Is international aid to Haiti a failure?

Excerpts of a EURACTIV France interview with Joel Boutroue, formerly the deputy special representative of the secretary general of the United Nations for the UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti:

Haiti is one of many poor countries where international aid has failed to fulfil its objectives. Despite billions of dollars being pumped in, little has changed since the disastrous earthquake of 2010. Beyond poor governance in Haiti, which is the central problem, agriculture is still a big problem. Haiti is an agrarian country but no investment has been made in this sector, there has been no implementation of sustainable practices.

The second big issue is education. It has deteriorated at a terrifying pace these last few decades. Until the 1960s, the Haitians were exporters of knowledge but today the level is catastrophic.

And finally, the third issue is water and sanitation. Haiti is an open sewer in need of treatment. This challenge comes upstream of any action on health, because the population in poisoning itself. There is not one sewer, not one sanitation station in the whole country. This is an enormous problem and will only grow with demographic expansion: Haiti’s population will grow from 11 million to 18 million in 40 years.

Haiti is often described as the NGO republic, which is not entirely false. The NGOs financed by international donors pay very little heed to the Haitian state. But in so doing, the state becomes marginalized and weakened in its interactions with the population. And this creates other problems. Aid in Haiti is not a partnership, it is not a relationship of equals.

Donors are often caught between a rock and a hard place. One the one hand there is the need to demonstrate tangible results to their own citizens and show that their money has served a purpose. On the other hand, the beneficiary country only has a certain capacity for absorption. And many donors, either out of cynicism or laziness, pursue short term interests.

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