The editor of Wired shares on their popular new blog Haiti Rewired some honest reflections on how hard it is for people to assess what it is Haiti will need:
Perhaps naturally, as the editor of Wired.com, I've been consciously and unconsciously framing the reconstruction in terms of delivering telecom service over mesh networks, bootstrapping data mashups to bring a Web 3.0 layer to the relief, delivering green tech and so on. Sexy.
Here's what the Lambi Funds wants: Electric grain mills for grinding corn and millet, a portable irrigation pump, ox ploughs, a goat breeding program, a fishing boat and reforestation.
Bad aid starts with ignorance and condescension.
(As an aside: technophiles may wish to take a look at this list of cautionary tips by the people at Catapult Design.) In addition to the plan from Lambi Fund, one can look at this rough plan that a priest in the rural community Fondwa made. Fondwa's agriculture school (one of only a few in the countryside in Haiti) and other community buildings suffered damage from the earthquake. Note that these plans, general as they are, focus on very concrete and immediate needs rooted in the experience of projects under the control of local leaders.
On a completely different scale then the mistakes that some individual donors or observers may make, International Organizations (IOs) and International NGOs (INGOs) run the risk of selecting goals that favor their own organizational needs (the literature on this is mixed but the concern is certainly fair). As I have posted before, albeit regarding peacekeeping operations, large international programs can have economic impacts that are not easy to discern from the outset. Moreover, there are important questions about the transparency and accountability of the planning process for the expenditure of hundreds of millionsof dollars that have been raised by INGOs or committed by donor nations (pledges which often never materialize). Who will be selecting the values and outcomes the projects aim for? Who will evaluate them and manage them? Will they improve or reduce self-determination in Haiti? (see Paul Farmer's testimony to the US Senate on this last point.)
On a related note, I want to get off my chest a pet peeve: It has been popular in the press recently to complain about the billions in international aid funds that "Haiti wasted." But for decades aid to Haiti was controlled by donors not Haitians, or at least not many Haitians. (I swear some journalists make it sound like they think all of Haiti got together in a soccer stadium and voted to spend aid money on lottery tickets.) While it is true that the Haitian government (at all levels) has grave weaknesses, the opportunity in Haiti now,it seems to me, calls for strengthening and developing Haitian government, not acting like the Duvaliers are still hanging around. The fact is there is an associational life in Haiti that is very rich, indicating democratic skills rivaling those at which US citizens are famously believed to excel. (For examples: See this article by Media Global for also about Fondwa. And, to finish off your dose on the interesting work that has been going on in Fondwa see this documentary; the portion on development begins about half way through).