What did you expect?

My thoughts after reading NPR’s story: Haiti Aid Money Lies Unspent, Drawing Criticism

An earthquake, a tsunami, flash-flooding . . . news trickles in of major disasters devastating countries all over the world and the west gives. Ten dollars here, twenty-five there, our hopes that people and organizations in control of the money will put it to good use and somehow, sometimes by magic, a wrecked country will stand on its own two feet in the near future.

Today, NPR reported on aid after the earthquake in Haiti, ” . . . One year later, much of that money remains unspent, and criticism is mounting that the international aid response has not moved fast enough to alleviate the suffering of the earthquake survivors.”

According to the recent article from NPR, Americans alone gave $2 billion to charities in the aftermath of the earthquake in Haiti. In 2009 the World Bank reported that Haiti’s GDP was only $6.48 Billion, and that was the highest it had been in almost 20 years.

Haiti is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. 80% of the population live in poverty. That has consistently been the case. While there has been positive growth happening over the last 5 years, the country was in a devastated condition even before the earthquake.

There is and was widespread unemployment and two-thirds of the country work in agriculture, which leaves very little access to skilled labor.

Where do you want the Billions to go?

It is easy to think “They need new buildings, new homes, clean water, food.” All true, but those things don’t spring out of the ground on a sunny day. It takes organization, planning, accessibility, INFRASTRUCTURE to build, and re-build a nation. Haiti didn’t have a solid foundation before the earthquake, through what channels should the money now flow? Not to mention the communication problems with trying to newly organize previously autonomous charities to provide some stable and intentional help.

I didn’t come into contact with lack of infrastructure until 2009 when I went to visit Zimbabwe. Until then, it was just a concept, an abstract idea, because I live where there are plans for the future, plans for disasters, what-if plans, plan B’s and people employed to help you plan your plan. There are methods in place, and specific programs to teach those employed by those methods how to do it the same as everyone else. Zimbabwe had none of this, but until I saw it for myself, I didn’t understand the damming effect it has.

Haiti is in a similar boat, and one that doesn’t float just because there is money laying around. We can not give and expect immediate results. That is not the way some countries are set-up, and it may never be.

Yes, we need to hold aid organizations accountable. Yes, we need to know that the money is where it should be, not lining someone’s tweed pocket. Yes, we need to work to spread aid far and wide when disaster strikes so the rural and even further impoverished aren’t left out. But, we can’t expect to dump $2 billion plus dollars into the hands of a country that doesn’t know how to build well, to develop well, to repair well and see magical results.

According to Andy Atkins, Tearfund’s Advocacy Director, “Airlifting stranded people from floodwaters and sending food packages to those affected by drought can no longer be our sole response to weather-related disasters.  As a global community we have a moral responsibility to invest our aid money upfront in helping the planet’s poorest people prepare for predictable disaster. If we do not, then many thousands of lives will be needlessly lost and billions of pounds of aid money will not be used to best effect . . . In the developed world we invest millions of pounds into reducing the risks associated with floods and droughts. Yet we do not follow the same strategy with our international aid budgets.” 1

Well put, Mr. Atkins. What we do about disaster is not effective because it cannot be. Let’s change our ways.

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