Q+A-Haiti's aid controversy

by Anastasia Moloney | @anastasiabogota | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Monday, 28 September 2009 17:34 GMT

As U.N.special envoy to Haiti, Bill Clinton will visit the Caribbean nation on Thursday in a bid to attract foreign investment and galvanise international aid pledges.

It is hoped his visit will shore up government and donor efforts to help the western hemisphereÂ?s poorest nation recover from the devastating impact of four back-to-back hurricanes last year.

Haiti has received billions of dollars of aid but concerns have been raised about its effectiveness. The following questions and answers discuss the controversial issue of international aid to Haiti.


Nearly every international charitable organisation in the world works in Haiti. The country has become highly dependent on foreign aid. From 1990 to 2003, Haiti received more than $4 billion in aid, accounting for nearly seven percent of its GDP.

The U.S. is the largest foreign aid donor to Haiti, contributing over $1.5 billion since 1990. Other major donors include Canada, France, Japan, the Inter-American Development Bank and World Bank.


A large chunk of foreign aid during the last year has been devoted to reconstruction efforts, such as the rebuilding of roads and bridges, following the hurricanes which caused severe flooding, mudslides and some $1 billion in damage.

There is a growing consensus that more money should be allocated to reducing the impact of natural disasters, including the building of flood barriers, to help Haiti cope with extreme weather related to global warming.

The effects of climate change have been compounded by widespread deforestation. Haiti has virtually no forests left, the majority stripped away for families forced to use wood for fuel. Increasingly aid is being allocated to reforestation programmes to help curb land degradation and soil erosion.

Aid is also being spent on rural development and improving farming methods, in a country where the majority are subsistence farmers struggling to live on less than $2 a day.

Aid agencies are also focusing on improving access to health care and sanitation to stem high infant and maternal mortality rates, and on education and the training teachers to tackle low literacy levels.


A combination of factors has made it difficult to distribute aid effectively to Haiti, including poor governance, political turmoil and widespread corruption.

Haiti's political system is unstable and plagued with infighting. Since 2004, a 9,000-strong U.N. peacekeeping force has been on the ground.

Haiti is the third most corrupt country in the world, according to corruption watchdog Transparency International, compounding the difficulties agencies face in delivering aid in an accountable and transparent way.

Power lies in the hands of a few elite, leaving ministries unable to implement policies and divert funds to the local level. HaitiÂ?s civil service is poorly trained and lacks the expertise to manage aid.

Donors have failed to address such weaknesses in Haitian politics when planning their aid efforts, according to U.S. government reports.

In 2002, the World Bank rated its aid efforts to Haiti as Â?unsatisfactory, if not highly soÂ? and its impact on institutional development Â?negligibleÂ?.

Some aid agencies have bypassed the government and local businesses, adding to the climate of mistrust between the donor community and the government.

Critics of the international aid effort say too much aid has been channeled through non-governmental organization (NGOs), leaving the government and civil society groups feeling indifferent, and with little say or control over how aid is spent.

In addition, aid agencies face logistical problems in distributing emergency aid. Many of HaitiÂ?s roads and bridges swept away by floods have not been rebuilt.

Corruption at HaitiÂ?s ports is notorious, with aid going missing and then re-sold at local markets.


Aid agencies are being urged to focus on helping Haitians reform their institutions, particularly the police force and justice system, and promote good governance by improving the education and vetting of its civil service and judges.

Donors are also being encouraged to channel more aid through the state national budget. Projects should also be government-led rather than NGO led, community approved and highly visible, and ideally involve local businesses and grass-roots organisations.

The U.N. has suggested establishing a citizen watchdog in order to track aid spending, while the World Bank has called on improved coordination among the myriad of donors.

Some local rights groups say the best way the U.S.can help poor Haitians is to stop deportations of illegal immigrants.

When a Haitian is sent back home, it often means a family loses a vital source of income as remittances stop. Haitians living abroad send back billions of dollars, which rights groups argue are the most effective and direct aid to the countryÂ?s poor.

The Haitian government is urging Washington to grant "temporary protected status" to tens of thousands of undocumented Haitians, which would allow families to rely on remittances and reduce the pressure on Haiti to cope with its returnees.

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