A well argued, preemptive call against hiring shady mercenary firms to work in Haiti:
A well argued, preemptive call against hiring shady mercenary firms to work in Haiti:
A far-ranging October 2009 paper from Abt Associates argues that:
… there is a tendency to generalize that economic growth reduces poverty, when in fact it is the direct and indirect effects of the agricultural growth that accounts for virtually all of the poverty decline.
This confusion is harmful to the objective of poverty reduction for three reasons: (1) rapid agricultural growth requires substantial public investment specific to the agricultural sector; (2) foreign aid has a
particularly important role to play in achieving a low income country focus on agricultural growth; (3) current fashions in economics tend to discourage sector specific investments as interfering with market processes that are thought to be efficiency increasing.
The marked slowing of poverty reduction in Asia during the past decade and increasing poverty in Africa are both the result of neglect of agriculture by governments and foreign aid institutions. It is urgent for the poor that the underlying policy errors be corrected. …
The conclusion is that there is such a thing as "a pro-poor growth strategy;" it is faster than alternative strategies; it requires specific policy focus; and, it brings rapid decline in absolute poverty. (p.1).
The report is very opinionated and summarily treats a complex topic in just 30 odd pages. Is is, essentially, a very lengthy editorial to correct the recent trend away from rural and agricultural development in aid policies of donor institutions. However, I think it is well worth reviewing.
This is a pretty nice bit of freeware: Korektè Òtograf Kreyòl. Is is a Haitian Creole spellchecker for OpenOffice Writer, which is a freeware program that is very similar to Microsoft Word. You need to be able to read Creole to understand the simple instructions…or just open the program after you download it and OpenOffice Writer, then follow the instructions, then close and re-open OpenOffice Writer. Not bad at all!
Claimed by both Haiti and the United States, you can see this tiny (2 sq mile) tear-drop shaped island here. The old light house and rail lines can be seen if you look closely. It is only infrequently inhabited by Haitian fisherman (it is about 6 hours from Haiti by boat, so the fishermen stay a few days and then return home). It also gets a rare visit by wildlife survey teams from the US. Some unique animal and plant life there is becoming or has already become extinct, including a dwarf boa snake species.
The US claimed the island under the Guano Act in the mid-1800s (text of the Act). US companies used slave labor to do the mining even after the end of slavery in the US. President Harrison mentions atrocities there (and a 1889 “revolt” that he seemed to feel was partially justified) in his third State of the Union speech.
You can read a bit more about the history in this interesting commentary from the New York Times (June 30, 2007). If you scroll up above the commentary you to can read about and see photos of the plant life there. Some additional links can be found on the site Bob Corbett keeps at Webster University. Lots of photos can be found by poking around on a site maintained by the US Geological Survey. The US now has it listed as a National Wildlife Refuge, while Haiti’s government still claims it.
Here’s the request (PDF, 412kb). A large chunk ($749,311,000) is for “International Assistance Programs” and appears to be cash that will be available to the State Department and USAID until Sept 2012 for:
infrastructure rehabilitation and technical assistance to the Government of Haiti to improve its public outreach capacity and facilitate its short-to-medium term operations with basic infrastructure and supplies…needs to essential services including shelter and supporting water, sanitation, healthcare, and electricity infrastructure. Funding will also be provided for necessary investments in agriculture, financing, farm to market roads, and major roads, bridges, and ports. (p.23).
Up to $120 million of this may go to a donor trust fund (presumably this is what President Clinton would help manage) and $212 million for debt relief.
There is a huge risk that years from now people will ask what happened to the billions “spent to rebuild Haiti” without realizing that much of that money was NOT on rebuilding. It was for rescue and relief efforts. As important as rescue and relief is, it does not “rebuild” the country. In addition, many other policy areas are addressed with this funding request that are or may be important (nearly quarter billion for narcotic control and for embassy reconstruction), but that are not, directly, rebuilding. This needs to be kept clear in journalists’ and commentators’ mind.
The total request is for $2.8 billion, but not all of this will translate into money for Haiti as some is to cover what has already been spent. It is also important to note that large chunks are for “logistics and security,” not for reconstruction. The breakdown:
Even if an election could be pulled off technically (i.e., smooth ballot casting processes, etc.) given the damage to Haiti’s infrastructure, there is the interesting question of how to involve the huge displaced population: who would vote where?
Since the presidency is a winner-take-all national election, displacement cause problems that are largely technical: re-registration may be needed to ensure the identity of people. This could be a significant technical problem, but nothing compared to the political problem of elections for sub-national offices, of which there are hundreds in Haiti.
Allowing the displaced to vote in their host cities for offices below the presidency could cause lots of conflict. Specifically, people that are from PAP may find that people in the host cities do not want them voting there and influencing or changing whatever local political dynamic exists in their city (or department, etc.). For instance, I heard an Episcopal priest from Haiti last night who mentioned that Mirebalais had grown by about 50 to 60 percent! Presumably it would be hard to have them all register and vote for PAP offices while not in PAP, but the alternative is that they upend things locally if they vote for Mirebalais officials. Moreover, this problem could last several years. Ultimately, people may decide that the displaced are “long-term temporary” residents of their host cities (and the ideal is that fewer people return to PAP then lived there). If so, this will not matter as much as I fear, but it will depend on how the displaced are politically, socially, and economically integrated into local life. It will be interesting to see how many former residents of PAP begin to identify again as residents of their hometown or that of their parents.
A study by the Humanitarian Practice Network completed five years after the huge earthquake in Gujarat, India in 2001 entitled “Housing reconstruction in post-earthquake Gujarat: A comparative analysis" is well worth reading. It reports findings from interviews with residents of housing projects that were built through several different management strategies, including contractor-driven (in this case NGOs working with construction firms) and owner-driven approaches. (See also these other reports by HPN on lessons from other disasters.)
Because each project site was different from the other sites (sometimes in important ways), it is hard to know how much of the resulting differences in satisfaction can be fairly attributed to the management techniques which varied by site. The sample sizes were somewhat small for some cases, too.
Nonetheless, some differences in satisfaction and costs of the reconstruction were fairly dramatic, and the report provides substantial details on each site so that readers can take away their own conclusions. The report’s warnings are especially worth reading for projects that are looking to build housing on new sites. In particular (page 24):
Contractor-driven construction ex nihilo differs from in situ reconstruction in that, instead of rebuilding the village on the same site, the new houses are relocated to a new site. The advantage of this approach is that it does not require the removal of rubble to clear the site, and the reconstruction plan is not constrained by any buildings that survived the earthquake. However, there is a growing awareness that resettlement is a traumatic experience, and may have a
significant negative impact on people’s livelihoods and social relations.
From the conclusion (page 25):
It is perhaps ironic that the project that enjoyed the least appreciation among its beneficiaries was on average by far
the most expensive, costing around three times more than
the non-contractor projects. …
This study provides empirical evidence that the growing
trend towards financial support to owner-driven post-disaster
housing reconstruction is socially, financially and
technically viable. It shows that, in a context where people
are traditionally involved in building their own dwellings,
given adequate financial and technical support they have
the capacity to construct houses that are more likely to
respond to their needs and preferences than houses
provided by outside agencies. The study confirms many of
the drawbacks and risks associated with a contractor-driven
approach: inflexibility, cultural insensitivity, failure
to adapt to local conditions, and a tendency to introduce
external construction materials ill-suited to the local
climate, and which are difficult to maintain and upgrade.
These conclusions are not based on project evaluations by
‘experts’, but on what affected people themselves thought
about different post-disaster housing reconstruction
approaches. The clear conclusion is that the cheapest
approach to post-disaster housing reconstruction was the
most effective in reaching the most neglected communities,
and addressing their housing requirements.
Conversely, the most expensive approach may have made
the rich richer, and the poor more vulnerable. Funding
agencies and NGOs should reconsider their role in post-disaster
housing reconstruction and support people’s own
initiative, rather than providing them with what outside
agencies believe is good for them. Cash-based approaches
are viable in emergencies, are more empowering and more
dignifying. These goals are fully in line with most NGOs’
objectives, but need to be translated into operational
strategies. We hope that this study, by allowing hundreds
of people to tell us what they needed to restore their
livelihoods, will encourage agencies to look again at how
they respond to housing needs after disaster.
Unfortunately, the report provides little detail on the differences across methods in the suitability of the houses for surviving future earthquakes; the author simply states that owner-driven construction appeared safe and that these residents appeared to understand the construction issues at stake.
Overall the report is very favorable to owner-driven programs. However, it is hard to tell if this tendency is a result of their findings or of the author’s pre-existing beliefs. For instance, on the pros and cons of owner-driven processes (page 10) they mention few cons and dismiss what may be a large problem (safe construction):
An extensive review of different post-disaster housing reconstruction approaches by Sultan Barakat points to a number of advantages associated with owner-driven approaches to housing reconstruction.3 The most tangible benefits are that the costs may be lower,building may be incremental, allowing occupancy before the house is fully finished,and occupancy rates tend to be higher. There are also a number of intangible benefits.Encouraging the active participation of disaster affected communities in the reconstruction of their homes may be a useful way of restoring a sense of pride and well-being in people who have been through a trauma. Building activities provide structure to the day, and can keep large numbers of community members gainfully occupied. An owner-driven approach allows people to reconstruct their houses according to their own preferences and requirements, and may strengthen local building capacities. With adequate financial and technical assistance, self-built houses are likely to be more sustainable. People, if given an option, tend to choose building materials and techniques that are familiar to them.Accordingly, they may be in a better position to provide for future additions and repairs. Finally, an owner-driven approach may contribute to preserving the local architectural heritage and vernacular housing styles,features fundamental to a community’s cultural identity. In particular, in relation to the devastating experience of a disaster, it is important to give people some sense of continuity.
An owner-driven approach also entails some risks and drawbacks. It raises questions about the degree of assistance more vulnerable sections of the community should receive to enable them to engage in reconstruction.People may be too busy pursuing their livelihood activities to spare the time to participate in or supervise construction work. Safety may be a concern where traditional construction practices are held responsible for large numbers of collapsed buildings. These risks can be overcome through the introduction of building codes and adequate technical assistance.
Still, even with these caveats, this report looks like required reading.
Duncan Green of Oxfam Great Britain has posted a blog summarizing and commenting on evidence from Zambia that cash grants can be very efficient and effective ways to provide assistance following a disaster. More details can be found in this report (PDF, 305kb; page three of that course lists the way to get an extended evaluation). The report and Duncan’s blog comment in particular on women’s experiences with the program and with a “complaint box” system that was used. Details on how the grants were spent are in the report, too. Overall, I think this is very exciting, especially as it reduces the need for expensive staff consultants (although oversight is, of course, needed).
On March 15th, the International Herald Tribune also had an opinion piece by Floyd Whaley on Oxfam Great Britain using cash grants in Viet Nam in 2006. Of course, people are often highly critical of cash grants in welfare states. Responding to this Whaley adds:
“Welfare payments in the U.S. and Europe are long-term, small payments,” he [Steve Price-Thomas, the Vietnam country director of Oxfam Great Britain] said. “This was a large, one-off transfer, which households knew was coming for months in advance so they could plan for it and avoid the windfall effect.”
He also notes the Oxfam program is not meant to replace existing development initiatives. “In the particular case of this program, the lives of a significant number of households have changed for the better and that change is still apparent three years later,” he says. “That doesn’t mean we should stop worrying about education services and women’s political participation and the many other aspects of development assistance. This is a useful tool, but not the only one.”
It’s unlikely that the billions of dollars in development aid that is spent annually will ever be turned over to the poor without conditions, but the Oxfam program deserves a closer look by traditional development organizations.
Here's a guide from Oxfam on cash grants, the link takes you to a page where you can get the guide as a PDF or order it from the UK: Cash-Transfer Programming in Emergencies : A Practical Guide.
There are several organizations in Haiti that could facilitate such a program which could be targeted to families that are housing relatives from the earthquake-damaged areas and which could help ensure that Haiti’s harvest this year excels. It sounds as if the largest grants in the Vietnam case were for just under $400; so while small they were substantial grants to the families, many of the grants were relatively small interventions.
More once I get the full evaluation. Thoughts?