COMMENTARY: HAITI, THE REPUBLIC OF NGOS, Spring 2011

Located on the eastern half of the Island of Hispaniola, Haiti is the world’s first black republic and without a doubt the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. It is a small country of about 9 million people, mostly from African descent; a country whose foundations resides on freedom and equality with 200 years of political unrest, corruption and poverty.

In January 12, 2010, the country encountered its biggest tragedy, when a 7. 0 magnitude earthquake hit the capital of the country, Port au Prince, killing about 230,000 people and displacing about 1.5 million[1]. A great wave of international emergency responses with the ideal of rescuing the people of Haiti has led a high concentration of Non Governmental Organizations in the country, covering all sectors of public services such as health, education and nutrition.  Haitian nationalists consider the presence of NGO as a threat to the country’s sovereignty and development while, others believe their absence is the equivalent to hunger, absence of medical care and unemployment. However, a mutual collaboration between the Haitian Government and The NGOS and the re- definition of the later role in the public sector is essential to the rebuilding of a sustainable and sovereign country.

The 7.0 earthquake that hit Haiti in January 12, 2010 had generated a great wave of emergency responses from the international community leading to a questionable increase of Non- Governmental Organizations in the country. In a recent publication on Haiti’ status after the seism, the United States Institute of Peace denotes Haiti as the Republic of NGOs. According to the article, the estimates of the number of non -governmental organizations (NGOs) currently operating in the country range from 3,000 to as many as 10,000,  making Haiti, the nation with the second highest number of NGOs  per capita in the world[2]. Although the earthquake greatly damaged the capital, it provides Haitians with the opportunity to rebuild a stronger and self- sustained nation , along with the assistance of devoted NGOs, whose contributions are suitable for the reconstruction process.  In March 2010, the international community had pledged 9.9 billion, of which 5.3 billion had been pledged over two years to support the Haitian government’s Action Plan for National Recovery and Development (Harvey et al. 24). However, two years later, half of millions people are still living in tents camp with atrocious sanitary conditions with no access to basic public services and potable water; all feeding a cholera outbreak killing thousands.

Haitians nationalists advocate that the presence of NGOs as the weakening point of the country’s reconstruction and a threat to its sovereignty. Sauveur Pierre Etienne, in his book “Haïti: Invasion des ONG” declares that NGOs are the “iron of the spear of neo-liberal policies that certain Western governments use to weaken the state in Southern countries, working to reinforce dependence of the country on big capitalist countries” (100). In other terms, the presence of NGOs in the country is a form of neo- imperialism. Although, by definition, NGOs are to be apolitical, they are one of several tools used by Western nations to invade Haiti and control its sectors of public services, under the pretention of helping to rebuild the country. Because they overpower our government due to their greater number of available resources, they encompass all sectors of public services, which are naturally provided by the Haitian government; therefore the population relies heavily dependent on these organizations to supply those services. Since they are usually sponsored by Western countries, the country loses its ability to respond to the needs of its citizens; therefore undermining the basic notions of freedom and sovereignty.

Furthermore, the NGOs in Haiti run a parallel system, which operates independently from the Haitian government; therefore undermining the latter’s authority and often results in a waste of resources. Transparency International recently published the Corruption Perception Index 2011, in which Haiti scores 1.8 out of 10 and is currently placed 175th out of 184 countries, making it one of the world’s top ten most corrupted countries[3]. Such level of corruption frightens donors from the international community; therefore donations are directly given to the NGOs instead of the government. Having greater amount of human resources and economic power, NGOs operate with little oversight and accountability from the former. Since the priorities of the government and those of the NGOs may not necessarily correspond, implemented projects often provide short terms responses rather long term projects. Rising issues of authority between them and the lack of coordination often result induplication of efforts and waste of financial resources.

NGOs financial capabilities deprive the Haitian public sector of its most educated citizens creating an on-going workforce crisis. In Haiti, NGOs offer the highest- paying and well resourced jobs, therefore they have the ability to recruit the most capable professionals and intellectuals of the nation, who could mostly likely be working for the government thus, servicing the public sector. For example, doctors who are trained by the State are often recruited to work for these organizations, often on very small and private projects, while the main public hospital of the country does not have enough staff to respond to the daily medical emergencies. Although, government jobs may not necessarily be the highest paid and most organized, hiring those medical practitioners within the public realm would reduce our dependency on NGOs who provides those public services (Lee, 24).

On the other hand, the presence of NGOs decreased the rate of unemployment in the country.  Because they have greater financial resources and have the need for a local workforce, NGOs are the best organization to work for. The level of employment opportunity ranges from car drivers to high level bureaucratic positions. They offer the highest wages, and are much more organized and well resourced than government jobs, which is usually corrupted and low waged. For example, many Haitians who are bilingual work as either guide and chauffeur for these organizations. High school degrees are not necessarily required for this type of position; therefore, it reaches a greater pool of Haitian citizens whom are able to apply for it. Young and energetic professional with higher educational background are often recruited to fulfill bureaucratic positions.

With their available financial and human resources, Non-Governmental Organizations provide needed public services to the Haitian population, particularly to those who survivors living in impoverished conditions, otherwise unreached by the government. In Haiti, NGOs plays a crucial role in providing public services such healthcare, education, microfinance and food aid in Haiti. NGOs provide fourth fifth of the country’s public services (Lee, 5). During the last seven years, Haiti has been known four major natural disasters, affecting 3, 394, 000 people and killing around 228, 600 (Harvey et al, 14). Without those NGOs providing food, shelter and healthcare on a regular basis for, these survivors would probably end up dead, because due to corruption and a lack of human and financial resources, the government cannot satisfy the needs of those who are distressed

At last, the level of transparency of NGOs surpasses that of the Haitian government. As previously noted, Haiti is one of the most corrupt countries in the world. Receiving such large amount of donations from the international community would increase the level of corruption. In such time of distress, the money would most likely end up in the bank accounts of a few Haitians politicians and entities in the private sector to pursue their own personal interest. Therefore, NGOs’ presence reassures donors that their pledge would be used to respond to the need of those in need. Through annual progress reports and monitoring agencies, donors are able keep track of their donations, detect discrepancies or provide further financial support if needed.

“Haiti: the Republic of NGOs” has been quite a problematic subject to discuss specially during the phase of reconstruction of the country. From a nationalist point of view, NGOs are a threat to Haiti sovereignty because our public sector services and even employment depend on it. But, it is also important to acknowledge their importance in the relief efforts, particularly the amount of Haitians that they are able to satisfy the needs on a daily basis. As a supporter, NGOs, with their financial capabilities are able to reach thousands of citizens in need, otherwise unreached by Haitian government public services; however it is imperative not to undermine the local government, ignore its authority and generate a workforce crisis in the public sector by recruiting the highly well - educated Haitian professionals.

A strong collaboration between the Haitian government and Non-Governmental Organization is essential in rebuilding a stronger and self sustained nation. With the financial resources of NGOs, Haiti can be rebuilt; however they need to work under the supervision and accountability of a transparent and reformed Haitian government in order to implement long term strategic projects that would anchored this process of reconstruction. Zanmi Lasante, the Haiti-based affiliate of Partners in Health, is great example of collaboration between Haitian government and a non- governmental organization aiming the rebuild the public infrastructure in the healthcare sector. The NGO has been providing health services to the poor in the Central Plateau region for over two decades and has established a solid, rural health care network in Haiti. However, recently Zanmi Lasante started to partner with the Ministry of Health and Population (MSSP) as a way to expand their reach in the rural areas and to improve the public health system[4]. The partnership has rehabilitated several public hospitals and health centers throughout the country, including a new teaching hospital in the provinces, and complemented the MSSP personnel with PIH-trained staff. Such partnership is the model of collaboration needed between NGOs and the Haitian government to rebuild a sustainable and sovereign country.

Haiti is the poorest country in the Western hemisphere, which in January 12, 2010 has been given the opportunity to renew itself and change a history of violence, corruption, and poverty and political unrest to a future of  economic stability and  political transparency. Although their presence might be problematic, NGOs, with their financial capabilities, have stepped in to help us erase such past and embrace this sustainable future. The contribution of the Haitian government is imperative to assess to NGOs’ contribution and lead them towards that vision; a nation of liberty, equality and fraternity.

[1] Office of the Special Envoy for Haiti.” Key Statistics” Office of the Special Envoy for Haiti. United Nations. Web. 7 Mar. 2012

[2] United States Institute of Peace “Haiti: A Republic of NGOs?” (Peace Brief 23. 2010). 1-3. Web. 6 March 2012

[3] Transparency International. “Corruption Perceptions Index 2011” (Transparency Internation al Sercretariat.Transparency International).  Web. 19 Feb. 2012

[4] Partners in Health. “Zanmi Lasante/Haiti”. Partners in Health.  Web. 3 Mar. 2012.  http://www.pih.org/pages/haiti/

Sources:

De Cordoba, Jose. “Aid Spawns Backlash in Haiti.” Wall Street Journal. Wall Street Journal, November 12, 2010. Web. 7 Mar. 2011

Doucet, Isabeau. “ The Nation: NGOs Have failed Haiti”NPR. NPR. 13 Jan. 2010.  Web. 6 Mar.  2012

Etienne, Sauveur Pierre. Haiti: L’Invasion des ONG. Port-au-Prince, Haiti: Centre de Recherche Sociale et de Formation Economique pour le Développement, 1997. Print

Harvey, Paul et al. “Haiti Earthquake Response: Context Analysis” ALNAP. ALNAP, July 2010. Web. 7 Mar. 2012

Lee, Sonia. Policies for Effective Development: Rethinking the Role of NGOs in Haiti. Diss. Leland International Hunger Fellow, 2011

Office of the Special Envoy for Haiti.” Key Statistics” Office of the Special Envoy for Haiti. United Nations. Web. 7 Mar. 2012

Partners in Health. “Zanmi Lasante/Haiti”. Partners in Health.  Web. 3 Mar. 2012. http://www.pih.org/pages/haiti/

Rodgers, Lucy "Haiti earthquake: One year on” BBC News. BBC News, January 11, 2011. Web. 6 Mar. 2012

Schuller, Mark. “Invasion or Infusion? Understanding the Role of NGOs in Contemporary

Haiti” The Journal of Haitian Studies 13.2 (2007): 96-119. Web. 2011

Taylor, Alan “Haiti: 2 Years After the Quake” In Focus with Alan Talyor. The Atlantic, 12 Jan. 2012. Web. March 6, 2012

Transparency International. “Corruption Perceptions Index 2011” Transparency Internation al Sercretariat.Transparency International.  Web. 19 Feb. 2012

United States Institute of Peace “Haiti: A Republic of NGOs?” Peace Brief 23. (2010). 1-3. Web. 6 March 2012

Webster, Donovan. “Haiti: Two years after the earthquake, where did the money go?” Global Post. Global Post, January 10, 2012. Web. 6 Mar., 2012