While the focus of attention over the past three months has been on earthquake-relief efforts in Haiti, long-term reconstruction and development in the devastated island nation will be a test case for reforming an outdated U.S. foreign-assistance system.
Simply stated, success in Haiti requires a completely new foreign assistance framework. We need to make sure aid is reaching the Haitian people and is delivered with greater efficiency. There is no better time than now. The United States has led coordination of the international relief effort and will likely be the biggest donor to the recovery effort.
On March 31, the United States and United Nations co-hosted a high-level donors’ conference of more than 100 countries and international development organizations. The conference aimed to secure an initial $3.8 billion in international pledges for a decade-long recovery program that the Haitian government estimates will cost $14 billion. At the end of the daylong meeting, the pledges totaled a healthy $9.9 billion, including $1.15 billion from the United States. We must ensure that we fully fund our pledges for Haiti’s reconstruction and equip our agencies to do a better job of delivering aid.
Bread for the World is encouraged that so many donor nations came together to bolster humanitarian relief for Haitian people and chart the road to recovery. However, the significant challenges we face to effectively coordinate the ongoing relief work tell us that in order to achieve real success, we must administer Haitian aid with a more capacity-building approach.
To make our long-term work in Haiti more effective and sustainable, we need to make long-term development the primary objective. As we engage the Haitian government on its plan for reconstruction and development efforts that respect the will of Haiti’s people, it is important that an empowered U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) lead the way within our government.
We need a strong development agency to carry out our objectives to support Haitian reconstruction. USAID, by virtue of its focus on long-term development, is best positioned to coordinate the transition from relief to recovery and play a central role in the U.S. government’s Haiti reconstruction programs. The crisis in Haiti is the largest urban disaster in modern times. We need a USAID that is flexible, responsive, and robust to make our aid dollars work better in Haiti.
That said, recovery must be (and remain) Haitian-led. Efforts should build the Haitian government’s capacity, and aid must be accountable, transparent, predictable, and better coordinated. Efforts should facilitate country ownership for Haitians, and accountability to U.S. taxpayers.
The urgent conditions in Haiti cannot wait for a complete overhaul of our foreign assistance programs. USAID can do some things now that can make a big difference in its work in Haiti.
To date, one of the strongest critiques of both the relief effort and recovery planning is the lack of substantive and meaningful Haitian civil society engagement. USAID should seek the active and sustained participation of Haiti-based civil society coalitions and their U.S. partners-Haitians helping Haitians, with the U.S. playing a crucial supporting role. Also, we need to ensure an all-of-government approach so that our policies in other areas do not undercut our efforts to reduce poverty and promote sustainable economic growth.
For USAID to accomplish real, sustainable relief for Haiti, it must have the resources and capabilities to respond to the country’s needs, and it must partner with the Haitian government to build an effective public administration infrastructure that can better deal with future natural disasters or other catastrophic events.
An ambitious, unprecedented recovery plan financed by donor countries must be driven and implemented by the Haitian people. It will take a long-term and concerted effort to develop the processes by which a country-led recovery can take place-but we can take meaningful steps now to nurture ownership and make our aid to Haiti more effective.
Rev. David Beckmann is president of Bread for the World and co-chair of the Modernizing Foreign Assistance Network (MFAN).
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