The #Haiti Aid Effort: Five Unasked Questions

The coverage of Haiti’s problems in the last few weeks left me both disturbed and annoyed. The coverage of the cholera outbreak and the run up to Hurricane Tomas’ passing over the country has been not only very uncritical, but insulting to the Haitian people and overseas viewers alike. The poster boys for this type of coverage has been, quelle surprise, the BBC and CNN. But, when Jamaican news outlets such as TVJ and CVM-TV parrot or rebroadcast this material without pause, I am doubly upset.

The same stale questions were asked and all the questions that should have been asked were not. When they asked the members of the international humanitarian effort what they were doing, the main course was ‘we are trying to educate Haitians on proper hygiene.’ There was also a side of ‘Hurricane Tomas is coming and people don’t want to move.’ Really?!? And none of the interviewers interrogated those pronouncements. 

Do they really think Haitians don’t know that the water is contaminated? The video above was done at about the half year mark. We are coming up on a year after the earthquake, and the situation remains largely the same. So the question is why after all this time, Haitians have no access to clean water? Why is most of the rubble in the same place where it fell after the earthquake in January? When you are desperately poor, and others are too and living in a devastated country, can you just pick up your family and flee? To where? I guess no lessons were learned about this after Hurricane Katrina.

Earthquake in Haiti uploaded by IFRC.

For those of you who have not had many interactions with the ‘development set’, these ignorant, far-removed views might be surprising. I have had many interesting discussions with these people. They mean so well, but too many of them lack genuine sympathy, discipline, and the practical skills to really do something about the problems they have identified.

On one occasion, a large gathering of these people reached the conclusion that we need to improve education for poor people. Thank you for informing us of the sublimely obvious. The question is how? They look at me blank. I thank them for their time and leave. Where Haiti is concerned, this scenario is compounded by allowing these people to express their cluelessness to reporters who do not know enough about anything to be able to ask probing questions. So lets ask the questions in this space.

Unasked Questions About the Haiti Aid Effort

1. Where is all the money? At the Haiti Aid Conference in March, over 5 billion was pledged, but up to June only 2% of that has been delivered. Why have governments been so slow to fulfill their pledges and what percentage of the aid has been delivered at this point? We also need to interrogate how organizations such as the Red Cross have spent, or perhaps more accurately, not spent, the money given them to help Haitians. There certainly is a dearth of credible information. Look at one eye opening attempt to match pledges to actual aid here.

2. Why did Haiti have its first cholera outbreak in almost 100 years now?

3. What are donor countries going to do to better organise their aid contributions? What impact have their actions had on the ability of a weak government to devise and implement a strategy to get Haiti out of its present quagmire? To what extent, and in what ways, have international development partners involved Haitians in their planning processes?

4. How representative are the views of Haitians that are featured in the news coverage? A great many of the people interviewed for news articles or news clips detail the horror of the aftermath of the earthquake and now the hurricane. Some even express disappointment of the aid effort. But what is not reported is that the agenda and legitimacy of the NGOs is being questioned. Yet, the graffiti that covers many of the ruined buildings does just this. Quite a disparity in outlook, isn’t it?

5. Why is the coverage of the role of westerners so celebratory, while the heroic actions of everyday Haitians to help themselves remain invisible? For the life of me I can’t comprehend why Sean Penn is now the go-to guy on all issues Haitian. WTH? And then there is Bill Clinton as fundraiser-in-chief. But what is Clinton’s prior record in Haiti?

The fact that some are so uncomfortable with these questions reveals so much. Let us ask them of our political leaders, our journalists, the U.N., humanitarian workers and ourselves.


About Blipsterfarian Logic

Ever feel like the coverage of entertainment, important social issues, ideas and discussion by Jamaican media is boring, stale and irrelevant? Well Blipsterfarian Logic is for you. Blipsterfarian Logic strives to highlight that Jamaicans enjoy diverse types of entertainment and have diverse interests.
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6 Responses to The #Haiti Aid Effort: Five Unasked Questions

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  2. Jamaipanese says:

    bwoy Haiti always get the shitty end of the stick. No one seems to truly care. America and other major world powers can take things in there hands and make everything right again in a matter of weeks if the wish to I think.

  3. worldperipheries says:

    I agree with you on the issue of pledges (whether natural disaster or “mainstream development”: none of the OECD countries have yet fulfilled the Monterrey promise to dedicate 0.7% of the GDP to ODA) as well as on the media coverage – I get so annoyed reading some analyses about Afghanistan and I am tired of Kristoff’s white knights in Africa columns but I think you are a bit too tough on the aid effort.

    I will talk about Afghanisan because this is what i know but in my little province, we do not have so many donors, yet coordination is extremely difficult, first because of the weakness of government institutions, who are theoretically in charge of coordinating and ensuring NGOs/donors follow government’s priorities, second because coordination involved lots of work and no one wants to be the coordinator (plus agencies get annoyed at what they perceive attempts to control them – sometimes for political/personal purposes) and third because of the sheer magnitude of the task ahead: is it more important to build a school (and get teachers in it), roads to get access to villages (and for them to have access to government services and markets), clinics (with doctors and medicines) or wells and irrigation channels? There are people digging and building every hundreds of meters in this country, and things have improved a lot yet it is never ending, and the result is not impressive either (unless you see pics from 2001 to put things in perspective). Add to this the opportunities for corruption (by local and international entities alike), political considerations and games (e.g. aid efforts through local actors have often been redirected to particular patronage networks) …it is not easy or straightforward to do the right thing (if such a thing exists).

    Concerning the first issue. that of weak states, we still do not have a formula to boost the capacity of weak government and in my experience, common sense and strategic planning is not enough: nine years of courses and capacity building initiatives of all sorts have not managed to overcome the two basic facts that there are no institutional structures in place in practice or an educational system where people get a high school and university education that will allow them to be professional civil servants. There is no also tax revenue collection (and no willingness to tackle this on the government’s side, which has traditionally developed following the rentier model) which means that the state remains unable to takeover anything in a sustainable manner. The whole state-building project is incredibly complex, and, in the short to medium term, well beyond the capacity of even the most clever and experienced development workers I am afraid…

    As for Clinton, if he can keep to his talking points written by someone with knowledge of Haiti, it will be ok: most of the top level people do not have field experience…(would love to see him in a container with a bucket of water to flush the toilets…). Now I was reading from the blog Tales of the Wood that the effort in Haiti had been much better than most disaster relief efforts in the past, showing that there is some applications of lessons learned. So there’s hope?

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