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Haiti: Rescue, Recovery, and Effective Development Aid

By Kaufmann | January 18, 2010 5 Comments »

We are pained about the death toll and human suffering in Haiti and we share their sorrow.  With the exception of the tsunami in Asia, this tragedy is unprecedented in recent memory in a country not at war.  Current technology makes the devastation and death instantly clear around the globe.  Such technology also enables the outpouring of private financial contributions to charity (like the ease by which one can contribute by texting the number 90999 and typing “Haiti” to contribute to the Red Cross efforts in that country)…

It is also clear what the immediate emergency rescue and relief needs are, such as water, food and medical treatment, and then some shelter and emergency power.  While precious few days may have been lost at first, the international community is now rushing assistance to Haiti, and improved coordination efforts on the ground are beginning to show results.  And we know that in recent times international donors have generally had a decent track record recently in emergency relief efforts when disaster strikes.

What is much less clear is what needs to happen after the first emergency stage in Haiti, and what the response from the international community ought to be in the short-to-medium term.  Some pundits are providing recommendations brimming with certitude.  But it just may turn out to be more efficient to start from a position of humility and doubt, acknowledging a measure of collective ignorance as to what will work in Haiti in the medium term.  This is not based in the abstract: for many years, until the earthquake last week, the international community approach to development aid in Haiti was far from a success.   The blame is not merely due to insufficient aid funds (here for details), or the erratic and often military-driven foreign policy of the US in Haiti.  It is much more complicated than that, it relates to domestic factors as well, including leadership and governance.  Such simplistic views on funding and finger pointing at one foreign power betray a misunderstanding of the development process.

In a meaningful sense, Haiti had not yet become a developing country prior to the earthquake.  Granted, two weeks ago Haiti may not have been an extreme case of a ‘failed state’, in the way that Somalia has been for instance.  While very weak, Haiti did have a government of sorts, which had made some tentative inroads in some areas over the past decade (such as on voice’).

But political correctness aside, Haiti had not yet joined the developing country set.  Public Sector as well as Rule of Law institutions were fledgling at best, and often dysfunctional at worst.   The two comparative charts below illustrate the enormous challenge that Haiti was facing prior to the devastating earthquake, for two governance dimensions, namely Rule of Law, and Government Effectiveness.   Not shown here is the chart for Control of Corruption, which features a very similar pattern.

Rule of Law in Haiti in 2008, comparative

The evidence suggests that Haiti was placing barely a notch above the failed state of Somalia.  It was not far above it, or from Sudan, for instance.  Haiti’s ‘performance’ was well below developing countries in Central America, for instance, which have had to cope with their share of natural disasters.  The contrast between Haiti and the Dominican Republic, which share the same island of Hispaniola, was also stark by the end of 2008.  Likewise, Haiti’s institutional performance was far below that one of Indonesia, which took the brunt of the tsunami.  Indonesian institutions, even if less than stellar (yet improving), played a key role in the relief and recovery effort post-tsunami.  That is unlikely to be the case in Haiti.  While Haitians should take the initiative as much as possible in leading their own recovery and reconstruction effort, it is counterproductive to claim that very soon the international community ought to play a ‘supportive role’, providing as much funds as possible to the government, and expecting it to deliver in taking the lead now.

Haiti Government Effectiveness, 2008, comparative

Instead, the international community will need to be much more involved than usual, for a longer period, and in a more ‘hands-on’ fashion than warranted in developing countries — akin to a ravaged post-conflict situation.  This does not mean that one country (whether the US or France) or one institution (whether the UN or one multilateral development bank) should take full control of the effort, either.  This would be a bad idea.  First, because the enormous challenges ahead are vast and in different areas (ranging from security, emergency relief and infrastructure, to development), and there is not a single country or institution that could do it well across the spectrum.  Each country and institution has a comparative advantage, and the needs are dire.  Second, the track record by many international donors in Haiti is spotty, and thus there is uncertainty as to which country or institution will perform.  Some division of labor , as well as a modicum of competition may work out better than a foreign monopoly in the aid effort.  Third, given history and culture in Haiti, it may backfire for a country like the US to take over.

And the last (but not least) reason: while I argue that we need to be realistic regarding how much can be expected from the Haitian central government in the near future, the same is not the case at the community level in Haiti.  Even in terms of ensuring an orderly and efficient distribution of emergency relief right now, it would be well advised to collaborate much more closely at the community level (and its leaders) within Haiti.

In fact, after the urgent relief effort and coping with the challenges of exodus, migration and maintaining order, as a medium term aim there an opportunity to help build Haitian institutions so that the country jumps aboard a sustained development path.   Currently we see that the media is concerned about the looting and violence that is taking place in the capital.  Less known is the fact that there was frequent looting and violence well before the earthquake, a symptom of dysfunctional institutions.

Consequently, complementing the massive needs for food and infrastructure, the medium term approach to aid in Haiti needs to invest significantly in governance institutions, in some cases essentially starting from scratch.  There is not a one and only ‘right way’ of doing this, and by one anointed international or government agency.  This massive effort will take an number of key players — governmental and non-governmental– from the outside and from within the country.  New technologies (including satellite) ought to play a major role in helping coordinate efforts, mitigating the traditional rationale that there should be one single coordinating agency in control.

Further, we should be realistic about the void in Haiti’s central government in the short term, but entrust its people and communities with major responsibility in the process that will ensue for years to come.  Finally, we should be draw the lessons from the mistakes in past development aid programs, ensure that donors ensure that projects and funds are carried out with decent governance standards, and that uncertainty is factored into the design and implementation of development strategies and projects.

Topics: Aid Effectiveness, Corruption, Measurement Frontiers, Public Financial Management, Rule of Law, Transparency, Voice and Human Rights | | 5 Comments on Haiti: Rescue, Recovery, and Effective Development Aid

5 Responses to “Haiti: Rescue, Recovery, and Effective Development Aid”

  1. Economics of Haiti Aid Efforts - Economix Blog - NYTimes.com Says:
    January 19th, 2010 at 8:00 pm

    […] evaluation of governance in Haiti, before the […]

  2. from China 101 Says:
    January 21st, 2010 at 1:25 am

    On Haiti: Rescue, Recovery, and Effective Development Aid.
    What’s more, charities raising money for Haiti right now are going to have to earmark that money to be spent in Haiti and in Haiti only. […]

  3. EmergingFrontierMarkets.com Says:
    January 21st, 2010 at 11:02 am

    […] What is much less clear is what needs to happen after the 1st emergency stage, and what the response from the intl community ought to be in the short-to-medium term […]

  4. Bahar Salimova Says:
    January 27th, 2010 at 2:55 pm

    Dear Daniel,

    Thank you very much for an interesting posting. Haiti’s recovery process is not going to be easy to tackle and will require a lot of effort both from the international community and from local people. Thus, it is important not to forget lessons learned from the previous disaster responses and to integrate them into work in Haiti early on. The Independent Evaluation Group (IEG) has prepared an interesting note on the World Bank Group Response to the Haiti Earthquake: Evaluative Lessons. The note points out that the situation in Haiti is especially overwhelming because of the breakdown of social order and a fragile security situation, the near-complete loss of governance structures, and the failure to impose even minimum quality standards on the construction industry. Some of the main lessons highlighted in IEG’s note are the following:

    • Temporary shelters need to preserve existing social relationships. For instance, the layout of temporary shelter structures can reduce crime and violence against women if care is taken during the relocation process to ensure that as many doors as possible face a common and well-lit area.
    • Providing survivors with employment and cash transfers early on has had good results. For instance, taking the time to ensure that all usable building materials are recovered and recycled is a way to ensure that the poor will be able to afford to rebuild. The general population can be helped to recover emotionally through this process with paid work.
    • Donor coordination has always proved to be vital. Ways must be found for involved donors to work together or in parallel – in the short term – on a clearly defined set of activities with the same eligibility requirements and benefits.
    • Design of disaster projects should be simple, based on local participation and taking into account local capacity.
    • Streamlined decision-making and procedures for contracting civil works will help avoid delays. For instance, either a high-powered unit developed for the purpose or existing institutions can provide continuity in planning, coordination, and monitoring.
    • Damage assessments need to be simple and tailored to local construction types, with damage awards closely tied to actual costs.
    • Post-disaster operations need to include measures to reduce long term vulnerability and deal with land ownership issues. Reaching agreement on mitigation measures with the government within the first three months is important, because it becomes harder to get politicians to focus on disaster once the memory of the emergency recedes.
    • Owner-driven housing construction can be more effective than the use of contractors.
    • Leveraging existing private sector capacity is critical for effective emergency response. The private sector can play a key role in infrastructure and logistics, local banking, and provision of physical capacity.

    To read the full version of the note, please click on the following link: http://www.worldbank.org/ieg/haiti.html.

  5. Prof. Yves A. Isidor Says:
    August 2nd, 2010 at 5:12 pm

    For more on Haiti, including an article, Haitian-Americans look down their noses at African-americans, please see: http://www.wehaitians.com.