Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti

What Haiti Needs Right Now

New York Times Editorial

Haiti has an ocean’s worth of problems, but money shouldn’t be one of them. The world’s response to the Jan. 12 earthquake was swift, with more than 150 countries and organizations promising to send hundreds of millions of dollars for emergency relief and billions more for long-term rebuilding.

Three months after the country and its government were all but crushed, nearly $800 million for relief projects has been committed. That is generous but still only slightly more than half of the $1.5 billion that the United Nations believes Haiti needs just to get through the next year — to build housing, provide public health services, security and meet other basic needs.

The Haitian government also needs an estimated $350 million in cash simply to function over the coming fiscal year — for ministry payrolls, policing and schools. So far, it has received pledges for about $200 million.

The managing director of the International Monetary Fund, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, told last month’s international donors’ conference that unless the government got direct budget support it would be impossible to expect bigger rebuilding plans to succeed.

Donors have had good reasons to resist, knowing that corruption and waste have long swallowed far too much of the aid sent to Haiti. They usually send goods or work only through nongovernmental organizations. But there is no chance of building even a minimally effective Haitian government without some direct cash.

The I.M.F. has lent its vote of confidence and committed to helping create new mechanisms for accountable government spending. The fund had begun that effort even before the quake, working with Haiti and donors to peg direct aid to benchmarks of performance and transparency, and sending experts there to train officials in the basics of managing cash and accounts.

France and Spain have since significantly increased direct budget aid; we hope that Congress can eventually overcome its reluctance, too.

The relief effort has made progress, although not nearly enough. Of the more than a million people displaced by the quake and living in fragile encampments, only a few thousand have been moved from the most flood-prone areas to new, sturdier shelter. This stems less from a lack of money or materials than the vastness of the disaster and the Haitian government’s continued failure to move swiftly and decisively to identify and claim land for resettlement.

The United Nations and nongovernmental organizations are pressing ahead. Engineers have tagged thousands of surviving homes as safe, ready for use when the rains get worse. Relief workers are on pace to meet their goal of distributing plastic tarps and other makeshift shelter materials to every displaced family by the first of May, when the rainy season peaks. So far, there has been no major outbreak of disease or starvation.

The government of President René Préval and Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive has a long way to go to prove its competence and reliability. But the Haitian people should not have to suffer for their government’s failings any more than they already have.

For these relief efforts to continue — and improve — Haiti needs more emergency aid and the Haitian government needs more direct budgetary support. And as the I.e M.F.’s Mr. Strauss-Kahn put it so aptly, “There will be no medium term,” for Haiti, “ if we are unable to manage the short term.”

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