Haiti: Progress or Spinning Wheels?

At the mark of the one-year anniversary of the Haiti earthquake, which affected the lives of millions, many journalists and bloggers are examining the progress made.  Although some are emphasizing the continuing difficulty of dealing with food and water shortages, political instability, threats to women’s safety, and the cholera epidemic, others, such as InterAction, offer a more promising and optimistic perspective.

Click here to view the Haiti Aid Map
Click here to view the Haiti Aid Map

At a recent event hosted by the US Chamber of Commerce, a major alliance of public and private sector organizations (InterAction, BCLC, FedEx), introduced an innovative online map of Haiti, which offers the locations and details of all projects currently undertaken, or as InterAction refers to it: Who is doing what, where?”.  The map, shown on the right, offers details on project sectors, local donors in the community, and information on the project scales and budgets; an impressive set of data given that the Disaster Accountability Project found that only 20% of groups responded to requests for information on their projects.

The website appears to highlight the changing emphasis in foreign assistance from inefficient donations to strengthened NGO ties to the role of the corporate community.  Sam Worthington, President and CEO of InterAction, described how $150m has been effectively mobilized by the business community and highlighted notable successes including the 90% of children returning to school.

Some accounts offer a more bleak assessment of the situation in Haiti. A recent Oxfam International report highlights that only 5% of rubble has yet been cleared since the earthquake which, as a previous CGP blog describes, could mean it will take 20 years to clear the debris.  However, a Washington Post article released on January 12th again points to private-public partnerships as providing hope for the future. One such project, run by a Korean giant Sae-A Trading along side the US government and Inter-American Development Bank, will employ 20,000 people in Port-au-Prince. A Caribbean mobile phone carrier Digicel and its CEO, Dennis O’Brien, recently spent $12 million renovating the iconic and historical Iron Market, which collapsed in the quake but was repoened on Tuesday.

Data Compiled From The Guardian
Data Compiled From The Guardian

The statistics highlight the scale of the problem in Haiti with 2.3 million people displaced. The difficulties of constructing a fully-functioning society are daunting when considering the 19 collapsed prisons across Haiti.  This is further cemented by the UN’s prediction that 650,000 Hatians will still be living in camps at the end of 2011.  There appears to be a consensus that progress has been slow, but also that success stories predominantly involve innovative business solutions that create employment.  For example, the World Vision report, One year on: Haiti earthquake response, details a project utilising mobile phone access in Haiti through a mobile banking cash-for-work program.

From the latest reports one other key issue also arises:  In the same manor in which the Kosovors have been excluded from decisions relating to UN governance of their country, the Hatians appear to have been excluded in development.  One of two recent reports from Oxfam International criticizes the international community for bypassing local and national authorities in the delivery of assistance.  Also, a recent Global Development blog article by The Guardian suggests that community participation must be at the heart of reconstruction projects, which again leads to the conclusion that business innovation and investment is needed to harness Haitian labor power and drive recovery forward.  Overall, it seems that in the long-run, if Haiti is not to once again be dependent on international help, engines of growth must be rooted in business.  As blogger Saudra Schimmelpfennig of Good Intentions are not enough points out, “yes machines can build roads faster and cheaper than manual labor, but a lot of good could be done by putting pay-checks into people’s pockets”.  This means that contracts for rebuilding Haiti must go to local contractors, and though private investment has occurred in the past year, much more has to come if a sustainable outcome is to be produced.

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