Dispatch 7 January 27, 2010
HRDF’s “Mission Possible” – To Save Haiti or Save Haitians?
Over the years, it seems that approximately half of all foreign aid to Haiti has gone directly to the National Government. These have been hundred of millions of dollars in grants and loans every year, primarily from other national governments such as the United States, France and Canada and from the World Bank, the Inter-American Development Bank and the International Monetary Fund. The other half of foreign aid has been in the form of private charity and foundation money directly to Haitians in their communities. For more than twenty years, HRDF has been one of these donors.
In this catastrophic time, it is a fair and very important question to ask which kind of aid has been more effective – money and other resources to “Haiti”, in other words to the government, or money and resources to “Haitians”, in other words the people and their communities? HRDF believes that the latter has been more effective. When it comes to suffering and survival, there has been little or no help from “Haiti”.
A first example is civil defense. “Haiti” has permanently buried the operation and maintenance of the Direction of the Protection Civile, the focal point of emergency response for the country. It is only a small technical office within the Ministry of Interior and Territorial Collectivities without autonomy and legal framework, sufficient staffing, funding, and decision making authority. It also lacks the communication and implementation infrastructure to reach out and mobilize the entire country. It causes a sad and unnecessary sacrifice of Haitians. HRDF believes that the Direction of the Protection Civile should be elevated at least to a secretary status or preferably given its own ministry.
Until then, we urge direct funding and training of local Community Emergency Response Teams (CERTs). As recently as October 2009, HRDF had successfully recruited and received the commitment of the State of Florida Division of Emergency Management for CERT in Haiti. Planning for their first visit to Haiti was being made when the earthquake struck. And in November, the firefighters of Limoges, France gave their first instruction in community emergency response, in Aquin on the southern coast. This is “Mission Possible” – saving “Haitians” not “Haiti”.
The second example is Customs, the national government office responsible for the orderly oversight, receipt and passing through of all of the country’s imports, including humanitarian supplies. The consensus among the Humanitarian community and the Haitian Diaspora is that Haiti’s Customs does not work, even in noncatastrophic times. This is specifically asserted in a resolution of the Haitian Diaspora Unity Congress that convened in Miami this past August and is now a major concern of the Congress NGO Follow-up Committee chaired by HRDF.
Unlike the first example, foreign aid donors and now the greatly expanded emergency response must send its supplies through Customs, i.e. through “Haiti” rather than directly to Haitians. This is a serious constraint. Direct access to communities must be immediately opened throughout the country. Millions of lives are on the line. “Mission Possible” in this case cannot wait for governmental customs reform.
These are only two of many examples that are now forcing generous and professional responders around the world to ask a difficult question – Shall we save “Haiti” or save “Haitians”? HRDF believes the former is “Mission Impossible” while the latter is “Mission Possible”. This is because the country’s remaining viable assets are the people and the land they occupy. The government exists, but unfortunately it is not a viable asset.