Canada has poured more than $1-billion of aid into Haiti since 2006. As other humanitarian crises, such as Syria, cry out for the world’s attention, Ottawa is right to reassess the amount of aid we send to the struggling Caribbean nation.
An attendant, and even more crucial, concern is how that aid is delivered. Most of Ottawa’s generosity currently bypasses the Haitian government, Haitian charities and Haitian businesses. That has to change.
Everyone from former governor-general Michaëlle Jean to current Haitian President Michel Martelly agrees that Haitians need to have more say in spending aid from international donors.
Clearly the current system isn’t working. Three-and-a-half years after a 35-second earthquake devastated Haiti, more than a quarter million people are still living in squalid camps. Corail-Cesselesse, a post-quake community built for the homeless that was meant to symbolize the motto “Build back better,” is instead a case study in failure. Tens of thousands of Haitians remain isolated in the camp, north of Port-au-Prince, with dim prospects.
How has Canada spent its aid money in Haiti? The Mennonite Central Committee of Canada executed a $1.4-million project that placed 100 vulnerable Haitian families in homes. Oxfam Quebec implemented a $2.5-million project that put latrines and showers in communities.
These are noble efforts, but the bypassing of Haitian authorities creates a threefold problem. First, it breeds structural weakness in the county’s institutions, fuelling dependency and sabotaging Haiti’s ability to stand on its own feet. Secondly, in Haiti, international aid has given rise to a republic of NGOs where the delivery of services is incredibly chaotic.
Finally, international donors will never be able to assess a project’s effectiveness as well as Haitians themselves, who have a much greater stake in their own country’s success because they actually live in their communities.
Some may argue the Haitian government and its institutions are corrupt. This may be true. But as long as aid dollars continue to pour in, largely bypassing Haitian authorities, there is very little incentive for them to change, become accountable or create the kind of economic development that could truly lift the country out of poverty.
Over the past few years, Canada has given more to Haiti than any other country, including Afghanistan. It’s time we take a hard look at how, not just how much, those dollars are being spent.