Haiti: a year and a half after the earthquake
UN Deputy Special Envoy to Haiti, Dr. Paul Farmer, talks about how non-profits can help Haiti recover from the 2010 earthquake.
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A year and a half after the 7.0 earthquake and its aftershocks devastated Haiti, many Haitians continue to live in makeshift shelters, struggle to find clean water, and are combating a cholera outbreak. This is the case even though over a billion dollars were donated to non-governmental organizations to assist the region. Dr. Paul Farmer, United Nations Deputy Special Envoy to Haiti, and co-founder of the non-profit Partners in Health, which has been in Haiti for 25 years, has some explainations for why those dollars have not resolved or prevented today's issues.
In his newly published book, "Haiti: After the Earthquake," Farmer compares Rwanda's use of aid after the 1994 genocide, and Haiti's work with non-profit aid today. He points out that the Rwandan government told non-profits and humanitarian organizations that they had to work with the government or not provide assistance at all. Says Farmer, "I think that's the right way to proceed, you know, to say, 'we [the government] need to coordinate these efforts -- it's mandatory, it's not optional.' And that's a hard lesson, I think, for those of us who work in NGOs to learn."
He points out that after the earthquake, there was an imbalance between funding of NGOs and funding of the public sector. His organization, Partners in Health, received 90 million dollars in donations, whereas the budget of the Haitian Ministry of Health was half that. On an even larger scale, the International Federation of the Red Cross received over 1 billion dollars in donations, while the entire country's budget was approximately 700 million dollars.
There is work that needs to be done that it doesn't make sense for foreigners, or non-government organizations to do, like rebuilding the federal infrastructure. "You're looking at a cholera outbreak," Farmer explains. "How are NGOs and missionaries -- groups like the ones I work, with for example -- how are they going to really replace a public water system? The answer is we can't. We have to find a way to rebuild the public sector."
It might be tempting for well-funded foreign organizations to step in and take the place of the Haitian government, but Farmer warns against that. "Building Haitian institutions, I think, is the best answer I can give. And that means, 'the outside world,' as the Haitians would call it, are not really invited to go in and replace Haitian institutions whether in healthcare or education or infrastructure or private sector development." Farmer encourages "the outside world" to approach the Haitian rebuild with an egalitarian outlook and respect for the country's citizens.
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