Noteworthy News – 1.20

This weekly posting includes key news stories and opinion pieces related to foreign assistance reform and the larger development community.

News on Haiti:

  • Why Haiti Matters (Newsweek-Barack Obama, January 15) In the months and years to come, as the tremors fade and Haiti no longer tops the headlines or leads the evening news, our mission will be to help the people of Haiti to continue on their path to a brighter future. The United States will be there with the Haitian government and the United Nations every step of the way.
  • To Help Haiti, End Foreign Aid (Wall Street Journal-Bret Stephens, January 19) For actual Haitians, however, just about every conceivable aid scheme beyond immediate humanitarian relief will lead to more poverty, more corruption and less institutional capacity. It will benefit the well-connected at the expense of the truly needy, divert resources from where they are needed most, and crowd out local enterprise. And it will foster the very culture of dependence the country so desperately needs to break.
  • If Haiti is to `build back better’ (Miami Herald-Paul Farmer, January 17)  Fourth, aid should be coordinated and conceived in a way that shores up Haitian capacity to respond. Some of this emergency response can be done with longer-range views in mind. Schools must be rebuilt, but in the interim, children must be back in school soon, and rebuilding the city’s housing stock will require a different kind of urban planning and a long-term commitment to respect for the Haitian people’s wishes.
  • The Underlying Tragedy (The New York Times-David Brooks, January 15) This is not a natural disaster story. This is a poverty story. It’s a story about poorly constructed buildings, bad infrastructure and terrible public services. On Thursday, President Obama told the people of Haiti: “You will not be forsaken; you will not be forgotten.” If he is going to remain faithful to that vow then he is going to have to use this tragedy as an occasion to rethink our approach to global poverty. He’s going to have to acknowledge a few difficult truths.

Other news we’re reading:

  • Clinton v. Kerry: The AID war begins (FP Blog-Josh Rogin, January 14) “It is becoming an article of faith in the foreign policy community that development is a third pillar of U.S. national security, but in resources and stature, our assistance programs are poor cousins to diplomacy and defense,” says the Senate report.   The report goes into detail about what that means — a lot more detail than the State Department has offered about how it’s thinking about these issues.
  • Vilsack to evaluate Afghanistan farm aid (Agweek-Jerry Hagstrom, January 11) Vilsack, Shah and Holbrooke all avoided any mention of the concerns with the agencies or on Capitol Hill that USDA may be usurping USAID’s traditional development role and undertaking the Afghan reconstruction effort at the expense of the USDA Foreign Agriculture Service’s traditional mandate to sell U.S. products abroad.  Holbrooke said USDA and USAID personnel have been asked not to identify themselves as being employed by one agency or another. He said there is a senior official in charge of the agriculture effort, but that he could not remember which agency the official is from. Both USDA and USAID leaders report to Ambassador Tony Wayne, who is “the senior director of operations,” Holbrooke said.

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