Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti

Haiti: An Opportunity For A New Model

By Nicole Lee, Seattle Medium Editorial

(NNPA) – This week my organization, TransAfrica Forum, had the good fortune of being able to testify in a Congressional Hearing before the US House of Representatives on the continuing crisis in Haiti. It was a unique opportunity to address the reality of the flawed response and reconstruction situation. Despite the high level of financial resources already pledged and available, the efficacy of the relief effort has been undermined by structural inefficiencies, bureaucratic inertia, the broad scope of the disaster and vested interested parties working to preserve their own privileges while giving the appearance of change.

International NGOs and Governments alike have been quick to recognize that a return to pre-Quake Haiti can not be the standard. I could not agree more. The situation in Haiti prior to January 12 was anything but ideal. With a small and weak government frequently undermined by foreign organizations and governments, Haiti was simply unable to internally address the magnitude of the Quake. Unfortunately, while there have been extraordinary efforts and a tremendous outpouring of support from the American people, the crisis response has replicated flawed models of both emergency response and long-term reconstruction.

This model of relief and reconstruction has shut out Haitian civil society from taking on leadership roles in the rebuilding process. Their inclusion in on-the-ground operations as well as policy conversations is imperative, but has been sadly neglected. Throughout the rebuilding process, we have seen Haitians self-organize and empower themselves to build back better. NGOs and Governments alike say they are committed to including Haitian participants, but long-embedded prejudices and systems continue to operate. Relief and reconstruction efforts are overwhelming in Haiti’s crowded capital, Port-au-Prince, yet few resources are distributed to other regions where the need is also great.

Post-Quake Haiti is being framed as an opportunity for further international investment in the sweatshop industry. Textile factory workers in Port-au-Prince returned to work just two weeks after the Quake. Their jobs continue to provide them no worker protection and their wages are so low that many are forced to walk home because they cannot afford transportation costs. If we do not correct the failures of this post-emergency period we will set the stage for a failed reconstruction period: national and international corruption, continued human rights violations, wasted resources and, most importantly, continued suffering and loss for the people of Haiti.

Changing the model requires reinvention. Such reinvention in the midst of a crisis and its aftermath is not easy. We understand that creating recommendations and principles is easier than their execution, particularly in the midst of continued chaos and emergencies. Participatory approaches are not easy. But participatory approaches will most effectively include Haitian civil society organizations with a long history in Haiti and commitment to long-term progress.

In coming months, there are many opportunities to increase the participation of ordinary Haitians. The November 28, 2010 set date for presidential and parliamentary elections, presents an occasion for unprecedented civic participation and voter turn-out. But this requires immediate action to be a fair and inclusive electoral process.

Haitian-led policy recommendations, generated by Civil Society Organizations and their partners, exist to support such a change. Investing in sustainable, long-term solutions for Haiti means supporting decentralization. It means that a concerted effort at shifting resources and activities outside of the capital must be at the forefront of all tactical relief efforts. Haiti has been highly centralized for centuries, with most commerce, trade, education and jobs being located in Port-au-Prince.

An unfortunate result of which has been that many people who initially fled the capital following the Quake were forced to return because of non-existent access to resources. In the medium- and long-term development of Haiti we must strengthen regional commerce centers, the development and support of secondary and tertiary roads systems and local and regional food production. With the goal of Haitian participation and leadership we can work, in collaboration, to truly Build Haiti Back Better.

Nicole C. Lee is the President of TransAfrica Forum.

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