December 28, 2016

Witness Haiti - An Untimely Conclusion

She's back. I know, I'd said I'd keep you posted about the Dragonfly's Haitian adventures and her mission, but things turned out otherwise. First, communication was difficult. The internet came in waves, making it difficult to have voice calls. It also appeared clear that there was a slight but real security risk of revealing where she was and what she was doing, so I refrained. Lastly, it seemed the same way for the NGO as a whole, because the organization has to deal with local politics, eager people and various interests.

In short, the situation in Haiti is complicated, for lack of a better word.

Waves of “Crisis relief” don't seem to have had a positive mid- to long-term effect on the country or its population. The poverty level is staggering, and there doesn't seem to be a simple path to mitigating it either. The presence of dozens of NGOs, whether temporary, quasi-permanent or permanent, complicates logistics, politics and attempts at structuring the backbone of a country that has been broken for a long, long time.

It seems like the population has come to a point of despaired acceptance, and that personal initiatives are rare and often deemed to failure. The underlying “humanitarian” culture brought in by international attempts at helping Haiti has created needs and channels deeply ingrained in the fabric of society, which is never a good thing. People were not meant to live in temporary shelters brought in after the 2010 earthquake, 6 years later. They weren't supposed to rely on a constant stream of distributed food and basic items after the bulk of the various catastrophes was over.

What was supposed to happen was different. Governments should have taken over the UN and Red Cross shortly after the initial traumas that shook the country. Local people and groups should have been in charge of reconstruction, helped by international materials and experts, only if needed. Local leadership should have grown from the grassroots. A general sense of purpose should have emerged out of the need to make the country stronger and better prepared for the inevitable future disasters.

Instead, local mobs rose to power. Governments gave in to corruption and complacency. Positive projects and local initiatives were ignored or remained unsupported. Unsustainability was not addressed. Empowerment didn't happen.

So it seems that what's left today is a handout culture, created in part by international aid, worsened by dysfunctional governments, rampant organized crime and millions of unkept promises.

How does one navigate such a murky situation? Can good will be transformed into positive action in a country that seems to miss its backbone? What happens when foreign projects end and the expatriates go back home? What remains in the wake of serial catastrophes when no attention is given to local empowerment and the rebuilding of society as an organized group of able, functioning humans?

These are difficult questions which one could argue are only the prerogative of those sitting on the sidelines. I can't help myself but wonder, however, what would have happened if, years ago upon the first occurrences of disasters, focus had been centered on putting the People back together, on facilitating the creation of functioning local structures and on supporting budding initiatives which empowered the communities and made them responsible for their future.

I think it's our duty as Humans, whenever we are trying to help others or improve a situation deemed unfavorable, to consider these important questions with the utmost humility, devoid of any other interest than the one of those supposed to benefit from our actions. But when those don't seem to have the will to take things over and step up to the task, or when they are so impeded that any action is doomed to fail, I'm at a complete loss as to what should or can be done.

1 comment:

  1. Interesting and complicated. You create a lot of questions and no answers; which is good. This post caught my eye. I work in Direct Relief. We just sent out (Dec 28th) a shipment of $40 million dollars of medical aid to Haiti. We are apolitical and have a strong partner network all over the world and also in Haiti. So goods really go to where they are needed. I don't speak for the organization but your post does raise some serious points. On the other hand, without our aid, lives would be at stake. So help or not help? Surely organizations must exist to aid populations to gain self-sufficiency and it should be a primary goal. On the other hand, organizations must be there to help these people until they can gain their self-sufficiency and its a fine line between creating a permanent dependency and just helping, even long-term.