By SarahAnne Perel and Madeline Halpert
May 1, 2019
Introduction: The Earthquake
On January 12, 2010, a magnitude 7.0 earthquake hit Haiti. Its epicenter was located in the town of Léogâne, about 16 miles west of the capital of Haiti, Port-au-Prince. The earthquake affected three million people, killing 300,000 and injuring 300,000. Two million people were displaced, 30 of 49 health centers and hospitals collapsed and 250,000 residences and 30,000 commercial buildings were destroyed or damaged. The first week after the earthquake, the media watched as international aid poured in from all over the world. Overall, U.S. citizens contributed $275 million to relief efforts. The European Union gave 122 million euros of assistance, and 58 donor agencies of the UN gave $5.3 billion for the next year and a half. What gained less coverage, however, were the first people on the streets in Haiti helping one another, the Haitian people themselves. When about a half of a million people left Port-au-Prince after the earthquake for provincial cities, there they were welcomed by fellow Haitians, peasants who gave them shelter, food and aid. Ultimately, the focus shifted towards the billions of dollars donated to non-Haitian NGOs and private companies, and the hundreds of organizations who came to provide emergency assistance and reconstruction. Their actions have been observed, applauded, and in some cases, scrutinized. While their desire to help others in the face of a crisis can be considered sympathetic and courageous, at certain times, this foreign aid has been ineffective, misleading and dangerous.
In this essay, we will first provide a brief political and economic history of Haiti starting from the time of its colonization. This history is necessary in order to explain the present-day conditions in Haiti which left it particularly vulnerable to disaster. Additionally, we will specifically address the role foreign institutions have played in the development of the country before the earthquake through their provisions of assistance. Then we will look at NGO and other foreign-aid giving after the earthquake, and the ways in which this assistance has had less positive effects than intended. Finally, we will offer examples of more effective forms of NGO and foreign governmental support, along with suggestions for sustainable and productive assistance in the future.
A Brief History of Haiti: Colonization and Independence
The French first became involved in Haiti in 1625, after the Spanish. They remained in power until 1804 and named Haiti, their new colony, Saint-Domingue, which grew to be their wealthiest colony. This colony also contributed heavily to European exports, as the majority of sugar and coffee products going to Europe were from Saint-Domingue. In addition, the slave system in Haiti was one of the most violent and deadly in the Americas. Starting in 1791, slaves started to revolt more frequently and with more force, which eventually led to the slaves’ success in igniting the Haitian revolution. Napoleon sent French forces to defend against the slave rebellion, but the forces were defeated and the Haitians won their independence in 1804. While the slaves were emancipated, not everyone felt liberated, as the nation still used indentured servants and forced labor to keep the economy afloat. In addition, since its independence, Haiti has been fighting to legitimize itself as a nation on an international scale. What does it really mean to be independent? Haiti was the first country to be liberated and led by slaves, which gave the nation its own identity and sense of empowerment, and yet, foreign powers like the U.S. and France did not take this independence seriously.
In fact, in order for France to recognize Haiti as an independent nation, it forced the country to pay 150 million francs in 1825 for its loss of land and slaves after the revolution. This cost the Haitians even more in interest as they completed the payment almost a century later. In addition to these debts, over the last two centuries, Haiti has struggled economically due to foreign policies imposed on the country that benefit those overseas. One example of this is the U.S. military occupation of Haiti from 1915 to 1935. The U.S. did so in order to ensure the continuation of capitalism, and so that no other foreign power take advantage of Haiti’s convenient geographic location and proximity to valuable resources. This occupation did great damage to the agricultural industry. Peasants were forced to leave the land where they resided to work for large U.S. companies. The U.S. centralized most services in the capital of Port-au-Prince, which encouraged peasants lacking these services to migrate to the city, which led to dense populations in major cities. The Haitian government and foreign aid are both responsible for these negative effects, since an externally-funded government creates economic, social, and political problems in the future. Since the U.S. occupation, there have been numerous dictatorships and coup d’états, many with one goal in mind: to give the citizens a voice. Many of these movements have unfortunately been less successful than expected. As Jonathan Demme’s documentary on Radio Haiti, The Agronomist, explains, there is a need for a government that supports the needs of the Haitian people. Deeply-embedded colonial structures have only worked to widen gaps between classes. These gaps are also stifled by the international community and the way foreign support is allocated and implemented.
Social, Political and Economic Conditions Before the Disaster
Haiti was not only a victim of a natural disaster. When a storm hits a house, it can be damaged, but the damage is not nearly as destructive if the house’s foundation is strong. This is one of the fundamental problems with Haiti. There is no solid foundation to the house. Each time a natural disaster hits, it exposes the social, economic, and political divides that constitute the real roots of the problem. A house cannot be built on a soft, malleable foundation; it must be hard, rigid, and immovable. Paul Farmer, author of Haiti After the Earthquake, describes the lack of foundation as a dichotomy between policy and praxis. He means to say that there is an intersection between the different economic, political, and social factors in Haiti which were only damaged after the earthquake as the lack of government structure and support became more apparent. He claims there is a “struggle between direct service, which is what doctors are supposed to provide, and policy, which is what politicians and legislators are supposed to formulate with, in theory, the guidance of the citizenry they represent.”
Before the earthquake hit, the General hospital in Port-au-Prince, a teaching hospital, was already experiencing shortages of supplies, food and professionals to teach the university students. The hospital was slowly becoming overcrowded. There were strikes and work stoppages due to lack of pay. The government needed to make investments in the hospital, but as previously stated, they offered no money, and the national debt continued to increase. If these programs, such as the teaching hospital, could not be funded, how could any professionals be trained for future generations? Patients were also receiving little to no treatment for diseases such as cancer, malaria, AIDS and tuberculosis. It became difficult to imagine how to provide services to the bottom half of society when there was no funding for universal healthcare, and most patients needed a plethora of appointments and treatments. However, from 2005 to 2008 the public hospitals in rural areas did see some improvement due to a Partners In Health initiative and Global Fund efforts.
In addition to healthcare issues, the Haitian people were frustrated by their lack of influence in their own country’s economic matters. In 2008, while the U.S. faced a recession steeper than those in the past, food prices started to skyrocket internationally. The problem was partially due to U.S. and European biofuels and agricultural subsidies, and as a result, Haitians, who were dealing with food shortages, stormed the streets and rioted. The United Nations sent peacekeeping forces to Haiti, but this only resulted in more casualties. After these atrocities, there was a governmental shift towards attempting to provide decent jobs, food security, education, clean water, and medical care. The problem with this social welfare approach is that resources still fluctuate depending on independent factors such as debt, natural disasters, and fund allocation for relief. Another issue is that there was too much money dedicated to rebuilding the farmlands in Northern Haiti, which created a deficit in other funding sectors. As 2009 ended, however, there was, “a sense of progress as encouraging macro-economic indicators suggested a boost in agricultural productivity since the storms of 2008,” and some attention to growing private investment.
There are also political issues in Haiti as well. In particular, there was conflict between the regimes of different Haitian leaders, such as René Préval, the president of Haiti before and during the earthquake, and Jean-Bertrand Aristide, the president of Haiti several years before the earthquake. “The country would take two steps forward toward popular rule with Aristide, and then remain on that plateau for five years as Préval tried to calm things down, placate foreign powers, especially the United States, and remain in office.” In the end, Préval worked more on trying to increase foreign assistance, in forming relations with Venezuela’s president Hugo Chávez, than on creating the government foundation that was urgently needed. Right before the earthquake, there was a desire within the country to feel more physically secure, so Préval created a police force. “By 2009, the country was making small steps toward economic normalization under his [Préval’s] guidance. The vicious Haitian army had been demobilized by Aristide, and that helped. Préval was trying to professionalize the police.” Despite these small advancements, the years before the earthquake in Haiti were filled with economic and political unrest which showcases the precariousness of the lives of Haitian citizens even before the natural disaster.
Haiti and NGO Aid Before the Quake
Non-governmental organizations have been a constant in Haiti for more than six decades, and in that time, almost twenty billion dollars of aid has gone to Haiti. Foreign aid has trickled in since the Duvalier regime, a period from 1957 - 1986 in which François Duvalier (Papa Doc) and his son, Jean-Claude Duvalier, (Baby Doc) led Haiti. This period was also after Haiti became impoverished as a result of their earlier debts to France. During the Duvalier regime, the two presidents let international financial institutions determine Haiti’s economic policy in exchange for military and economic aid. These financial institutions encouraged policies of structural adjustment, just as they did in many African nations around the same time. These structural adjustment programs enforced policies of austerity, including the privatization of the public sector, reduced social spending and reduced wages, extremely low tariffs and fewer restrictions on imports. These programs have been damaging to local agricultural industries that cannot compete with cheap, heavily subsidized foreign produce. Relying on food imports also leads to problems of food insecurity. In addition, Duvalier amassed millions of dollars by extorting this financial aid and running a corrupt and hostile government, all while killing countless citizens. “Both Duvaliers were extraordinarily corrupt. Much aid money flowing into Haiti ended up in their pockets. Foreign investors paid massive bribes to invest in Haiti. And Haitian entrepreneurs were exploited through extortion and intimidation.”
The U.S. caught onto the fact that the aid funding was not going to the people, and suspended it during Johnson’s presidency. They replaced this foreign aid with NGOs. U.S. politicians thought that in doing so, they would no longer be supporting corrupt regimes, while in fact, money was still coming from the U.S. to Haiti and being mismanaged by the Duvaliers. “After the United States found that 80 percent of aid had failed to reach poor people, Kennedy dispersed humanitarian aid through NGOs, setting an important precedent that persists today. Haiti was also excluded from participation in the U.S. Alliance for Progress initiative in Latin America. Papa Doc demanded that he have control over all U.S. aid, in the process ruining any chance of receiving much aid in the future.” This example of funds going to Haiti through other organizations reveals a problem with the intersection of economic, social, and political arenas. Any money going into the country had to go through the government, so suspending aid only meant misallocating funds. The Clinton Administration provides a good example of foreign involvement in Haiti that attempted to create positive effects but may have caused more harm than good. “The Clinton Administration and donors suspended aid following the 1997 parliamentary elections won by Aristide’s party because of fraud and violence, and because of Préval’s dissolution of parliament. Also during the Clinton Administration, Congress fractured over Haiti.” The U.S. held conflicting opinions on how to handle Haiti. In many respects, they treated Haiti as a young child whom they had to keep out of trouble. The problem is that the parents, the U.S., made the original situation plausible. This lack of recognition as Haiti as its own independent nation is the same issue the country has been dealing with since independence. Bill and Hillary Clinton continued aid to Haiti after Bill Clinton’s presidency.
Dangerous Aid After the Earthquake
The Clintons had been interested in the affairs of Haiti for years leading up to the earthquake, starting first in 1975 when they visited Haiti for their honeymoon. Consequently, they also took on a substantial role in the aid response to the disaster. Unfortunately, their involvement had less positive effects than intended. Bill Clinton himself played several roles in the relief efforts as the UN special envoy to Haiti, the founder of the Clinton Foundation, which raised 30 million dollars in aid after the earthquake, leader of the Clinton-Bush Haiti fund, and finally, as the co-chairman of the Interim Haiti Recovery Commission (IHRC). The IHRC was also co-chaired by Jean-Max Bellerive, the prime minister of Haiti, and was created with the goal of collaboration between donors and the Haitian government. A year after the foundation of the IHRC, however, with only six months of their mandate left, the organization was still not entirely operational.
One of the IHRC’s first projects, funded by the Clinton Foundation, was the construction of “hurricane-proof” shelters to be used as both emergency housing and schools for children. The foundation claimed the shelters would have restrooms, water and power generators. In June, however, six months after the earthquake and installation of these shelters, which resembled trailers, journalists for The Nation visited shelters and began to uncover major problems. Children who were going to school in the trailers complained of headaches and eye irritations. In addition, there was no running water or latrines as promised. Some shelters were molding, and another was rotting. Perhaps the most concerning problem was the fact that the Foundation had bought the trailers from a U.S. company, Clayton Homes, that was being sued over formaldehyde found in the same trailers they sold to the Federal Emergency Management Agency after Hurricane Katrina. Levels of formaldehyde were found in the Haitian shelters as well. For a period of time, however, the Clinton Foundation continued to advertise the emergency structures in videos and on their website as a successful component of their aid.
A much more deadly aid situation arose as a result of the involvement of the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH). The UN first sent these peacekeeping forces to Haiti in June 2004, in order to ensure a secure environment during a period of government transition from the former president Aristide to the UN official, Gérard Latorture. Since its establishment, the operation has cost more than seven billion dollars. In their essay, “Mission Accomplished? MINUSTAH in Haiti, 2010- 2011,” authors note that the levels of violence used to justify MINUSTAH’s presence in Haiti in 2010 were not nearly as high as those in neighboring countries of Jamaica, Brazil, Trinidad and Tobago and US Virgin Islands. Still, none of these surrounding countries had peacekeeping missions. For example, while the murder rate per 100,000 people in Haiti was 8.2 in 2010, it was more than three times higher in Brazil, and as high as 54.9 in Jamaica and 60 in the US Virgin Islands. In the past, MINUSTAH has been accused of killing peaceful protestors, assaulting journalists, soliciting prostitution, and in one case, gang raping an 18-year-old Haitian male. 
Their most negative impact, however, came in October 2010, nine months after the earthquake, when an epidemic of cholera broke out, infecting over 800,000 Haitians and killing 9,000 by August 2013. It was later discovered that the outbreak originated from MINUSTAH’s Nepalese soldiers’ peacekeeping base on a tributary of the Artibonite river. Waste from the base was leaking into the river that many Haitians bathed in and drank from. After years of denying their role in the source of the outbreak, in 2016, UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon finally apologized and acknowledged the peacekeepers as the source of the epidemic. The security general created a $400 million trust for Haiti, but since it was based on voluntary donations, only three million dollars were donated, and by 2017, the fund was empty.
Transparency and Accountability
In addition to these more dangerous provisions of aid, during the relief efforts, foreign organizations’ lack of transparency and accountability to the Haitian people led to an inefficient and sometimes deceptive distribution of donations. These transparency and accountability issues arise in part because NGOs are not required to publish reports of budget and financial breakdowns along with their project outcomes. This also makes it nearly impossible to analyze the use and impact of these relief funds on reconstruction and recovery, as there is no financial data available. In addition, even certain U.S. government programs involved in Haiti, in particular, USAID, also struggled to report important quantitative data in the review of their activities post-earthquake. In 2010, the Nonprofit Disaster Accountability Project attempted to address this issue by conducting a report on the transparency of NGOs in Haiti a year after the earthquake. They reviewed 196 organizations, out of which only eight had readily-available information to the public about their activities in Haiti. In the end, only 20 percent of the organizations responded to the survey request. Furthermore, the responding organizations reported receiving more than $1.4 billion in donations, but only reported spending about $730 million, or half of that, on Haiti relief efforts.
In particular, one of the largest non-profit organizations involved in the Haitian emergency response, the Red Cross, raised an impressive $500 million, yet five years later, many, including former Haitian Prime Minister Bellerive, questioned whether the majority of these funds actually reached the Haitian population. For instance, the Red Cross claimed they provided housing to over 130,000 people, but in fact the organization only constructed six homes. Representative of larger problems with NGO transparency and accountability, the Red Cross refused to make available a list of the specific activities they conducted in Haiti, only providing a breakdown of the funds into large and non-descript “sectors” on their website. One of these sectors, shelter, proved to be a particularly misleading use of money for the organization. For example, the Red Cross had promised a housing project in the neighborhood of Campeche, where officials told residents they were going to build new homes, health centers and sanitation systems. But three years later, none of these promises were kept. National Public Radio investigated this project and found that the Red Cross’s original goal was indeed to build 700 new homes including bathrooms, but that they had difficulties acquiring land rights. NPR also looked into internal emails between Red Cross officials working on the Campeche project and found that “staffing changes” and “long bureaucratic delays” created problems for the project. In the end, in 2013, Red Cross officials in Washington were emailing about other possible ways they could spend the unused $20 million they had dedicated for housing, such as through funding a hospital or an entirely different organization.
In addition to lack of transparency and broken promises, the Red Cross also contributed to what the Center for Global Development report authors Vijaya Ramachandran and Julie Walz call the “trickle-down” effect of humanitarian aid. They explain that money from donations often passes through “multiple layers of subcontractees and subgrantees” before it reaches those who are actually carrying out the projects. In the case of the Red Cross, money was lost when the charity gave funds to other organizations to implement the work they had promised. For example, the Red Cross set aside some of the original funds for their own administrative fees. Then the charities they hired took a cut for their subsequent administrative fees. Finally, the Red Cross had yet another charge which they described as “program costs incurred in managing third-party projects,” or an oversight fee. In this process, original donations trickle down to on-the-ground projects, all the while shrinking at each organization and administrative process along the way. Ultimately, the lack of transparency required for private organizations and NGOs allows for ineffective and misleading uses of large donations that might otherwise have the potential for an important impact in long-term relief. The lack of information provided by these organizations also complicates further analysis of this distribution of money and its long-term impacts on the Haitian population.
While the misuse of donated funds shows one major problem in Haitian relief efforts, another concern is one of sovereignty. In Haiti, private organizations operate 80 percent of schools, along with 90 percent of health clinics. Some have called this climate of privatization in Haiti a “Republic of NGOs.” Furthermore, 70 percent of the Haitian state budget comes from external financing. The aid response to the earthquake, during which the international community continued to channel money towards NGOs and private organizations in place of the Haitian government, worked to reinforce this lack of state involvement. In fact, according to the Office of the Special Envoy for Haiti, of the $9.04 billion donated between the period of January 2010 - June 2012, only 9.6 percent went to the Haitian government, along with only .6 percent going towards Haitian organizations. By contrast, nearly 90 percent went to non-Haitian organizations. This lack of government and local funding is in part due to the common mentality shared by the international community that the Haitian government is subject to corruption.
And while non-Haitian NGOs and international donors may be eager to provide the best kind of support in the face of a crisis, they lack the knowledge the local community has. In addition, NGOs are accountable to their constituents, who are not the Haitian people themselves, but foreign donors. As a result, they will sometimes be forced to make decisions based on what is best for these donors and not necessarily the local community. One such case of privileging foreign donor priorities involved the clean-up of the disaster. In his film, Fatal Assistance, Raoul Peck explains that Haiti had 25 times as many debris post-earthquake as the World Trade Center after 9/11. And yet, debri removal was not a “sexy enough” call to action for foreign donors. They preferred to donate money towards building a school or an orphanage. As a consequence, though the Haitian people knew how important it was to prioritize debri clean-up, little money was donated towards this necessity, while generous funds were given to construct schools on top of the mess.
Not only does aid to foreign organizations in place of local structures disregard urgent priorities, but it can also waste money that does go to these necessities. This was a particular issue for long-term reconstruction projects in Haiti, as most of the money was given to U.S. and international contractors in lieu of local contractors. This is likely a result of the fact that these companies are required to use certain contractors from their own countries. In fact, USAID gave $200 million in relief and reconstruction contracts in Haiti overall, but by April 2011, only 2.5% of the money had gone to local companies. This choice had consequences for the effectiveness of the reconstruction projects. In one case, USAID paid over $33,000 to contractors to build a new housing unit as a part of their New Settlements program. In comparison, the NGO Mission of Hope paid Haitian contractors five times less than that for the houses they built.
Local contractors are likely more efficient due to their knowledge of the current construction climate. In addition, crucial donation funds are saved when money is not wasted on housing and feeding international contractors who fly in for the job. Overall, this inefficient foreign reconstruction frenzy eventually warranted comment from Préval. He called the U.S. State Department “arrogant” after they scheduled a donor conference about reconstruction outside of the country, excluding Haitians from the conversation. Préval also asked for the Haitian government to have veto power over reconstruction projects in their own country, with no success. Ultimately, this uneconomical use of reconstruction funds has had important consequences, considering the fact that two years after the earthquake, an estimated 500,000 people were still living in tent cities built originally as temporary shelters.
While many NGOs may have worked to weaken local structures with their ineffective foreign assistance, one example of a more sustainable form of NGO aid comes from Partners In Health, which has a location in Haiti called Zanmi Lasante. The NGO was founded in 1983 by Paul Farmer, Ophelia Dahl, Tom White, Jim Yong Kim, and Todd McCormack. It served as a clinic for people who cannot afford care in the hospital. In the past, many outbreaks in Haiti, such as cholera, AIDS, and tuberculosis, have left people vulnerable, and the expensive price of healthcare has caused them to reject treatment. Zanmi Lasante works to address this by serving 1.2 million Haitian farm workers. It has multiple buildings such as a pediatric ward, an infectious disease center and a women’s health clinic. Partners In Health took a political hit when Aristide was out of presidency during the military coup, but once he was reinstated, people continued using the facility. Not only do they focus on health, but also on the education of young men and women. Today there is a Comprehensive Training Curriculum for Household Development Agents in Haiti, which has eight training units funded by the World Bank which adapt to everyday Haitian life, such as family planning, community mobilization and communication, and nutrition. This use of funding highlights the need for donations and programs that are not earmarked, but rather adaptable to people’s lifestyles and needs. There is also a ‘Training of Trainers: A manual for the training facilitators in participatory teaching techniques’ which focuses on implementation of community-based needs as well as Community Health Worker Cholera Training. Lastly there is also a ‘right to water use’ aspect where the NGO works on water rights and access to clean water in the agricultural community. The education and water access initiatives illustrate that health goes beyond just treating the patient. It transcends the doctor’s appointment. Partners In Health is looking to expand outside of Haiti and has other locations around the world, while continuing to invest time in Haiti creating sustainable projects. It is not a natural disaster relief fund, but rather a long-standing NGO meant to help Haiti over time.
ATD Quart Monde has had similarly positive effects in Haiti. It seeks to help Haitians serve their fellow people. Eight of the eleven members are Haitian. For 25 years they have been helping people in Port-au-Prince. The goal of ATD is to educate children and have them learn to speak out against injustices in the government. ATD also provides focused health projects for youth. These projects are targeted at certain age groups, such as those under three years old and children aged four to six. The health projects collaborate with other Haitian NGOs, like Service Œcuménique d’Entraide (SOE). ATD holds computer workshops to give teenagers and young adults access to the current technology. These skills are vital to success in higher education as well as specialized jobs. There are also workshops for children and teens during school breaks to discuss their own situations at home. The reason ATD has been so successful is because the Haitians know the needs of their own people and have been implementing structures that have stayed in place for almost three decades. Leaders hold a monthly meeting to ensure the needs of the people are being met. Like Partners In Health, the long term effects benefit the people due to the amount of time spent in Haiti despite political, social, and economic changes.
Transcending the Quake: Almost a Decade of Effects
Months after the earthquake, some still felt as though it happened yesterday. The citizens had needs that had yet to be met. The main necessity was the decentralization of public works, since Port-au-Prince was in shambles. This was a prime opportunity to rebuild the city using a model that did not centralize all employment opportunities in Port-au-Prince, and also to develop more rural areas of Haiti. Investment in the Haitian people was essential, through education, housing, agricultural production, and communication infrastructures. Investment in human capital, or higher education, seemed to be the focal point to strengthen the local government system. As a result, people worried about the equal-distribution of foreign aid. Assistance for long-term psychological services was also important, considering the trauma of an event that killed so many and buried people alive for days. Focus groups were created to allow people to communicate their feelings and discuss the progress since the earthquake. Many people were worried about the increase in robberies as well as the number of people who had escaped from the national penitentiary. The focus groups sought to give a voice to the voiceless, which can have good intentions, but the problem with this is while all people in fact have voices, they are not always able to exercise this voice given the political and social disarray. Their socioeconomic status also stands as a barrier. This illustrates the problem of the visibility of minority subjects, since it is not necessarily that they do not have a voice, but rather that they are not privileged enough to be heard. The long term benefits of the focus groups is that they may help give people in Haiti the agency they need to express themselves, and not have others speak for them.
Claire Payton created the Haiti Memory Project in order to shed light on the voices of Haitian people and their perspectives after the earthquake. In one clip, she interviewed Claude Adolphe, a moto driver in Champs de Mars. He stated that life is much harder after the earthquake due to the loss of the middle class. They also discussed the fact that some people see the earthquake as a way to start over. Not all people agree with this, but death is perceived by some as “a time to go,” or by others as a time to be ready to see the next chapter. Payton states in the interview that life is suffering, and those who died are actually with God now. “The chosen ones are the people who can go be with God, but the people left here are the people left to suffer,” she said. Suffering in Haiti goes back to the time of slavery and has been a theme in Haitian history. The earthquake is part of the cycle of suffering, but with time, it too shall hopefully pass.
A year after the quake, people were concerned with NGOs exit plans. “How can they leave after 365 days?” Some wondered. Some foreign assistance was beneficial, like foreign education policies allowing Haitian students to attend universities in Rwanda. A new hospital built in Mirebalais as well as some new infrastructure and the clearing out of older foundations. Citizens were mourning and finding the strength to share their voices. 1.5 million people were displaced, most living in substandard conditions. Seven months after the earthquake, 40 percent of camps for internally displaced people did not have access to water and 30 percent did not have any toilets. 10 percent of families had a tent, and the rest slept under tarps. These kinds of effects were not going to be fixed overnight. If anything, the earthquake exposed the inequalities and lack of foundation in the Haitian government. “Particularly, the quake exposed centuries of underdevelopment and recent economic policies, and their impact on social inequality and exclusion within Haiti.”
In the end, the allocation, distribution and management of aid relief funds to Haiti post-earthquake reveals many of the problems Haiti has been facing since its independence. Though the intentions of foreign organizations donating assistance may have been positive, their channeling of aid to foreign NGOs at the cost of the Haitian government reinforces the weakening of the state that played a part in Haiti’s vulnerability to the disaster in the first place. This aid may even help contribute to the corruption of the Haitian government that concerns so many people, as Haitian politicians are forced to appeal to foreign donors for external state funding in place of addressing the needs of the Haitian people. Furthermore, involving the government and local organizations who understand the local climate and its most urgent priorities would have created a more effective use of aid after the earthquake. NGOs’ failures to do so is representative of a larger historical issue, the inability of wealthy nations to recognize Haiti as its own independent and capable nation. In order to respond to disasters in the future, and so that the government may be able to provide vital services in times of crises and stability, international aid should expand the capacities of the state. As exemplified by the work of Partners in Health and ATD Quart Monde, NGOs, along with foreign government assistance programs, should work to have Haitians themselves at the center of their own nation’s recovery efforts. In doing so, they will help to create houses with stable foundations that stand stronger in the face of natural disaster.
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