Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Haiti - “The Republic of NGOs,”

Africans can learn from the experience of Haiti when it comes to foreign aid promises. Haiti is a formerly French colonial island nation occupying a little less than half of the Caribbean island originally called Hispanola (the other half of the island, the Dominican Republic, is a former Spanish colony). The island soon became a critical stop in the slave trade in the Americas, with its capital, Port-au-Prince, being one of the most popular hubs. The colonial overseers grew rich, exporting sugar and coffee to the world. By 1804, due to several slave uprisings, the poor natives overthrew French rule and became the first free nation in Latin America. Like other new democratic successes of the Atlantic World, the Haitians discovered self-determination. They also discovered debt, saddled with a French demand for 150 million francs (more than $20 billion in today’s terms) to compensate the colonial power for its lost territory.

The world pledged some $12 billion after the 2010 earthquake to Haiti . Two years later, little has been used to actually rebuild the country. According to reports by Oxfam, the UN, the U.S. Government Accountability Office and international aid experts interviewed by GlobalPost, billions of dollars of aid were pledged to Haiti’s reconstruction, but promises of funding have not translated into money on the ground. Of the original $1.4 billion allocated by the US Congress, according to a most recent GAO report, $655 million in funds was reimbursed to the Department of Defense. Another $220 million went to repay the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. $350 million went to disaster assistance (an umbrella term that includes everything from medical care to sanitation); $150 million to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (for emergency food and forward-thinking agricultural programs in Haiti); and $15 million to the Department of Homeland Security for Immigration fees and aircraft fares for the lucky few Haitian refugees brought to the United States.

“In the end,” says Robert Fatton Jr., professor of government and foreign affairs at the University of Virginia “...if you read the reports — the UN Report and so on — you’ll see that actual Haitians got less than 1 percent of all the American money pledged.” In other words, Fatton explained, “99 percent of [the U.S. money spent] went back to the U.S. military, the State Department, NGOs and contractors. The money was clearly intended for Haiti, but it ended up returning to the same place it came from.”

Expanding the picture doesn’t change it. The UN Special Envoy for Haiti reported that of the overall $2.4 billion pledged by the UN for humanitarian efforts in Haiti, 34 percent (or $864 million) of those funds were given back to donor civil and military organizations, 28 percent (or $672 million) was laid out to UN and non-governmental humanitarian projects such as housing and health-care, 26 percent (or $624 million) was given to contractors for things like road-building and infrastructure, and 5 percent ($120 million) was given to various international Red Cross/Red Crescent societies.

As recently as the early 1980s, Haiti was producing just about all of its own rice. Now more than 60 percent is imported from the U.S., making it the fourth largest recipient of American rice exports in the world. That was before the quake and now with donated rice coming in as well, Haiti is even more awash in rice while American agribusiness makes billions of dollars every year through generous government subsidies.

“You might say it is a perfect metaphor for what is wrong with aid to Haiti,” says Marc Cohen, a senior researcher for Oxfam. “Instead of bringing subsidized rice in on ships from Miami, we could be helping Haiti grow rice in its own fields,” explains Cohen, who worked for many years in Haiti with the International Food Policy Research Institute and studied the broad economic impact of U.S. rice subsidies, or “Miami rice,” as it is known here.

If you really want to see the face of humanitarian spending post-earthquake in Haiti — the financial clout of the NGOs — there’s only one place to go: the Toyota dealership in Port-au-Prince. The white Toyota Land Cruiser is perhaps the ultimate symbol of international interventional power. And in and around Port-au-Prince, the vehicles are omnipresent.

How much does one cost?“Each one, with taxes, is $61,100,” she says. “If you have tax-free status, you can get them for less, but then you have to take them with you or give them away here. If you pay the taxes, you can just sell the car.”

And how many do you sell a year?

“This year, we sold 250 of this model. But, you know, right after the earthquake, for several months, we were probably selling that many Land Cruisers every month. Maybe twice that many.”

250 Land Cruisers at $61,000 each is upward of $15 million dollars. So even if they sold only a few more Land Cruisers in 2010 after the first few months (and you have to assume they did) plus the 2011 sales numbers so far , conservatively speaking that’s a gross cash influx in the neighborhood of $100 million in the last two years (though of course, some will have to go to taxes). Add to that the repair and maintenance fees, and you’re looking at maybe $110 million. Maybe $150 million. And that’s a conservative estimate.

No comments: