New from CGD

Two Years After: Fresh Ideas for Haiti

February 7, 2012
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Photo: Gates Foundation / cc

At the second anniversary of the Haiti earthquake in January 2012, slow reconstruction and recovery efforts sparked soul-searching and debate in the development community. Why aren’t recovery efforts moving faster? Are international donors and NGOs helping or hurting recovery? Can traditional aid work amidst Haiti's weak government institutions? Are there alternative approaches that would be better?

Because Haiti epitomizes many of the most difficult challenges of development, it has attracted substantial interest from CGD researchers. Their fresh ideas include using migration as a disaster recovery tool and cell phones to put money directly into the hands of earthquake victims. Below, highlights from their recent work:


1) Better Haiti Aid: Migration



Owen Barder

Michael Clemens, Senior Fellow

“The U.S. government added Haiti to the list of more than 50 countries eligible to participate in the H-2 visa program for temporary and seasonal workers, ending a longstanding policy of excluding Haitians from America’s largest temporary employment-based visa program. This is wonderful news for Haitians and Americans. It has the potential to unlock hundreds of millions of dollars in new economic opportunity for Haitian workers and their families—at no cost to the U.S. or Haitian governments, and with no increase in overall U.S. immigration. This seemingly tiny change has vast economic potential. Given the huge wage differences (an estimated $19,000 in additional annual income per Haitian worker), if just 2,000 Haitians are permitted to work as H-2 workers in the United States each year, over the course of 10 years, that’s $400 million in additional, new income for Haitian families. That’s equal in size to the entire U.S. post-earthquake budget for reconstruction in Haiti.”

2) Haiti: Doomed to be the Republic of NGOs?

Owen Barder

Vijaja Ramachandran, Senior Fellow

“Haiti is often called the ‘Republic of NGOs.’ Because of the limited capacity of the Haitian government and weak national institutions, NGOs have risen to play a very prominent role, one equivalent to a quasi-privatization of the state. In a forthcoming paper, I discuss some of the options for improving the relationship between NGOs and the government of Haiti, with a view to building public institutions and government capacity. I recommend that NGOs working in Haiti be asked to sign the equivalent of the Paris Declaration for aid donors—one that would require registration, coordination, and cooperation with the government. Meanwhile, the government (and the international donor community, which is committed at least on paper to supporting the government) should focus on core functions, in particular “core governance”: security, civil service, core infrastructure, legal and regulatory reforms, and public financial management and corruption.”

3) Build Back Better: Great Slogan, Bad Idea?

Owen Barder

Charles Kenny, Senior Fellow

“On the second anniversary of the Haiti quake, there has been some progress towards reconstruction and recovery, but it is slow. And one big reason for that is the snail’s pace rate of disbursement of international donor funding for reconstruction. [This stirs] up old angst about the broader problem with disaster relief and recovery support. All too often, we try to deliver [disaster relief] like development assistance. But reconstruction and development are two different things. Development is about making things better than they were. Reconstruction, on the other hand, is about ‘getting back to where we were’ as quickly as possible. For disaster recovery, a new model of giving money direct to victims is increasingly practicable thanks to mobile money –indeed, it was done by Mercy Corps in Haiti. I’d suggest combining that with funding local governments –however inefficient and corrupt—to get back to their former state of (dys)function. Wait on the development assistance until life looks a little more normal.”

4) Cholera in Haiti: The Blame Game

Owen Barder

Victoria Fan, Research Fellow, and Richard Cash, Senior Lecturer on Global Health, Harvard School of Public Health

“Since October 2010, Haiti has struggled to control a deadly cholera outbreak—on top of ongoing recovery efforts from the devastating earthquake in January 2010. In December 2011, a group of lawyers in Haiti, on behalf of some 15,000 victims of cholera, sued the United Nations for $50,000 for each victim and double that for families of those who died. Focusing on these immediate objects of blame are of epidemiologic interest, but deflect attention away from the country experiencing the disease, and in this case, unable to control the spread. In a country where aid agencies and NGOs play major roles relative to the government, this outbreak should draw attention not only to immediate causes but more importantly to the long-term failure by every involved party and to the urgency of improving Haiti’s water and sanitation as soon as possible.”

This is not the first time CGD has proposed alternative development ideas for Haiti. Click here to see our list from 2010, featuring even more ideas and commentary on post-quake development efforts.