Thursday, October 25, 2012

[HoI Course] Foreign Intervention in Haiti: From the US to NGOs (Haiti Today 4/6)



You can find the outline for the course here, a brief history of Haiti here, an introduction to Vodou here, and a discussion of daily life here. Please post all comments, requests, and questions in the Reddit post rather than the blog. That way we can continue our discussion within the History of Ideas subreddit.

Foreign Intervention in Haiti
US, UN, and NGOs 

The goal of this post is to cover the different foreign influences in Haitian politics, government, infrastructure, and social services and the impact that it has had. The Haitian government is notorious for its corruption and inefficiencies, which is often the justification for outside involvement. Yet, they have also rarely had the recent opportunity to manage the country on their own. This post looks at the ways these outside influences and control have changed Haiti and how the Haitian people feel about it. 

US Interventions

          As you'll recall from the history section, foreign intervention in Haitian government, economy, social services, environment, and other aspects of the nation have been frequent. But the United States of America has had the heaviest hand in Haiti's government, social services, and policies and so it is worth discussing their role in Haiti's history and current situation. In 1915, the US began its 19 year occupation of Haiti where this foreign nation literally controlled all aspects of the Haitian government and maintained control of Haiti's foreign finances until 1947. While there, the US instituted a new constitution which allowed foreigners and foreign companies to legally hold land in Haiti. US companies bought up land in the countryside for large plantation farms. Conditions were poor and so was pay, so many peasants moved to the cities for new opportunities. Unfortunately, the centralization of uneducated poor Haitians in the cities resulted in few chances for work and serious problems with urban slums and all the problems that go along with them. During Papa Doc's reign he courted the US for cheap manufacturing jobs, which did briefly provide economic opportunities. But many of these jobs paid very, very little and working conditions were often unsafe. Sweatshops rarely provide opportunities to improve local situations - at best they allow very poor people to just barely subsist while making huge profits for corporations. I'll talk more about this later.

          Despite Papa and Baby Doc's brutal rule, the US had a close relationship at times with their government through economic investments and aid programs. This shouldn't be too surprising since the US was heavily involved in supporting dictators in other areas too at that time as part of an initiative to prevent communist governments and ensure the safety of US financial interests. In 1981, the USAID-World Bank worked together to create a new strategy of purposefully making the Haitian economy dependent upon the US. Part of this included encouraging farmers to produce cash crops so that 30% of arable land was shifted from growing food to growing items for export. However, cash crops are subject to fluctuations in price that are uncontrollable by local farmers and natural disasters such as hurricanes or droughts could easily wipe out a season's crops. It also meant a reduction in food grown for local consumption so that as the island's population grew, their food production was not able to keep up. In response to food shortages  and American farmer's needs, in 1986 the IMF with US backing required Haiti remove the 50% tariffs on imported food in order to get a loan thus allowing the US to send heavily subsidized US rice to Haiti. This rice was significantly cheaper than local rice, effectively putting local farmers out of business. It also shifted local cuisine from one where rice was only eaten a couple times a week to a staple, pushing out healthier foods like squash and greens. In 1990, Haiti still produced all of the rice it consumed and only imported 19% of its food. In 1994, the US pushed Aristide to remove even more trade restrictions. Today 75% of the rice comes from the US and 50% of its food is imported. In many cases, American brands of soda, chips, rice, flour, etc. are cheaper than locally produced options. Without much international interest in importing Haitian food goods and a poor market at home, it is very difficult for local farmers and producers to survive. In 2008 when rice prices soared all over the globe, Haitians were hit harder than most since they could no longer afford imported rice but did not produce enough locally. Many people starved. This is why in 2010, former President Bill Clinton publicly apologized for the subsidized rice policy put in place during his administration. While it helped US rice farmers, Clinton called it a devil's bargain and said, "I had to live everyday with the consequences of the loss of capacity to produce a rice crop in Haiti to feed those people because of what I did; nobody else." After the earthquake, Haiti was inundated with even more cheap and free food which while providing vital assistance immediately after the disaster it also served to destroy what economic opportunity farmers had left.   

          The rice program was not intended to harm local Haitians - rather policy makers thought it would be a win win where US farmers were subsidized and poor countries got cheap food. But it is a good example of how even well intended programs can create a domino effect of damage. Another good example is the Peligre Dam, which while it would have highly benefited many of the American owned farms it was also supposed to help the local people. In 1956, the US Army Corps of Engineers helped plan and a company from Texas built the Peligre Dam, which dammed a large river in Haiti to create hydroelectric power. However, to do this they flooded the so called bread basket of Haiti, which included the lands of many peasants who had to flee. They did not fully understand what the consequences of the dam would be and many only realized their situation within hours of their homes being completely under water.This hurt local food production, but also completely disrupted the lives of hundreds of farmers. Some set up on the sides of the mountains where erosion and soil quality were worse. When the US killed off all of their black creole pigs in response to fears about swine flu, already desperate people lost the last of their savings. Destitute, people went to the cities for more opportunities where they also engaged in romantic relationships with people. Back home, women formed relationships with men for financial support, especially with soldiers that had been brought in for the project. Some of these were intended to be long-term relationships (though the men often still had multiple partners) and some were one night exchanges. There were also acts of rape or situations where women felt they could not say no. These movements of people and sexual relationships didn't just create unwanted pregnancies, trauma, and break up of family units. It also spread something much, much worse in a manner much faster than it otherwise would have spread.

          HIV first came to Haiti via a traveler from Central Africa and was probably spread through the sex tourism trade around 1966. Around 1969, it was brought from Haiti to America where it was first spread through heterosexual relationships before taking root in more vulnerable populations such as the gay community. It took a decade before anyone noticed. In the early 1980s, doctors began reporting strange cancers, pneumonia, and autoimmune issues but it took years before the medical community really understood AIDs and how to treat it. But as part of their efforts they began to identify communities where the newly named AIDs was more prevalent. In 1982, the CDC listed four groups as risk factors for infection: homosexuals, hemophiliacs, heroin addicts, and Haitians. Haiti was blamed by the media and politicians alike with some prominent American figures even blaming voodoo rituals. Overnight, Haiti and Haitians became stigmatized as carriers of a disease that America was terrified about. Many people in the general public knew little about how AIDs was transmitted, so while it was sometimes seen as a punishment for immoral activities like drug use, homosexuality, and prostitution people were still afraid that just being near someone with AIDs could be enough for contamination.  Haitian-Americans couldn't sell their homes, find jobs, and their children were ostracized at schools. Back in Haiti, tourism dropped 80% in one year. Previously, tourism had been an important industry with famous people like Mick Jagger (lead singer of the Rolling Stones) spending their holiday there. But no one wanted to vacation in a place where the CDC said they might catch AIDs. Further political instability and growing poverty due to a number of factors further diminished Haiti's tourism industry even more. Today, organizations like Partners in Health have made important inroads for treating HIV patients and help preventing transmission. And most people recognize that HIV and AIDs are not the fault of the victim and cannot be caught through normal day to day interactions. Tourism is increasing both from Haitians returning home from abroad and internationals. But Haiti has a long way to go in solving the problems of AIDs, rural and urban poverty, and reviving its tourism industry.

          More recently, Wikileaks has provided an interesting and sobering insight into some of the other ways that the US and other international bodies have involved themselves in Haiti. For example, the US and other foreign governments forced elections even though they thought they were fraudulent because they did not want to see their democracy experiment fail. There were also admissions that the reason the US doesn't want Aristide to return is that it would be bad for US business. The US Ambassador called Haiti after the earthquake a gold rush for American business opportunities. And the cables also reveal that the US worked together with Hanes and Levis to ensure that minimum wage for their textile factory workers did not increase from $3 a day to $5 a day. Now, minimum wage increases usually do not improve life for the poor drastically because the economy quickly catches up. But the larger problem was that every other industry received the minimum wage increase so that textile workers' pay was kept artificially low. As the economy around them catches up to $5 a day as the norm, textile workers are left behind. According to recent studies done prior to the minimum wage increase, a family of one worker and two kids (remember that a mother and her children are the basic family unit in Haiti) needs $12.50 a day to meet basic needs. Therefore, even those who are able to take advantage of the minimum wage increase cannot meet their family's financial needs. The current Haitian President Martelly has welcomed factory jobs for Haiti, especially textile industries. In order to avoid the centralization issues of the past, the government set up free trade zones (which came from seizing farmer's land) in hopes that more rural factories will reduce pressures on the cities. But without living wages, slums still pop up near the factories and families rarely have enough to send their children to bed with full stomachs let alone get them an education. Though much of the American press touts these textile factory jobs as almost a charitable act by US businesses and the government, it is important to remember what these cables reveal - Haiti has almost no labor laws, their minimum wage is one of the lowest in the Americas and is fully competitive with China, and US officials have revealed their interest in taking advantage of Haiti's cheap labor. Building factories in Haiti is not about Haiti's best interest. It is about American business interests. These Wikileaks cables reveal that many of the US interventions in Haiti have been about protecting US financial interests more than helping the country. This shouldn't be surprising since governments are at heart about serving the interests of their nation over others. Even the Peace Corps is a soft propaganda program. But it is still disheartening.

United Nations: The MINUSTAH Mistake?

          The goals of the UN is supposed to be above some of the self serving acts we saw from the US towards Haiti. The UN works towards world peace, economic development, global security, and human rights. However, while the UN has achieved some admirable things in Haiti they have also left a path of destruction and fear. The goal of this section is to discuss why the UN is still in Haiti, what they've achieved, and why most Haitians want them to leave. Right after Aristide fled for the second time in 2004, the UN sent in 9,000 troops to ensure stability. There were legitimate concerns that one of the Duvalier era thugs would try to take control again and the vacuum of power was dangerous. UN resolution 1529 stated that, "Haiti constitutes a threat to international peace and security and to stability in the Caribbean." MINUSTAH (United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti) was created at the behest of the US, with the goals of stabilizing the government, ensuring democracy, and protecting human rights. However, Haitian democratic elections have been reestablished and the country is relatively stable and peaceful. Below you can see the very low murder rates in Haiti and compare them with nearby Caribbean nations. The goal of protecting human rights is also debatable considering the many human rights violations that UN workers have been accused of while in Haiti. The violence, rapes, cholera epidemic, and possible violation of the UN's own charter have led to many demonstrations by Haitians asking the UN to end its occupation. But so far it looks like the UN is staying put.

2010 UN Country Data
Murders per 100,000
Puerto Rico
Dominican Republic
*Note that murder rates do not include executions and other political violence and therefore is only a small part of the overall issue of stability and safety. 

          The UN did bring stability after Aristide's ouster, has provided social services, and has reduced the gang violence in slums like Cite Soleil. However, the means with which they did this were often violent and have made many Haitians scared of UN forces. Like many slums and shanty towns, Cite Soleil is often beyond the reach of the government and local gangs control the neighborhood. The UN identified these gangs as serious threats to the stability of the nation, despite their marginal influence beyond the neighborhood. To deal with this problem they sent in troops in armored cars to round up gang leaders. Since MINUSTAH troops are not from Haiti and very few speak the local language, they have little knowledge about the local gangs and how to discern thugs from innocent poor people who have no choice but to live in this neighborhood. This has often meant that locals get roughed up, large groups of people are rounded up to be sorted out later, and that when violence breaks out innocent people get hurt. Despite its stated purpose to combat gang violence, MINUSTAH usually goes into Cite Soleil in response to a political protest, even if it is peaceful. In 2006, after a large demonstration from Aristide supporters the UN did a sweep of the neighborhood that resulted in the deaths of at least thirty people, some of whom were women and children. Though the UN denies it, victims claim that the troops opened fire on unarmed civilians spraying crowds with bullets. Some also claim that the UN shot people from helicopters and dropped grenades. A declassified US Embassy cable from 2005, revealed that over a period of several hours MINUSTAH shot 22,000 bullets in Cite Soleil. The ambassador admits that given the shoddy construction of buildings in shanty towns it is likely that the bullets went through walls and hit people hiding inside. To date several such massacres have been attributed to the UN. Though these activities do sometimes pick off gang leaders, they also destroy lives, homes, livelihoods, and the trust of innocent people. You can watch an admittedly biased documentary about it here, though I warn you it contains very graphic images.

          In Port-au-Prince far removed from the slums, many people are terrified of UN soldiers. I even realized I had picked up on this fear and also made sure to give soldiers and wide berth on the streets and never took their photo or spoke to them. Part of this fear comes from the violent responses I discussed above. But there are other reasons that Haitians fear the UN. There are numerous accusations of rape, beatings, and even murder of people outside the slums. Many of the rape accusations are hard to prove and seem even harder to prosecute since it is ups to the individual countries of the soldiers to do so. But there are a few well documented cases that have galvanized Haitian anger against the UN. In 2005, three Pakistani UN soldiers gang raped a young girl. In 2007, Sri Lanka recalled more than 100 of its troops after accusations that they raped and abused Haitian women and children. In 2010, a 16 year old boy was found hanging from a noose on a UN base in Okap. The UN did not release his body for 72 hours, but told the family the boy had hung himself even though the autopsy ruled out suicide. In 2011, MINUSTAH troops from Uruguay gang raped a teenage boy and one perpetrator filmed it on his cell phone and uploaded it to the internet. Though the boy flew to Uruguay to testify against them and the video was shown in court, the perpetrators were released after only being found guilty of bullying. In 2012, three Pakistani MINUSTAH soldiers were found guilty for also raping a mentally challenged teenage Haitian boy. Witnesses also claimed that after the crime had been reported the Pakistani UN mission kidnapped the victim and held him on a MINUSTAH base to prevent further investigation. Pakistan gave the rapists one year in prison.

          In October of 2010, a photo began making the rounds on the internet reportedly showing a UN truck dumping sewage into a Haitian river that people used for cooking, drinking, and bathing. Just a month before had been the first reported case of cholera in Haiti in over one hundred years. The disease was spreading fast and without quick treatment an infected person can die within one day. Clean water was difficult to access even before the earthquake and medicine very expensive if available. Haitians blamed the UN for bringing the disease to the island, but initially the UN denied any connection. However, forensic studies on the strain of cholera revealed it came from Nepal and most likely from the Nepalese UN troops at the Mirabalais camp. Some Haitians have filed a class action lawsuit against the UN for negligence in addition to demands that the UN work to install clean water filters around the island to end the epidemic they unintentionally started. To date over 500,000 have become sick and at least 7,500 people have died from cholera in Haiti. That is more cholera deaths in Haiti than the entire continent of Africa combined. This past summer aid organizations were able to vaccinate 100,000 Haitians from vulnerable populations. Hopefully, this project along with clean water projects will greatly reduce the impact of cholera on the island.

          These well publicized events have influenced many Haitians to feel negatively about the continued UN presence in their country. Many liken it to the 18 year US occupation, especially since MINUSTAH troops tend to send a violent message whenever local people protest over political issues that are unpopular with the US. As the Wikileaks cables reveal, the UN has also played a large role in directing Haitian politics and preventing the election of anyone from Aristide's political party. President "Sweet Mickey" Martelly (whom the UN helped get elected despite his former association with the Tonton Macoutes) says he does not want the UN to leave. However, the continued public demonstrations against the UN occupation suggest that his view is not popular with the masses. Regardless of your own personal views about the UN's presence in Haiti, it seems unlikely that the country will attain peace and stability as long as the main enforcers belong to a group that the people do not trust or respect.

Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) and Their Role in Haiti

          Given the corruption of the government, the numerous problems with US aid intervention, and the violence from UN soldiers many people have turned to non-profits and NGOs to solve Haiti's many problems. The hope is that without a political agenda, organizations unaffiliated with any government agency can focus on humanitarian aid alone. The presence of such organizations has led to Haiti's nickname "The Republic of NGOs" and has unfortunately been well-earned for a couple of reasons. First, there are literally hundreds of groups in Haiti at the moment working on a variety of issues all over the country. You can see a map of a few of the official organizations here, though it is important to recognize that there are hundreds more church groups and small organizations that continually come in and out of Haiti to work on short-term projects. Official numbers of NGOs in Haiti even before the earthquake range from 3,000 to 10,000. Second, much of the population depends upon NGOs for services like healthcare, education, clean water, etc. more than its own government. Likewise, the government sees no reason to waste tax money providing services that are already provided by NGOs. NGOs in Haiti are a mix of successes and failures, with perhaps more negative examples than positive. You can read about the specific failures of NGOs below and then in detail in some of the books I suggest. However, Haiti provides a kind of microcosm of the problems with aid and NGOs all over the globe so I want to take a moment to discuss some of the larger issues.

          Though NGOs attempt to remove the political restrictions that government agendas have on nation-based aid giving, most NGOs are still beholden to their country of origin and their donors. Government agencies and donors often remain central in planning and implementation decisions. These plans and goals are set outside of the local contexts of a community's needs, so that at times they do not reflect what people actually want and the methods implemented are unrealistic and ineffective. Due to the realities of a home office outside of Haiti, there are usually multiple tiers within the NGO that allow for satellite offices and intermediaries. However, they also increase overhead spending, often include redundancies, and increase the odds of miscommunications. This bureaucracy also limits the ability of people on the ground to make substantive changes to the goals or methods of the project even if they see that they are being ineffective. The top down approach of most NGOs silences the voices of the very people they are trying to raise up. These processes are part of what some scholars consider the neocolonialism of aid and NGOs. Rather than working alongside local people to solve problems, NGOs and aid programs often treat local people as the problem. NGOs justify their presence by arguing that locals cannot manage their own situation and require an outside force to come in and take over. Part of solving the issue that the officials in the NGO and their donors have identified as the primary goal often includes reorienting communities towards the NGO home culture's own viewpoint. For example, rather than handing out condoms or examining reasons for multiple partners locals may just be chastised for promiscuity. But remaking a foreign culture into a model of your own does not necessarily solve the problem at hand and may inadvertently replicate the inequalities present in your own society. These communities also become dependent upon these outside forces, just like they did during colonialism, giving them immense power to sway local politics and creating devastating effects when the NGOs leave.

          The very problems that many NGOs set out to solve sometimes continue not only in spite of but because of NGO presence due to the local economy's reliance upon the NGO, problematic goals or implementation, and the fact that NGOs profit from having a continued issue to address. In Port-au-Prince, for example, apartments and business buildings are renting for sometimes triple what they cost prior to the earthquake. Even Haitians who have steady jobs are sometimes unable to move into more permanent housing because the aid organizations have rented most of them and those that remain are now out of  locals' price ranges. In fact, some Haitians who were living in tent cities actually had homes that were untouched but they could rent them out to NGO workers for such high prices that it was worth staying in temporary housing a while longer. And why not? Not only could they save for the future when the NGO workers inevitably all run off to the next big disaster, but they could take advantage of the free food and education provided at some of the tent cities. The buying power of aid workers also meant that the local prices for food and other necessities sky rocketed. So NGO workers coming to address the tent city crisis intensified the pressures that kept people from moving out of tent cities, which of course provides more incentives for the heads of the NGO to say they should stay and demand more money from donors. There have even been accusations that aid organizations and NGOs have overestimated numbers of those living in tent cities and other issues to get more money. Though technically not government organizations, they often get large donations from governments who want to see proof of need. They also sensationalize suffering through photographs and stories, which opens pocketbooks for donations but closes them for vacations. When the NGOs do eventually leave the housing market will crash, Haitians will have difficulty finding local sources of food since they went out of business, and many people who relied on the NGOs for jobs will once again be out of work.

          It would be unfair, though, to categorize all NGOs in the same way. While inefficiencies and misused funds are often the story of NGOs in Haiti, some are improving. Many have realized the errors of the past and are making efforts to work with rather than in spite of local people and to incorporate local contexts and concerns into their plans. However, even the most well intentioned NGOs can sometimes fall back into this framework. After studying aid and NGOs in Haiti and the larger global scene, I have four main points where non-profits and NGOs tend to fail. First, there is the patchwork effect where the NGO takes a very narrow approach to solving a specific localized issue. Second, there are redundant and overlapping services. Third, there is a failure of communication both with other NGOs and the local people they want to serve. And fourth, they do not appropriately plan for the future and rarely have a sound exit strategy. These points are worth going into more detail about.

The Patchwork Effect: Many NGOs go in with a specific solution and look for a location where it might be useful. For example, they might want to solve clean water problems and use a new filtration system. They will find a community in need and spend a summer installing filtration systems for local people. There is nothing wrong with this, but one city or even neighborhood over people might not be able to benefit. You can examine the map I linked earlier and see that this is the case all over the country. For example, Asile has health care, but no other NGO help. Nearby San Luis de Sud has a school with a free lunch program, but no health care. Another nearby community Petit Trou De Nippes has a few health care providers, two housing projects, and a sanitation project but no education. Yet these communities could all use health care, education, and housing projects. Without stepping back to see the bigger picture the NGO's successes will be very localized and limited and there will be large disparities in services between communities. Reaching horizontally to work with other related NGOs can help solve this problem even if the NGO in question is too small or funds limited to have a broader individual impact.

Redundant and Overlapping Services: Since NGOs often go in with a preconceived idea of what services they will provide, they may not take into account what other projects are already providing those services. Though some large urban centers may be populous enough to warrant multiple organizations providing the same thing, most rural areas are not. The narrow blinders on approach that creates the patchwork effect also allows for redundancies and overlaps. For example, a couple years ago my cousin was in Gonaives with a relatively new NGO that had first come to Haiti after the earthquake. One of their major projects was to build a school, which they had discussed with a local politician. One day on his way to the job site my cousin ran into someone from an older NGO. After talking they discovered that their NGOs were each building a school on the same block with permission from the same politician. They did sit down with that politician and explain only one school would be built. But by then both organizations had wasted a lot of time, money, and people on a redundant project. Their resources could have been much better served working on something else that was not being addressed. To be fair, they got swindled by a local politician who likely wanted to make money by turning at least one of them into a private school. But these kinds of overlaps are frequent, even without corrupt politicians intervening.

Failure to Communicate: The redundancies could be eliminated if organizations were better at communicating with one another and coordinating horizontally rather than just approaching the situation vertically. Linking organizations with similar goals can allow for more effective services and sharing of resources, which cuts down overhead and can actually open up larger granting opportunities. But NGOs also need to communicate with the people they are servicing not only when planning their program but at regular intervals after it begins to ensure they are still being effective and relevant. Organizations also need to be willing to adjust their methods or even goals if necessary. Failure to do this often results in ineffective aid that at best does little good and at worst can harm communities. For example, many public health HIV prevention programs in Haiti have the goal of going into a community and teaching them about AIDs how to prevent its spread. Often local people are trained as educators who then hold classes for their community. Afterwards, participants are surveyed about their knowledge and the results are turned into pretty graphs and charts to prove the organization's efficacy to donors. However, when anthropologists later go in and ask the course participants if they plan to be abstinent or use condoms in the future the answer is almost always no. Abstinence only education fails in Haiti for many of the same reasons that it fails in the US. But condoms are rarely an option either because NGOs do not give them out or do not give out enough. Condoms in Haiti are very expensive if you can even find them for sale. Additionally, women feel uncomfortable demanding their partners use them and men dislike the feel. Children are also incredibly important, while steady male partners are not the norm. So women are not necessarily looking for a monogamous partner to have a child with. And lastly, rape and forced prostitution are sadly common and condoms are clearly not options in such situations. But despite all of these problems, many public health NGOs return to the states and report success to their donors. Another example is CARE, who stepped in to help out with anticipated famine from a drought in the 1990s. They got the funding from USAID and began handing out food aid to farmers and fishermen. But six months after the drought ended they continued giving out free food. In fact, they did it for two years, which completely destroyed local food production. If they had bothered to reassess they could have directed that money somewhere else that would be more effective.

Failure to plan for the future: Many non-profits and NGOs operate grant to mouth. They depend entirely upon on or two grants with no other major sources of funding and no contingency plans for if they fail to get the grant one year. This has happened to many NGOs since grant funds have been drying up recently. Communities become dependent upon the services that NGOs promise to deliver, so even a year without a program can be devastating. Sometimes the grant money runs out and never comes back or the mission of the NGO refocuses on a different region. Organizations give up and move on to the next project, but locals are left to deal with the aftermath. NGOs also often fail to plan adequately for how the project will continue getting the funds they need once they leave. Building a school or a hospital is great, but more goes into running one than just the construction and initial start-up costs. These facilities continue to need supplies, trained paid professionals, electricity, clean water, to pass government inspections, etc. Without a viable plan for how they will obtain the funds for these things locals are often unable to actually see the plan through past a year or two.  Haiti is littered with half built schools, abandoned NGO offices, and communities who once depended upon NGO services but are now struggling. Some NGOs do not even think about how to appropriately pull out and do so suddenly, which does not give local communities time to plan for life without their services. For example, NGOs are pulling out of tent cities and without the free clean water the water quality for these communities is quickly diminishing. Considering the cholera epidemic, this is a serious issue. But Haitians have become understandably jaded by NGOs and many just try to milk the cow for all it is worth now because they know it won't be there in the future. This is bad for both the NGO and the local people. Irresponsible aid is dangerous and harmful to the very communities that such NGOs claim they want to help. If a NGO actually wants to make a long-term difference for a community they have to plan for both how they are going to complete their immediate goals and how to transition out so that communities can be self sufficient.

          Though there are certainly other issues to examine when determining efficacy of aid and NGO programs, these four pieces are useful tools for analysis. Yet even using these sometimes the sheer number of NGOs in Haiti is just too overwhelming. Picking a good non-profit or NGO to donate to can be daunting if you care about making sure your money goes towards a good cause that is handled responsibly. The more I learn about the damage bad aid can do to a community, the more discerning I've become with how and where I donate. But it can take a lot of work to figure out not only if an organization is worth donating to but to trace back their affiliations. For example, the FEED project sells burlap bags to raise money to feed hungry children and they have an arm dedicated specifically to Haiti. But they don't actually directly use this money for food programs. Instead, they give it to the World Food Program (WFP), which is a program of the UN. Setting aside my dislike of how the UN has handled itself in Haiti, I previously would never have supported FEED because WFP did not use local food sources. Dumping free food on a community destroys local economies and jobs. A program that feeds the kids for a day but puts their parents permanently out of work it isn't a good solution. But recently WFP has begun getting dairy and rice from local farmers rather than importing it. So they are now on my maybe list, though I would like to see even less imported for their program. But I am glad that they have listened to criticisms and adjusted their approach appropriately. The main issue will be planning for the future since families are now dependent upon.

          While it would be impossible to go through every one of the thousands of NGOs and evaluate them here, I do think it is worthwhile mentioning a few others. The first two have been in the news both right around the earthquake and recently. The last you might not have heard of before, but it has an interesting approach that bodes well for the future of aid programs.

Yele Haiti: Started by Haitian-American musician Wyclef Jean in 2005, this non-profit was initially quite small. Up until the earthquake, Yele Haiti only had $37,000 in assets and mostly provided services through intermediaries. For example, they gave scholarships to poor students to attend a local school that Yele Haiti was not directly affiliated with. In 2009, they also worked with the Timberland Company to raise environmental awareness in Haiti. None of their pre-earthquake activities involved healthcare, emergency services, housing, water, etc. In fact, they were already in financial trouble for failing to report spending to the IRS and accused of shady manipulations of donations. A forensic audit reported that between 2005-2009 $265,580 was improperly funneled to Wyclef Jean and his friends.Yet, when the earthquake hit Wyclef Jean was very vocal about his charity's ability to help and Yele Haiti received $16 million in donations.  Only $5.1 million of that went towards relief efforts, and even then the organization gave contracts to Jean's relatives for projects that were not all completed. He paid himself $100,000 for performing at his own charity's event, and later canceled another performance because Yele Haiti could not cover his fee. He hired his own mistress who had no qualifications. A Florida firm was paid over $1,000,000 for food distribution but there are no records of the firm ever existing. Money was spent all over the place, but rarely was it spent smartly. The New York attorney general's office still has an active investigation into the non-profit, but after Wyclef Jean declined to settle Yele Haiti was officially shut down.
          Yele Haiti fails on many accounts, especially since Wyclef Jean and the other board members mismanaged funds and were not transparent about how money was spent. That alone should be enough to disqualify any non-profit from being a good place to donate. But, even before all of this damning information came out it was clear that Yele Haiti was a poor non-profit choice because it also fails many of my points above. They focused on a seemingly random selection of activities without coordinating well with other non-profits or existing programs. So they tried to build schools, hospitals, job programs, food programs, houses, water, etc. all over the region in very localized spaces but without linking them together into a bigger vision. They also did not communicate with local people about what was really desired or needed so that their $5 million job programs just consisted of hiring people to clean sidewalks that were dirty again within a day. They also failed to plan for how they would actually carry out these programs and had no exit strategy. Before Yele Haiti even closed down, it left behind a string of unfinished projects. Some examples are $93,000 for temporary homes that were never built, $146,000 for a hospital that wasn't finished, and $230,000 for a revitalization of a plaza that was never completed. An orphanage that had become dependent upon $3,000 Yele Haiti gave them a month for food had to scramble when the stipend was unexpectedly cut off. Failure to plan meant not only a scandal for the non-profit but real world damage to vulnerable populations. You can read more about Yele Haiti's failures in this New York Times piece here.

Partners in Health: By far, Partners in Health is the most respected non-profit in Haiti and where most scholars and Haitians alike suggest you donate your money. Paul Farmer, who has a medical degree and a PhD in medical anthropology, founded PIH in the central plateau of Haiti in 1987. Since then they've expanded to eight other sites within Haiti and five other countries. Paul Farmer pioneered the approach to treating drug-resistant tuberculosis that WHO recommends today. PIH's approach works closely with local people, takes into account impediments to successful treatment, and works to develop methods of implementation that are realistic, cost-efficient, and work within those cultures. Most of the paid workers in Haiti are Haitians, and they are committed to training them rather than keeping locals in only low level positions. They coordinate medical services with other organizations and work across multiple regions. They also try to address the many levels of issues that can prevent adequate care for the poor - lobbying politicians, working with pharmaceutical companies, coordinating with other health organizations, and developing ways to get care and medicine to people in rural areas. Some critics have said that Paul Farmer is too idealistic and while his call for healthcare as a human right is admirable, he provides few practical ways to enforce it. In the beginning, PIH also had funding issues in the beginning, but now they are large enough that their existence is relatively stable. For all of these reasons, charity review sites like Charity Navigator rate PIH very highly.
          However, PIH is not perfect. After the huge influx of money from earthquake donations, PIH set up a number of new projects. Since that burst of money has not been sustained, PIH is now trying to figure out how to scale back. For their fiscal year 2011, all of PIH had a deficit of $27,000,000 largely due to grants made to partner organizations after the earthquake. But utilizing the surplus from 2009 along with predicted donations and smart investments should make this up. PIH also does not have an exit strategy, but this is because they plan to stay indefinitely. The Haitian government has come to rely on their services some critics have questioned whether it is best to remove healthcare from government and private businesses. But these hospitals and clinics do provide training and long-term job opportunities for many Haitians. More concerning is the recent report about how PIH has been in a turf war over peanut butter factories. In 2003, Meds and Foods for Kids (MFK) began using local peanut butter sources to develop a nutritional paste. After learning all about it from the MFK founders in 2006, PIH started their own peanut butter paste program. Meanwhile, MFK started a factory with UNICEF money so that everything needed for the nutritional paste could be produced in Haiti using Haitian peanuts and workers. Now PIH is building its own even bigger peanut butter paste factory. The problem is that there aren't enough peanuts grown locally for both factories and not enough demand for that much nutritional paste. This kind of redundant overlapping project does nothing to help people locally and just directs money away from other places where it could be spent.

Prosperity Candles: This young non-profit takes an entirely different approach that is interesting and worth investigating. They actually began in Iraq in 2008, where they began working with local women to teach them how to make candles and then provided a platform for them to sell the candles to an international market. They partnered with a local more established Iraq non-profit and worked with local concerns. Listening to the women they wanted to help, they arranged for them to do this work in their own homes since women's mobility is limited. Women were also trained not only how to make the candles but how to teach the skill to others and given basic business instruction so they could be entrepreneurs on their own. After the earthquake, Prosperity Candles began their plans to come to Haiti and established a candle factory in one of the industrial parks in the North. I recently sat down with one of the women who is highly involved in the Haiti arm of their project and I was impressed with their foresight and plans. The have now traveled to Haiti a few times and worked with local existing non-profits and community leaders to develop a plan of action that would adapt their models used elsewhere to local concerns and needs. Unlike in Iraq, women in Haiti move about freely so a factory made more sense. It also increased the prestige of working there because the job would be considered steady work (travay) unlike craft items made out of the home. They have a clear exit strategy where they want to train the women in candle making and business skills so that they can slowly hand over the business to the women. At the end of their project the women will fully own the business and be able to run it completely on their own and have all profits gained through selling their candles, while still providing the platform to sell them. They recognize the problem for many women of leaving their children behind to go to work, so they are arranging for flexible working schedules and investigating options for child care. While their goals are very localized, they are reaching out to nearby non-profits that focus on women and families to coordinate. And they are trying to use local beeswax rather than importing it. They are young and their Haiti project just getting under way so we will have to wait before we can evaluate their lasting impact and effectiveness. But their commitment to local input, working with other non-profits, and a strong exit strategy look promising.


Hopefully this discussion has helped make sense of the frustration and protests against foreign presence in Haiti. Many Redditors have been involved with non-profits either directly as volunteers or just through donating funds. US Redditors also have their tax money used on many of these projects in Haiti and elsewhere. Therefore, I hope you'll find this discussion useful not only for understanding Haiti but for being a better informed citizen and donor. If you have any questions or want to discuss a topic, please post your comments in the reddit thread here. I have also put together an album of relevant photos I have taken that you can view here. If you would like to do your own research on these topics I have included some suggestions below. Thanks for reading!

Further Reading

Crewe, Emma and Elizabeth Harrison
1998 Whose Development? An ethnography of aid. University of Michigan Press

Farmer, Paul
2003 Pathologies of Power:Health, Human Rights, and the New War on the Poor. University of California Press. 

Farmer, Paul
2005 The Uses of Haiti Updated Edition. Common Courage Press.

Farmer, Paul
2006 AIDS and Accusation: Haiti and the Geography of Blame. University of California Press.

Schuller, Mark 
2012 Killing with Kindness. Rutgers University Press. 

Schwartz, Timothy T.
2008 Travesty in Haiti: A True Account of Christian Missions, Orphanages, Fraud, Food Aid and Drug Trafficking. Charleston, South Carolina: BookSurge Publishing.

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