Opportunity in Haiti, One Year On

A Guest Post by Oxfam America

One year ago this week, a devastating earthquake leveled Haiti taking with it the lives of nearly 300,000 and leaving a capital city and a nation in ruins.  President Obama has said that while “countless lives” have been saved with increased access to basic services, “too much rubble continues to clog the streets, too many people are still living in tents, and for so many Haitians progress has not come fast enough.”

On Tuesday, Oxfam America with New Jersey Democrat, Representative Albio Sires, hosted a distinguished group of panelist on Capitol Hill on how the US government is promoting country ownership and building more effective institutions in Haiti 12 months later.  The event, “Haiti, One Year On: Realizing Country Ownership in Haiti,” featured remarks from ABC News Political Commentator and Senior Analyst for National Public Radio Cokie Roberts, Congressman Sires, State’s Special Coordinator to Haiti Thomas C. Adams, USAID Haiti Task Team Director Russell Porter, US Institute of Peace Haiti Working Group Chair Robert Maguire, Oxfam America President Raymond C. Offenheiser, and Deputy Chief of Party for Management Sciences for Health Dr. Florence Duperval Guillaume.


At the event, Maguire acknowledged, that a crucial first step toward sustainable recovery, vs. short-term relief, is empowering the Haitian government. “My feeling has been that the government of Haiti has been terribly demoralized–demoralized in the sense that it has to compete for resources with organizations that have the inside track,” he said.

Guillaume, a Haitian native, who currently overseas aid projects that support 152 public and private sites throughout the country, on Tuesday, asked her fellow panelists and the audience, “When you are talking about rebuilding Haiti, what do you mean exactly? Do you mean rebuilding infrastructure? Because for us, it’s not a question of rebuilding infrastructure, it’s a question of rebuilding people.”

“Country ownership for us is building people in the country; it is working with the communities. Let the community develop the community”, added Dr. Guillaume.  “We have to admit there is opportunity in Haiti…We need to develop with the Haitian community, the global vision. We need to implement the plans with the Haitian population. We need to empower local people. We need to develop local capacity building and at the end, we all together will be proud of what we have realized.”

Reflecting on a lesson learned over the past year, Maguire added that foreign assistance must level the playing field, “reconstituting the Haitian state, not bypassing it and channeling all the resources to NGOs, but yet accompanying it and cooperating with it and considering the state as a partner.”

A pivotal moment in achieving this came last year, with the first-ever announcement of a US Global Development Strategy by President Obama.  As Oxfam President Ray Offensheiser noted, “The international community continues to support the relief and rebuilding efforts in Haiti, but success will ultimately be determined by Haitians themselves, and particularly the Haitian government’s capacity to address long-term challenges. Obama’s new development strategy sets clear goals and priorities, making way for a donor strategy that empowers local communities to fight corruption and hold their governments accountable. As we enter into the critical second year of Haiti’s recovery from the devastating earthquake, we must ensure that the US Administration follows through on this new approach, so that Haitians can lead their own prosperous future.”

Read the full transcript for the event or watch the event today.

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