High-Level Haiti Commentary Touches on Foreign Assistance Reform Themes

Haiti Relief_Michael Appleton_NYTimes

Since almost the moment that a devastating earthquake struck Haiti nearly three weeks ago, high-level world leaders, development experts (including MFAN Principals), and others have published pieces with opinions on what went wrong with development in Haiti and what we can do to make things right.

One common feature of the commentary, with the exception of a few pieces (Atwood and Birdsall come to mind), is the fact that they call for a new development approach in Haiti without mentioning that a transformative debate is happening at all levels of government about how to make overall U.S. development and foreign assistance efforts more effective and accountable.  In spite of this omission, the pieces touch on important themes of foreign assistance reform that MFAN has been aggressively advocating for more than a year, and which are now being discussed as part of the White House’s Presidential Study Directive on Development Policy, the State Department’s Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review, and Congress’ anticipated efforts to revise the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961.  These themes include:

  • Better development coordination across the U.S. government and between the government and other entities (foreign nations, civil society, multilateral institutions, and the private sector);
  • Increased public-private partnerships on development;
  • Better metrics and accountability for aid recipients and U.S. taxpayers;
  • Support for public and civil society capacity-building;
  • Greater in-country ownership of development; and,
  • Strengthened funding for development.

Please find below a collection of opinion pieces on the Haiti earthquake that touch on these issues.  The paragraphs that accompany each hyper-linked title get at the heart of the argument made in each piece:

  • What we can do to help Haiti, now and beyond (The Washington Post-Bill Clinton, January 14) As we clear the rubble, we will create better tomorrows by building Haiti back better: with stronger buildings, better schools and health care; with more manufacturing and less deforestation; with more sustainable agriculture and clean energy.
  • The Underlying Tragedy (The New York Times-David Brooks, January 15) 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.
  • Gordon Brown: We cannot fail the challenge of tackling world poverty (The Independent-Gordon Brown, January 15) But we should not lose sight of our wider responsibilities to address the daily suffering of millions. The first decade of this millennium was striking for the way concern over global poverty finally captured headlines and attracted sustained political and popular attention.
  • 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.
  • France Proposes Strategies for Building Haiti’s Future after Earthquake (The Washington Post-Bernard Kouchner, January 17) We will base our actions on the damage assessments…carried out in the next few weeks and should be based on an analysis of Haiti’s long-term requirements, if we are to put forward an ambitious reconstruction plan, not just for housing and infrastructure but also with regard to public institutions. Regional cooperation is critical.
  • 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…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.
  • 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.
  • How to Help Haiti Rebuild (Foreign Policy-5 experts, January 19) [Michele Wucker]: To avoid other past mistakes, plans for recovery must actively involve Haitians and use the rebuilding as a chance to engage Haitian civil society. The most successful aid organizations combine strong contingents of Haitian staff with training and support provided by a smaller core of international staff.
  • MFAN-related: Haiti’s Tragedy and the Inevitable Controversy (Huffington Post-J. Brian Atwood, January 20) The Haiti operation is an all-government response, but USAID/OFDA is appropriately in the lead. The President has designated Dr. Rajiv Shah, the USAID Administrator to coordinate the USG response and by all accounts he is doing an outstanding job.
  • Some Frank Talk about Haiti (The New York Times-Nicholas Kristof, January 21) So in the coming months as we help Haitians rebuild, let’s dispatch not only aid workers, but also business investors. Haiti desperately needs new schools and hospitals, but also new factories.  And let’s challenge the myth that because Haiti has been poor, it always will be.
  • Helping Haitians (The Washington Post editorial, January 21) Donors and aid organizations cannot neglect the Haitian countryside, whose grinding poverty has encouraged the unsustainable growth of Port-au-Prince. Establishing systems of accountability in the disbursement of aid and nurturing Haitian civil society will also help minimize the corruption for which Haiti has become notorious.
  • MFAN-related: Through the Looking Glass: Haiti and U.S. Development Leadership (Huffington Post-Nancy Birdsall, January 21) Getting immediate relief to the earthquake’s victims is the critical issue right now. But how we do it matters for the long-term stability of Haiti, the U.S. image abroad and our larger foreign policy interests. Unfortunately, the situation today is highlighting the fissures in the U.S. management of development programs that could put our development goals and leadership at risk in Haiti and beyond.
  • We can turn Haiti around (The Guardian-Kofi Annan, January 21) Political instability, wide-spread poverty, and the absence of the rule of law and economic opportunity don’t just increase people’s vulnerability to natural disasters. They create conditions in which terrorism, piracy, corruption and organised crime can thrive and enable these problems to be exported across their borders…Responding to today’s fragile states must go hand in hand with anticipating tomorrow’s.
  • After Reconstruction (Newsweek-Andrew Natsios, January 22) It’s not about reconstruction and humanitarian aid; it’s about institutions. And without them, Haiti will remain a failed state.

To get up to speed on the current discussion on foreign assistance reform, follow the timeline here.

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