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Disaster Aid or Aid Disaster? Haitians' Thoughts on Foreign Assistance

Developed countries have donated billions in aid to Haiti. But where is all the money actually going?

The international community (here referring to nations and international organizations) has pledged or given $9.9 billion in relief and reconstruction aid to Haiti, since the earthquake on January 12, 2010. Citizens and non-profit agencies of foreign countries have provided billions more. The aid is many times the size of Haiti's annual budget, which was $1.97 billion for the 2009-10 fiscal year.

If one looks close to the ground, in certain refugee camps and community organizations, one can see the donations of citizens and non-profits at work, supplying tents, food and medical aid. A handful of progressive foundations are funding community, peasant and advocacy organizations as they work for an alternative rebuilding process, based on economic justice and the fulfillment of social needs. Social assistance and rebuilding projects are working best when communities are engaged in the planning and implementation.

Yet, for the most part, the impact of the dollars is imperceptible. Where is it going?

Much of the aid pledged has not yet arrived, and may never. A lot of it has gone straight back to donor nations, as with the $.40 on every US government aid dollar that paid for the US military presence in Haiti for, at least, the first two months after the quake. [2] Untold dollars more go to US firms, like the agribusiness corporations whose surplus rice is being purchased by USAID to deliver as aid. Then there are fees and expenses paid to a small army of consultants working for foreign governments and international agencies. Many UN consultants, for example, slept until mid-March in a luxury cruise ship (the Love Boat), which the UN rented. Then, there is graft, corruption and poor planning, all of which further redirects aid dollars away from desperate earthquake survivors, up to 1.9 million of whom are left homeless, hungry and wet in tents during the rainy season.

What would Haitians like to see happen with the aid? We asked for opinions; here are a few.

Christine Miradieu is an unemployed mother of nine who lost her husband, one of her children, and her home in the earthquake. She now lives with six of her children in two tents in a field outside of the town of Gressier.

They tell me the international community gave $2 million dollars in aid. Where is it? [We suggest the figure is actually $9.9 billion.]

What? [Turns to her family behind her.] You hear? Nine point nine billion in aid. Now, who's getting that? We haven't seen any of it.

Lucien St. Louis is an agronomist by training who worked for many years with farmers through the Ministry of Agriculture. Now, he is employed by a European NGO, helping to direct disaster responses in several earthquake-impacted towns to those who most need them.

First, we want to say how much we appreciate all the citizens of the world who have paid attention to Haiti after January 12 and who have given whatever they could, whether money or solidarity. They make us know we're not alone in this fight to reclaim our lives and rebuild our country.

This aid could be a marvelous thing, giving us the assistance we need to get back on our feet. It could help us build a different country, a country where everyone is recognized as a human being, a country where all children go to school, and no one dies for lack of decent medical care. It could help strengthen peasant agriculture, so farmers could stay in the countryside, where they could have work and feed the nation, instead of having to migrate to Port-au-Prince. It could help women do marketing and form cooperatives, so they could have an income for their family. It could provide decent housing for all, especially those who lost their homes in the earthquake, in communities that are close to all the services people need to live. It could strengthen the people's institutions that are trying to build a new society and economy.