Let Haitians lead the effort
BY DIANA AUBOURG MILLNER
Haiti is attracting renewed international attention as it prepares to elect its next leader, thanks in part to the potential candidacy (ultimately ruled invalid) of Haitian-born musician and producer Wyclef Jean.
Also at the heart of the scrutiny are two important questions that the upcoming election raises: How do we keep reconstruction moving, and what type of leadership is required in Haiti to do so? The remaining candidates must consider these questions as they also prepare to inherit all of the problems that Haiti has faced for many years.
Even before the January 2010 earthquake, Haiti was the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, with 80 percent of the population living on less than $2 a day and the highest malnutrition rate in the region.
Despite these obstacles, this time of transition provides an opportunity to ensure that development assistance for Haiti is delivered far more effectively than before. Enter the United States and the international community. Since the January earthquake, the United States and other nations have shown unprecedented levels of goodwill, focus, and commitment.
Our commitment to Haiti must also be matched with consistent action, keeping the following goals in mind:
• Recovery must be led by Haitians. The Haitian government must reclaim its role and lead rebuilding efforts in Haiti. While we cannot discount the critical role of nongovernmental organizations in Haiti relief and recovery, the government of Haiti must increasingly be visible in the lives of its citizens. Undoubtedly the temptation has been to work around the beleaguered Haitian government to get results, but donors and aid groups must make it a priority to include Haitians -- and their government -- in accomplishing their tasks.
• Efforts should build -- rather than undermine -- the capacity of the Haitian government. Similarly, one of the most valuable ways we can support Haiti is by coordinating our relief efforts with the Haitian government so as to strengthen it and ensure future self-sufficiency. Through Feed the Future, the Obama administration's new global food-security initiative, the United States is making a concerted effort to work with the Haitian Ministry of Agriculture to revive Haiti's agriculture sector. We must do more of this.
• Aid must be accountable, transparent, predictable, and better coordinated. Haiti has suffered one of the largest urban disasters of modern times. People all over the world have responded to Haiti's needs by contributing billions of dollars to relief efforts. However, only a small percentage of the aid that has been pledged has been disbursed. To continue to support Haitians in rebuilding, we must respond quickly and effectively with resources to meet the needs -- not allow stalled legislative processes or stagnant bureaucratic structures to cloud our resolve.
• Haitian civil society, including members of the diaspora, must have a seat at the table. No one can rebuild Haiti more effectively than Haitians, with their concrete and intimate understanding of their own needs. The United States and the international community can provide resources, but Haitian civil society must have a seat at the table. Failing to engage the diaspora, which offers an enormous flow of financial support and a growing pool of professionals, would undermine the rebuilding efforts.
Haiti will need support and encouragement to continue rebuilding long after the elections are over and the international media stop reporting on the country's challenges. If we are serious about long-term recovery, we should work to harness the considerable energy around Haiti today to make aid more effective in building a better future for Haitians.
Diana Aubourg Millner, a Haitian-American, is a senior policy analyst with Bread for the World Institute.
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