Saturday marks the third anniversary of the devastating earthquake that struck Haiti and left 1.5 million people displaced or homeless. Rebuilding has been slow. In the three years since a ‘republic of NGOs’ descended on Haiti, their lack of progress is beginning to cause the faith of some Canadians to be shaken, if not completely lost.
Indeed, the Minister of International Co-operation’s concern with the slow progress in Haiti is so great, he announced a review of Canada’s long-term strategy for the still reeling nation. Others, like Margaret Wente and Don Cherry, would go further and have Canada retreat from Haiti altogether. It is fair to say that among Canadians, in general, confidence and hope for rebuilding Haiti are at an all-time low.
As a leading voice, Habitat for Humanity Canada acknowledges the need to rebuild confidence in the NGO sector if NGOs are going to rebuild Haiti. It means joining the debate on Canada’s future in Haiti and taking on those who would give up hope. It also requires all of us in the sector to take a long hard look at the work we are doing and prove that it delivers sustainable impact as promised.
Julian Fantino, the Minister of International Co-operation, is right to ask for accountability and a review is welcome. The international aid sector should be challenged to achieve what it sets out to do. Canadians deserve to know that the dollars they contribute to rebuilding Haiti are actually producing results.
When the earthquake hit in 2010, Habitat for Humanity had been in Haiti for more than two decades. We were there to build safe, decent shelter, as well as the capacity and skills of Haitian women and men. As such, Habitat for Humanity has a long perspective on the successes and failures of the rebuilding process. The world saw the destruction but we were already on the ground as lives were lost, homes destroyed, and billions of dollars in damage occurred.
Then came the flood of NGOs from around the world, with some estimates putting the number of organizations there to ‘help’ at 9,000. Some of those had great impact. Others had impact that was slower to progress than expected. But many only added to the chaos and confusion on the ground.
Greater accountability over aid dollars is the only effective way to thin the ranks of those who are getting in the way of real progress in rebuilding Haiti. Aid agencies must be held accountable for every dollar received from donors and partners – including the Canadian government and taxpayers who have invested in our projects in Haiti and elsewhere.
With the support of the Canadian International Development Agency, Habitat Canada just completed a neighborhood revival project in Simon Pele, an urban slum of Port-au-Prince. The return on the $1.3-million Canadian taxpayers invested in our aid project helped build safe, decent shelter for almost 4,600 families and provided practical skills and job training for 23,000 Haitian women and men.
Results matter. Habitat for Humanity has contributed to emergency and permanent housing for more than 50,000 families or 250,000 individuals to date. Canadian volunteers in the Jimmy Carter Work Project helped build 100 homes during its first week-long project in November, 2011, and another 100 homes in Leogane in 2012.
The results of these projects demonstrate that there has been positive, effective progress in Haiti. To those like Don Cherry and Margaret Wente who propose we turn our backs and watch Haiti disappear in our rear-view mirror, we implore you to reconsider because the need is great and real progress is and will continue to be possible.
A move towards greater accountability will restore the confidence Canadians need to not turn their backs, close their wallets or shut their minds to the issues in Haiti. Resources are available, such as through Canada Revenue Agency, to assist in selecting NGOs to ensure funds donated impact real change.
Canadians know the need continues to be great and do not want to turn away from Haiti, but they are right to expect that everyone working there be accountable for their actions and spending. There are results-based, effective and cost efficient recovery and development projects being done in Haiti by hard-working NGOs.
This is not a time to stop what we’re doing, but rather to learn from what we have done to ensure we can effectively complete what we’ve started.
Mark Rodgers is the chief operating officer of Habitat for Humanity Canada