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This Sunday is the fourth anniversary of Haiti’s devastating 2010 earthquake. It immediately killed more than 150,000 people and the economy was shattered. I’ve been reflecting on the progress Haiti has made and the long road ahead.
Although President Obama will be plenty busy during the remainder of his first term working with Congress to avoid the fiscal cliff, he need not wait until the start of his second term to further his vision for making US policy more supportive of global poverty reduction.
On January 12, 2010, at 16:53 hours, a magnitude 7.0 earthquake struck the city of Port-au-Prince, killing over 200,000 people and leaving several million homeless. Foreign aid poured into Haiti, at the rate of almost a thousand dollars per Haitian. For the past two years, we have been putting together the various pieces of data we could find on aid flows and foreign involvement after the quake. We found that the big international NGOs and private contractors have been the primary recipients of billions of dollars in U.S. assistance have been not been required to report systematically on how they use the funds. There has been a lack of accountability to both the funders and recipients. Our preliminary impressions based on our visit to Haiti are that this lack of accountability is if anything worse on the ground: the NGOs are frequently not accountable to the Haitian government or to the people they aim to serve. We even learned something about earthquakes--for example, did you know that Haiti’s two major faults (the northern Sententrional fault and the southern Enriquillo-Plantain Garden fault) are called slip-strike faults, and are similar to the San Andreas Fault in California? It was the southern fault that triggered the quake two and a half years ago.
Update: On March 29, the U.S. Senate confirmed Pamela White to be Ambassador of the United States of America to the Republic of Haiti.
Assuming she is confirmed by the Senate, Pamela White is set to become the next U.S. ambassador to Haiti. In her March 14 confirmation hearing, White and the senators agreed on one message: Haiti’s unstable government is impeding post-earthquake recovery, including U.S. aid efforts. But White could consider alternative approaches—from migration policy to mobile money—that might do more to help Haitians right now.
Over at Foreign Policy, I have a column this week about Michael Clemens' work on migration as a tool for disaster recovery. 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.
Two years ago this Thursday, at least 150,000 people died one evening in Haiti. As a fraction of the national population, the U.S. equivalent would be the instant death of the entire state of South Carolina. Those Haitians died mostly because they lived in a poor country.
Two years ago, a 7.0 magnitude earthquake struck Haiti, plunging an already poor and unstable country into complete and utter chaos. In the days and weeks that followed, international responses and donations were overwhelming. Yet almost all of the assistance provided to Haiti has bypassed its government, leaving it even less capable than before. Humanitarian agencies, NGOs, private contractors, and other non-state service providers have received 99 percent of relief aid—less than 1 percent of aid in the immediate aftermath of the quake went to public institutions or to the government. And only 23 percent of the longer-term recovery funding was channeled through the Haitian government. Figure 1 shows the breakdown of relief aid from all donors to Haiti, by recipient.
A year and a half ago, an earthquake wrecked Haiti. So many Haitians were killed that if the same fraction of the U.S. population were cut down, the deaths would outnumber the entire population of Tennessee. Commendable relief efforts are ongoing, supported in large part by U.S. assistance, but economic and political disarray have led to widespread perception that those efforts are inadequate.
Unfortunately, as it proceeds with the hard work of disaster relief for Haiti, the U.S. government has chosen not to use its most powerful tool: migration policy. Migration out of Haiti has caused more poverty reduction for Haitians than all attempts at poverty reduction within Haiti combined. Remittances to Haiti have amounted to at least double foreign aid, for years. Remittances also—unlike foreign aid—go directly into the pockets of needy people, and they rise more quickly after disasters than aid does. While the U.S. government has recently and sensibly suspended the deportations of some Haitians who arrived in the U.S. after the earthquake, it has not systematically used migration policy to help even a small number of Haitians starting out in Haiti arrive in the U.S. as a humanitarian gesture. It could easily do so.