Aid Spawns Dependency in Haiti

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November 13, 2010; Source: Wall Street Journal | What a devastating story about nonprofit aid to Haiti following the earthquake this past January. Even before the disaster, the economy of Haiti was largely dominated by NGOs. But as it stands now Haiti appears to be fully dependent on NGOs.

Seven out of every ten dollars pledged by donor countries is pledged to go to or through NGOs. Donor nations and charitable donors feel they have to run their support through NGOs because of the Haitian government’s rampant corruption. But by bypassing government and not investing in governmental infrastructure, “the system as it is guarantees its failure,” according to political scientist Laura Zenotti.

Some people call Haiti “the republic of NGOs,” as it is assisted by but simultaneously held back by the aid groups. A 2006 report of the National Academy of Public Administration (in the U.S.) said that the NGOs have “infantilized” Haiti. InterAction’s Samuel Worthington counters, saying, “What NGOs can say is that there are a lot more kids in school, a lot less mothers dying, thanks to their efforts. As long are there are social problems, there will be NGOs working here.”

The Wall Street Journal details examples of hospitals left bereft of capacity after the withdrawal of the NGOs. The contrasts between local resources and those of the NGOs are startling. The annual budget of the public Hopital de l’Universite is only $5 million, while Médecins Sans Frontièrs raised $100 million and the Red Cross $816 million for their roles in Haiti after the earthquake. In terms of power, the NGOs dominate, often able to ignore or bypass the ineffectual government agencies.

But what is to be done? How should NGOs provide assistance to Haiti? How can donors use their resources to build Haiti’s ability to govern itself and reduce its nearly total dependency on outside donors and foreign NGOs? With thousands of foreign NGOs in Haiti, including church-based relief groups, taking responsibility and “ownership” over assistance to specific hospitals, schools, and towns, creating little zones in which they are clearly the dominant decision-making entities, what should donors and NGOs do now to create a nation that functions?—Rick Cohen