the post-earthquake contractor “gold rush.” With an agenda dominated by Monsanto and DC contractors, the revised WINNER program sold out Haiti’s agriculture. The new focus was on providing hybrid Monsanto seed to Haitian farmers to address a non-existent seed emergency. The following discussion highlights why WINNER is ill-conceived, poorly managed, and likely to hurt Haitian farmers.

WINNER’s Corporate Makeover: Wrong Contractor, Wrong Focus, Wrong Process

USAID hired the notorious firm Chemonics International to implement WINNER

By focusing on subsidized seeds, USAID acted irresponsibly, willfully ignored Haiti’s Needs

WINNER Bypassed Haitian Government

An Unhealthy, Unsustainable Program

Chemically-treated seeds are bad for farmers, environment

Ironically, Monsanto’s donation is setting the stage for a seed crisis in 4 years

  • WINNER will break Haitian seed distribution networks, leaving Haiti dependent long after the program ends. Here’s how:
    Farmers are enticed to buy Monsanto seeds because they’re offered at a 10% the market seed price. Yet, farmers can’t breed and save Monsanto’s hybrid seeds as they do with local varieties. Thus, WINNER disrupts local seed distribution networks as seed suppliers become Monsanto buyers. When WINNER expires in 4 years, Haitian farmers will no longer have subsidized hybrid seeds, but they also won’t have seeds saved up for local markets. The result? A genuine seed crisis.

Why is USAID doing this? Final word goes to ICTA’s head researcher, Louise Sperling: “humanitarian actors… see delivering seed aid as easy and they welcome the overhead [i.e. low administrative costs] – even if their actions may hurt poor farmers.

¹ The terribly cumbersome, seldom used full name is: Watershed Initiative for National Natural Environmental Resources.


by Nathan Yaffe

FREEZING AID TO HAITI: False Narratives of Reconstruction

December 15, 2010

Speaking in Canada, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton threatened to freeze aid to Haiti on Monday. She expressed her “growing frustration… that there hasn’t been the kind of coordinated, coherent response from the government of Haiti that is called for.” She was followed by Canadian Foreign Minister Lawrence Cannon who vented that the international community “cannot do everything” in Haiti.

Unfortunately, they criticized the wrong parties.

As detailed by Paul Farmer in this month’s Foreign Policy, the Haitian government has commanded “a mere 0.3% of the more than $2 billion in humanitarian aid pledged.” Nearly all of the $732.5 million that reached Haiti was under the control of the Interim Commission for the Reconstruction of Haiti (co-chaired, incidentally, by former president Bill Clinton) and other international actors.

Thus we can’t blame poor reconstruction efforts on a lack of coordination by the Haitian government. The ones who deserve our criticism are the ones who control the resources: USAID, the Clinton Bush Haiti Fund, and the Interim Commission (all run in whole or in large part by Americans).

Sec. Clinton has given us the diagnosis – the reconstruction effort isn’t working. We simply need to apply that diagnosis to the right party, which in this case is the international community.

Looking forward, our first priority should be to stop dis-empowering the Haitian government by depriving them of funds (see more on the history of this in my earlier post on denying Haiti water rights). The idea that freezing aid will send a lesson to the Haitian government is based on a false narrative of the reconstruction effort that allows us to shift the blame for our gross mismanagement to Haitians. What’s needed is not to freeze aid but to stop micro-managing it from abroad.

Paul Farmer concludes better than I could:

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… Until the government has the resources it needs, Haiti will remain the republic of NGOs.

(h/t to Haitian-Truth for the link to the original article)

-Nathan Yaffe

AGAINST SENDING THINGS TO HAITI: Economics, Respect, and Agency

November 13, 2010

We’ve all seen ’em. Most of us have likely done ’em. The donate-old-stuff-to-poor-countries charity drive is a staple of many do-gooders’ campaigns. But like most things that make you feel good without much effort, it’s not usually effective at alleviating poverty, and can often hurt the people you’re trying to help.

This applies not just to donating old stuff, but to the practice of sending goods to developing countries in general. Here are a few reasons why, with examples drawn from food aid and clothing drives:


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