Oxfam to Bill Clinton: You’re Failing Haiti

A year after an earthquake shook the small island-nation of Haiti, a mere 5 percent of the rubble has been cleared. Not even half of the donor money pledged has arrived. The government has failed to show leadership, and international NGOs are not helping — circumventing the Haitian authorities to write their own rules. Perhaps ...

By , International Crisis Group’s senior analyst for Colombia.
THONY BELIZAIRE/AFP/Getty Images
THONY BELIZAIRE/AFP/Getty Images
THONY BELIZAIRE/AFP/Getty Images

A year after an earthquake shook the small island-nation of Haiti, a mere 5 percent of the rubble has been cleared. Not even half of the donor money pledged has arrived. The government has failed to show leadership, and international NGOs are not helping -- circumventing the Haitian authorities to write their own rules. Perhaps most biting, the Interim Haiti Recovery Commission (IHRC) chaired by Bill Clinton and Haitian Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive has so far "failed" to deliver its mandate for reconstruction, plagued instead by "contradictory policies and priorities."

These are the findings of a new report released today by the British-based charity Oxfam International.  It's a damning read out on the last year of reconstruction -- or as the paper makes clear, lack thereof. While the emergency response is lauded for saving millions of people with vital supplies, services, and shelters, "neither the Haitian state nor the international community is making significant progress in reconstruction."

What went wrong? The report paints a picture of an international effort entirely divorced from the needs and wishes of the Haitian people -- not to mention the Haitian government. The original Action Plan meant to be put into place by the IHRC was favored by a mere 17.5 percent of Haitians, according to an Oxfam poll cited in the report. In implementation, the commission failed to include government ministers, for example consulting them in a tardy fashion -- and providing documents for review often only in English (the Haitian government operates in French). Individual NGOs and aid organizations actually carrying out the relief effort have done no better. "Many aid agencies continue to bypass local and national authorities in the delivery of assistanc," the report claims.

A year after an earthquake shook the small island-nation of Haiti, a mere 5 percent of the rubble has been cleared. Not even half of the donor money pledged has arrived. The government has failed to show leadership, and international NGOs are not helping — circumventing the Haitian authorities to write their own rules. Perhaps most biting, the Interim Haiti Recovery Commission (IHRC) chaired by Bill Clinton and Haitian Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive has so far "failed" to deliver its mandate for reconstruction, plagued instead by "contradictory policies and priorities."

These are the findings of a new report released today by the British-based charity Oxfam International.  It’s a damning read out on the last year of reconstruction — or as the paper makes clear, lack thereof. While the emergency response is lauded for saving millions of people with vital supplies, services, and shelters, "neither the Haitian state nor the international community is making significant progress in reconstruction."

What went wrong? The report paints a picture of an international effort entirely divorced from the needs and wishes of the Haitian people — not to mention the Haitian government. The original Action Plan meant to be put into place by the IHRC was favored by a mere 17.5 percent of Haitians, according to an Oxfam poll cited in the report. In implementation, the commission failed to include government ministers, for example consulting them in a tardy fashion — and providing documents for review often only in English (the Haitian government operates in French). Individual NGOs and aid organizations actually carrying out the relief effort have done no better. "Many aid agencies continue to bypass local and national authorities in the delivery of assistanc," the report claims.

Ok, so the international community has been ignoring the Haitian government and just plowing ahead according to their own plan. Maybe that sounds like a good idea — indeed, the government lacks much of the capacity to run the country’s services and infrastructure today. It’s incredibly tempting as an aid operation to want to cut corners, forget to do a bit of paperwork, or just fail to consult the local government — so that your program can start helping people a few days or hours sooner. But the fact that Haiti’s government is seen as inept is precisely the point. The Haitian authorities will never have that capacity to run Haiti if the international community cuts them out. So unless the international community plans on staying and running Haiti forever (something that Haitians would never — and should never — stand for), this is a disaster of an approach.

Ironically, these are the very same principles that the IHRC itself recognizes and has nominally committed to. One of its founding precepts was to empower Haitian authorities and help build up expertise in the local ministries. But like rebuilding a country, it seems this is easier said than done. 

Elizabeth Dickinson is International Crisis Group’s senior analyst for Colombia.

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