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Debate on Haiti aid grows

As Haitians struggle to respond to an explosion of cholera amid homelessness and the rubble remaining from January’s massive quake, a debate has flared over how (and even whether) to provide aid to this poor country.

This is a never-ending debate, of course, but it likely has flared up this time because of a provocative article by the Wall Street Journal entitled “Aid Spawns Backlash in Haiti.” The gist of the article (again, not a new argument) is that aid has made Haiti weak and dependent on outsiders. All the relief efforts haven’t changed much:

But as the past few months have made clear, there is little coordination among the NGOs or between the NGOs and Haitian officials. Some NGO plans don’t fit or clash outright with the plans of the government. Some are geared toward short-term relief—a classic case of giving a man a fish instead of teaching him to fish. More than a million people are still living in tent cities across Haiti, fueling a cholera epidemic that has killed 796 people even as NGOs have rushed to contain it. The United Nations has asked for $164 million to help combat the disease.

Lack of NGO coordination, lack of sustainable assistance plans, the tendency for foreign aid to inadvertently undermine local government authority and responsibility — these are all legitimate problems.

But what many critics of aid seem to always leave out of these stories is that very little of the promised aid has actually been delivered to Haiti. Hey, maybe that’s why it doesn’t work?

Newsweek weighed in last week, with a fairly thorough analysis “No Relief in Sight” on why there’s been so little progress in Haiti. It’s a long read, but a good one that seeks no simple answers.

Here’s a New York Times article that suggests maybe the miracle of microlending can save Haiti. As Americans, we like to think inspiring the entrepreneurial spirit is a better solution than simple charity or assistance. Yeah, I can imagine some mom living in a soggy tent with hungry kids sick from cholera thinking to herself: “Maybe I should start a laundry business.”

As the NYT on microlending notes, down low:

Today, while some 50 nations and organizations have pledged a total of $8.75 billion for reconstruction, less than 15 percent of the total promised for 2010-11 has arrived. (The United States has not yet paid all the $1.2 billion in reconstruction funds it pledged.)

That’s the problem here, folks. The wealthy nations seldom live up to their promises of foreign assistance. Maybe let’s try to completely fund and follow through on an assistance program before we declare it doesn’t work.


About Author

Tom Paulson

Tom Paulson is founder and lead journalist at Humanosphere. Prior to operating this online news site, he reported on science,  medicine, health policy, aid and development for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Contact him at tom[at] or follow him on Twitter @tompaulson.