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WaPo on the Situation in Haiti

November 08, 2010

The factors and forces behind Haiti's plight are too numerous to do justice in a short blog post. Over the weekend, however, the Washington Post ran a tough but fair editorial about the current situation there ("As Haiti Suffers, the World Dozes," November 6, 2010). Here's an excerpt:

Of the billions pledged at the United Nations to rebuild Haiti, barely a fifth of the total, around $1.3 billion, has been approved or dispersed by donors. In some cases -- including, scandalously, in the United States -- all or part of the funds has been held up by lawmakers or bureaucrats. Of the $1.15 billion Washington promised for long-term reconstruction projects, only a trickle has been received so far in Haiti.

The main problem with American reconstruction funding is that the administration and Congress have treated it as business as usual. The bill containing the funds was signed into law by President Obama on July 29; after that, it took almost two months for the State Department to devise a spending plan. Since mid-September, the staffs of at least four congressional committees and the State Department have been engaged in back-and-forth negotiations regarding the particulars of the funding -- mechanisms to promote sound strategy, accounting, transparency and so on. On Thursday, State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said that the U.S. funds would have to wait a bit longer until Congress and State could satisfy themselves that the money wouldn't be stolen or misused once it arrives in Haiti.

...

In and around Port-au-Prince, more than a million people still live in tent cities, scratching out a meager living. Throughout the capital and surrounding areas, huge piles of rubble remain unmoved, awaiting bulldozers. In addition to at least 230,000 people killed in the quake, hundreds of thousands were injured and maimed; many remain in need of medical care.

In Haiti itself, elections are planned at month's end, but that is unlikely to provide quick relief. The government's weakness remains a stumbling block for reconstruction. Lacking clear rules and records governing land ownership, the government has struggled to determine where to build new housing and where to dump mountains of debris. The Interim Haiti Recovery Commisssion, chaired by former president Bill Clinton and Haitian Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive, whose job is to set spending priorities and review reconstruction projects, is severely understaffed and lacks expertise. Even if the international aid flow were much quicker than it has been, Haiti would face enormous problems.

Foot-dragging by international donors...only complicates the picture. In Haiti, it is impossible to draft reconstruction plans without knowing how much funding is likely to be available. Contractors who stand ready to clear debris and rebuild infrastructure and neighborhoods have been kept waiting for weeks and months as desultory donors shuffle paper or squabble....

Haiti has long been plagued by corruption and political violence, and the U.S., which bears more than a little responsibility for Haiti's political troubles, may not be able to do anything to change the country's political culture -- in the short term. But when it comes to humanitarian assistance, a promise is a promise. It's time we kept ours.

-- Mitch Nauffts

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Posted by Bruce Trachtenberg  |   November 08, 2010 at 11:30 PM

Not only is this a good and compelling piece, glad you didn't try to reduce to a 140 character tweet with a link. You did the right thing by posting it and making it something that deserves wide readership -- and a response.

Posted by Renee Westmoreland  |   November 10, 2010 at 10:33 AM

Thanks, Bruce.

Posted by Dorsey Wittig  |   November 12, 2010 at 05:44 PM

I have never seen your site before but it is clear you are serious about what you are trying to do. Yet the last paragraph above about what to do now is nothing more than a wing and a prayer.

A quick read of "Why Foreign Aid to Hati Failed" at

http://www.napawash.org/wp-content/uploads/2006/06-04.pdf

which is from the National Academy of Public Administration whould give a hint. That report released in 2006 about the mess at that time could be different today if Haiti had changed in the last four years.

Problem is they have not. The humantairan aid is going to make everyone feel better but feel better is going to fall into the same disaster category that previous attempts have as can be seen in that report.

Success will only be achieved through structural reform including recognition of private property rights and private markets. Otherwise you are going to get a short-term feel good accompanied by long-term waste.

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  • "[L]et me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is...fear itself — nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance...."


    — Franklin D. Roosevelt, 32nd president of the United States

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