25 February 2010

Update on Haiti – February 26, 2010

Posted by jcloud under: Emergency; Events; Forum; Haiti; Permaculture; Resiliency; Sustainability .

On Wednesday, along with close to a thousand people, I attended the UNA-Haiti conference at the UN, and the follow-on conversation at the Turkish Mission. The stated aim of the conference was to foster partnerships to allow the re-building of Haiti “against all odds.” “Controlled chaos” is the way one person described it. For the most part the audience was willing to let the moderators and the panelists get their views out, but as soon as there was an opportunity for public comment, a number of individuals expressed impassioned views.

It appeared that in many ways the disaster has drawn together the expatriate community, with a new commitment to help rebuild the country. The UNA-Haiti itself was essentially re-created at the beginning of February, with a new board and a new set of goals:

As of February 7, 2010, the following individuals agreed to serve on the Board of Directors of UNA-Haiti:

Randolph Saint Leger | Harvey Dupiton | Michele Jean-Jacques | Jean Louis Dupiton MD | Darly Coupet | Carmelita Francois | Ernest Benjamin MD | Emmanuel Francois, MD.

A meeting of February 9th , 2010 of the board of directors elected Harvey Dupiton to serve as Secretary General of the Association.

The Board of Advisors of UNA-Haiti consists of:

Lawanda Kamara, Rev. John K. Carmichael, I. William Zartman, Michael Collins, PhD, Patricia Hinds.

Its immediate goals are to:

1. Mobilize and sustain a constituency for the short-term recovery and long-term development of Haiti.

2. Foster Partnerships among Haitian organizations, NGOs, the private sector, and Government.

While not many details were given, the goal stated repeatedly was to “build back better,” and to have Haiti become “a model of sustainable development.” The response to the disaster so far has already been overwhelming, with more than $675 million raised in response to response to the UN’s first appeal, and this appeal has since been revised to seek $1.4 billion. The number of NGOs on the ground has reportedly increased from about 4000 before the earthquake to as many as 10,000 today, although many are working without coordination.

One of the most remarkable of the many people I met was Rene Aubry, a Harvard- and Columbia-trained attorney/MBA and MPA, who chaired the first panel and called for a “50-year business plan,” a line that got spontaneous applause from a majority of the audience.

Other speakers emphasized the realities on the ground: 50% of the population illiterate, only 50% of children getting any schooling at all, and barely 2% graduating high school; few facilities and virtually no government presence outside of Port-au-Prince; no indigenous agriculture (largely because of international trade policies); a devastated ecology;  poor sanitation and an absence of utilities such as energy, water, transportation, and communications; and some of the ingrained cultural and historical problems, such as the mistrust of government and the mistrust of UN troops which have been involved, wittingly or unwittingly, in political repression.

A lot of emphasis was placed on partnering with NGOs (panelists were asked to recommend those they thought most highly of, but apart from Fonkoze, the largest microlender in the country and effectively for many the only accessible bank, there were few mentions), working with the government (which is finally seen as “at least trying to do the right thing”), and drawing the diaspora together and offering them, for example, the kinds of bonds that helped establish the state of Israel and power its remarkable prosperity. There was also a remarkable sense of friendship and openness amongst the participants; the sense that I had throughout the event is that I was accepted and viewed as a potential partner, and that anyone genuinely willing to lend a hand would be welcomed.

In addition to much of this direct experience, there have been many other encounters large and small that have deepened and enriched all of our thinking over the past few days, and a host of new documents and email conversations. On Tuesday we met with Sarah Brownell of Sustainable Organic Integrated Livelihoods (SOIL) for a two-hour discussion of the realities of running a small NGO on the ground. And on Wednesday at the reception I met Dutch journalist and documentary film maker Ton Vriens, of the Turtle Tree Foundation, which employs some 90 Haitian women making handmade products which they sell online. Ton was in Haiti during the quake, and gives a first-hand account in his article “Can Haiti Rise from the Rubble?” and makes some pointed political comments as well. This is an important analysis, portions of which are reproduced below.

Our own Matt Polsky, Research Fellow at the Institute for Sustainable Enterprise, has written along with several fellow students at NYU’s Center for Global Affairs, a paper on reforestation in Haiti that is published here for the first time.

We’ve also been referred to Bob Maguire’s testimony to the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, which is available here. Maguire, associate professor of international affairs, director of the Haiti Project at Trinity, and chair of the Haiti Working Group at the U.S. Institute of Peace, provides an overview of the history of Haiti and its economic and political challenges over the years, and outlines recommendations for rebuilding Haiti and ensuring economic and political stability for its people. These include:

  1. Welcoming Dislocated Persons (i.e., those who have left Port-au-Prince in the aftermath of the quake)
  2. Supporting the Creation of a National Civic Service Corps
  3. Strengthening Haitian state institutions through accompaniment, cooperation and partnership
  4. Getting Money into the Hands of Poor People
  5. Seeking Out and Supporting Institutions, Businesses, and Leaders who work toward Greater Inclusion, Less Inequality, and Enacting Socially-Responsible Strategies for Investing in Haiti

Our friend Michael Dabbene writes:

Bob was on Charlie Rose show Tues night (he is advisor to State dept and Hillary on Haiti and I met w/ him in NY Wed and has agreed to be my advisor as well); see


An hour on Haiti with Anderson Cooper from CNN, Dr. Dean Lorich from the Hospital for Special Surgery, Dr. Louisdon Pierre from Brooklyn Hospital Center and Robert Maguire from Trinity Washington University.

All of these provide important and valuable ideas – and it still seems that there are some elements that are missing from the picture, and this perhaps where the newly-formed “Working Group for a Sustainable Haiti” may play a role.

For one thing, there are already efforts being made to assert centralized control over the reconstruction effort, and one has to ask whether the cause of sustainability might be better served by a multiplicity of self-organizing initiatives rather a politically-controlled endeavor. Indeed, the government itself might be better served by a policy of aiding and assisting the multiplication of these initiatives rather than trying to coordinate and control them.

Just as importantly, it’s clear that the future of Haiti will be significantly influenced by events outside Haiti, whether it is the conversation in the diaspora, the policy dialogues in Washington and elsewhere, or the decisions of foreign corporations to find the market at the bottom of the pyramid. Influencing this analysis and discussion – from the perspective of long-term ecological, economic, and cultural sustainability – is not an insignificant role to play.

Then there are the issues that need to be assessed on the ground, discussed with the Haitian people, and implemented through the network of relationships that is emerging to reconnect Haiti with its expatriate community. All of the institutions, financial instruments, and ecological practices can be built in partnership with the citizens of Haiti in a way that has not been possible before. We have seen examples of remarkable social change over the course of a single generation, such as the end of the Cold War and the Soviet Union, the end of apartheid, or the evolution in the last decade in Rwanda. Could there be, as a result of the disruptive force of the earthquake, a dramatic break with the past, and the emergence of a generation of educated, self-aware, visionary community and business leaders committed to a sustainable future for Haiti?

These are the sorts of questions we are looking to ask on the conference call on February 28. The call-in information (currently here) will be posted again here, along with a proposed agenda for the discussion.

In addition to providing a first-hand account of the earthquake, Ton Vriens’ “Can Haiti Rise from the Rubble?” reviews many recent developments and raises a number of important questions. Here are a few of the key excerpts from his follow-on discussion:

Back in the US I find in my inbox several outcries about a piece by David Brooks in the NYT. Brooks had the audacity to write: “Haiti, like most of the world’s poorest nations, suffers from a complex web of progress-resistant cultural influences. There is the influence of the voodoo religion, which spreads the message that life is capricious and planning futile. …We’re all supposed to politely respect each other’s cultures. But some cultures are more progress-resistant than others, and a horrible tragedy was just exacerbated by one of them.”

And Brooks concludes: “In this country, we first tried to tackle poverty by throwing money at it, just as we did abroad. Then we tried microcommunity efforts, just as we did abroad. But the programs that really work involve intrusive paternalism.”

Brooks omits our painful record of intrusive paternalism in Haiti. The US Marines’ occupation from 1915 to 1934 not only protected the corporate robbery of Haiti’s last resources like tropical wood but also brought into existence a Haitian army that could be used against its population, laying the foundation for decades of brutal dictatorship. Tocqueville’s overquoted cliché, “people get the government they deserve,” might have been valid for Haiti – the first independent black state that came out of the only successful slave rebellion in colonial history – if the US had not consistently manipulated each and every social and political movement. I was there in 2004 when American secret agents hosted a ragtag army of former officers in Montana with women and champagne and provided them with the means to raise a rebellion against then-President Jean-Bertrand Aristide. Under the pretense of a civil war, Aristide was unceremoniously escorted out of the country. The international community did not protest. After all, Haiti is considered to be part of America’s backyard. And it must be said, the leftist ex-president had not lived up to his promise of developing the poor country.

President René Préval – once Aristide’s right hand – is in much better standing in Washington. The praise for the stability of his regime – not the greatest art with a UN army at his side – has enabled Préval to become as much of an autocrat as his predecessors. The opposition, about fourteen political parties, has been excluded from participating in the coming elections. He had his prime minister, Michèle Pierre-Louis, removed – one of the few in Haiti’s politics with a clean reputation. And he appointed so many of his shady party members to powerful positions that the government of Haiti, from top to bottom, has become more than ever a mafia. The population is distrustful of a political process so blatantly skewed and did not show up for the last elections. Those who travel in the country see very few results from the billions in aid that Haiti received over the last five years.

The catastrophe caused by the earthquake poses a huge demand on the international community. But, how do they build a country that competes with Iraq and Afghanistan in corruption? How to collaborate with an administration that has no authority or respect among its own population? No American or UN official is willing to talk openly about the unreliability of the Haitian government.

In the public discussion in the United States two opposite camps can be discerned. David Brooks belongs to the group of skeptics who believe the US should pass over the Haitian authorities, even if this will irk European partners. More moderate voices hope for a diplomatic solution, that – albeit formally – respects Haitian’s sovereignty, but at the same time allows plenty of control to remain outside on how the aid money is going to be spent.

Tatiana Wah, an American-trained economist at Columbia University’s Earth Institute on loan as a policy advisor to the Haitian government, has formulated a plan for reconstruction. Wah says the Haitian government is behind this plan and that Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive has signed off on it. The proposal emphasizes the need for an overarching National Reconstruction and Development Council (NRDC) and asks the international community urgently to direct all donations, also those of NGOs and private donors, to a Multi-Donor Trust Fund, that will be made available to the NRDC. When asked who will be in control of the funds, Wah believes the Trust Fund could be housed at the Inter-American Development Bank and could be supervised by all donors. “But the (Haitian) government will have to be in the lead of course.”

She knows my doubts about the Préval administration and argues that the international community should learn to accept that this is a democratically elected leadership and that, as in any third world country, you have to work with what is available. Wah sees the emergency aid machine failing because they are not willing to work with the institutions of civil society – neighborhood committees, unions, professional organizations and local governments. “What are they thinking? That this is some kind of jungle and that you can’t work together with any Haitian?”

So far the population of Port-au-Prince has shown remarkable restraint and patience in their day-to-day suffering. But the growing frustration with the aid-machine’s slow and minimal distribution of supplies, the mounting anger with a president and a cabinet that is invisible, the mistrust against the UN and American troops, all this forms an incendiary mix. Many Haitians see themselves badly served by an elitist government that so obviously is protected by the almighty US.

Tatian Wah, reached in Port-au-Prince, hopes that the population will be offered, as soon as possible, a realistic perspective on what is in store for them. An international conference about Haiti is planned for March at the UN in New York. A consensus about plans for reconstruction should be reached by then.

In a panel discussion about Haiti’s future at Columbia University, the disparity in opinion is becoming clear. The US ambassador to the UN and some UN managers are all talking about a Marshall Plan that will not just rebuild but modernize Haiti’s society entirely. This grand plan will of course be under the auspices of the UN. But the UN big wigs offer very few ideas on how to go about this and what the priorities are. How will the Haitian people find work? How will they be able to make a living? The magic word is, of course: foreign investors.

The idea that American and other companies will jumpstart Haiti’s economy reflects the vision of Paul Collier, an Oxford economist who was commissioned by the UN before the earthquake to develop a megaplan on how to pull Haiti out of its state of permanent poverty. When reading Collier’s study, one becomes excited by his broad and optimistic vision for Haiti. But the Achilles’ heel of the plan is the expectation that foreign investors will once again build maquilladores, factories that assemble garments and other products. In other words, sweatshops with low wages – Haiti as a small China in the Western hemisphere. But will Haitian workers accept to work a full day for approximately $2.70? Last year fierce demonstrations were held demanding at least $5 a day – and even that is not enough to feed a family in the capital. Collier estimates that the sweatshops would generate 250,000 jobs and he believes other economic ventures, tourism for example, could turn the tide in Haiti. But tourism is hard to imagine in a country were the sight of heartbreaking poverty even before the catastrophe made one nauseous.

The Clintons – Bill in his role as UN envoy – have both been enthusiastic promoters of the Collier vision for Haiti. Corporations were invited to well-visited business seminars in posh hotels in Miami and Port-au-Prince. Who wouldn’t want to have lunch with charismatic Bill? And the Clinton-friend George Soros, the idealistic tycoon, offered 25 million dollars for an industrial park in the capital. But, at the end of the day, businesses are not ready to invest in a country they pulled out of in the eighties when it became too unstable. As one visitor to a seminar overheard a company representative say: “And so where can my people go for a jog?”

The economist Jeffrey Sachs offers a different perspective. His proposal for Haiti is radical, expensive and credible. The idea that private companies will come to Haiti’s rescue is unrealistic in his opinion. “The rebuilding of Haiti is a public matter that should be directed under public directorship. If we do our job, and are able to construct new infrastructure, private companies will come to Haiti. But keep in mind that it could take ten years.” Sachs believes that modernization of Haiti’s archaic agriculture should be the real jump starter of the economy. The agricultural sector has been consistently neglected, by Haiti’s urban elite as well as by the development agencies. But a majority of Haitians are subsistence farmers and agriculture is the only economic sector that has some viability. The planting season starts in March. Sachs wants containers filled with fertilizer and improved seeds to be sent now. Large biotechnology companies like Monsanto should be pressured to deliver seeds to Haiti.

Building and developing Haiti, including a school system, a basic health care, humanitarian help and a modern infrastructure, will cost about 3.5 billion dollars per year for the next five years. A back-of-the-envelope break-down shows 1.5 billion for humanitarian aid, official development aid and the UN-troops (about 600 million a year) and seven to 12 billion to rebuild Haiti.

Is this politically feasible in view of the general skeptism about development aid and nation building in general? Sachs thinks Obama should ask Congress for an appropriation bill of one billion dollars before all news cameras have left Haiti. But to the disappointment of many – specifically the estimated one million Haitians that live in the US – the US president did not make any financial commitments, not in the State of the Union and not as of yet. And even if the president could get this appropriation bill signed, it would still leave two-thirds of the budget to be paid by the rest of the international community. Sachs knows Obama – that is to say, he is often invited to the White House to give his opinion on economic policy matters. But his plea to set aside a large amount of money for Haiti comes, as we all know, at a difficult time. As disappointing as it is to many in Haiti, who believe strongly that brother Obama has them in mind all the time, there may be other pressing matters on the presidential agenda, even though his wife is raising funds to help Haiti and half of American households gave generously. Professor Tatiana Wah who works closely with Sachs is holding her breath. “We wait and wait because what has been committed is so insufficient.”

See also:
Kiva’s Update on Haiti
Haiti Rewired Volunteer Database Project

2 Comments so far...

Haiti Ventures Says:

26 February 2010 at 2:49 pm.


Ralph Charles Whitley, Sr. Says:

28 February 2010 at 5:36 pm.

Ladies and Gentlemen:

The people of Haiti, including ALL AGES can and should be first given secure tent facilities with proper access to water, lights, latrines, food, clothing, solar power for washers and dryers…THEN large tents with Computers and Speakers plus Video Presentations should start training all in Creole and French to participate as PAID WORKERS WITH CONTRACTORS clearing debris and rebuilding which estimated will take over THREE (3) YEARS. Is it possible to hire those from ALL AGE GROUPS and TRAIN ALL FOR CONSTRUCTION AND CLEANUP ? Y E S !

WE CAN DO IT was the wording on a 1942 well known sign with ‘ROSIE” and it can be done again.


Ralph Charles Whitley, Sr. CFC032631, Florida plus KC4NUQ [email protected] 022810

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