Development Issues

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Development, Haiti: Bill, Hillary and the Haiti Debacle

Mary Anastasia O’Grady, Wall Street Journal, May 18, 2014

The news website Tout Haiti reported last month that two prominent lawyers have petitioned Haiti’s Superior Court of Auditors and Administrative Disputes, demanding an audit of Bill Clinton’s management of the Interim Haiti Recovery Commission (IHRC). There are powerful interests that won’t want to see the petition succeed and it may go nowhere. But the sentiment it expresses is spreading fast. {snip}

Four years after a magnitude 7.0 earthquake toppled the capital city of Port-au-Prince and heavily damaged other parts of the country, hundreds of millions of dollars from the State Department’s U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), allocated to the IHRC, are gone. Hundreds of millions more to the IHRC from international donors have also been spent. Left behind is a mishmash of low quality, poorly thought-out development experiments and half-finished projects.

Haitians are angry, frustrated and increasingly suspicious of the motives of the IHRC and of its top official, Mr. Clinton. Americans might feel the same way if they knew more about this colossal failure. One former Haitian official puts it this way: “I really cannot understand how you could raise so much money, put a former U.S. president in charge, and get this outcome.”

{snip}

The Clinton crowd has a lot of experience in Haiti. After President Clinton used the U.S. military to return Jean Bertrand Aristide to power in 1994, assorted Friends of Bill went into business to milk Haiti’s state-owned telephone monopoly. Telecom revenues were one of the few sources of hard currency for the country so the scheme hurt Haitians. (See Americas columns Oct. 27, 2008, and March 12, 2012.)

Haitian filmmaker Raoul Peck sheds light on Mr. Clinton’s most recent Haiti adventures in the 2013 documentary “Fatal Assistance.” Mr. Peck uses footage from an IHRC meeting in December 2010, when 12 Haitian commissioners confronted co-chairmen Mr. Clinton and Haitian Prime Minister Jean Max Bellerive, complaining that the commissioners had been marginalized.

The full letter they read from that day includes the charge that “the staffing and consultant selection” excluded Haitian board members. “No documentation on hiring criteria or candidate selection was sent to inform board members. The same is true for selected consultants; the Haitian board members don’t even know the names of the consultants who work for the IHRC nor their respective tasks.”

Obviously the Haitians didn’t understand. That was the job of the Clinton machine, which controlled the bankroll and could award the lucrative contracts.

{snip}

The “Fatal Assistance” film features shoddy housing projects plopped down where there is poor infrastructure and few job prospects. The GAO report cites other housing snafus. USAID underestimated funding requirements. Its budget went up by 65%, and the number of houses to be built came down by 80%. “Inappropriate cost comparisons were used”; and Haitians, it turns out, prefer flush toilets.

Foreign aid is notoriously wasteful and often counterproductive. Even when the money is not going directly to Swiss bank accounts it is rarely allocated to its highest use because the process is fundamentally political. Contractors with all the wrong training and incentives but the right connections have the best chance of winning jobs. No surprise, the GAO says that USAID’s Haiti reports have been incomplete and not timely.

{snip}

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Media, Haiti, Development: Sean Penn Accuses the Media of Ignoring Haiti’s Progress. But He’s Ignoring a Few Uncomfortable Facts, Too.

New Republic, June 19, 2014, By Jonathan M. Katz

These days, when U.S. media outlets are looking for an update on the state of things in Haiti, one of the top experts they turn to is Sean Penn. That isn’t meant as a joke. The star of Mystic River and Milk has long since established himself as a serious player in the Caribbean republic, founder of an influential nongovernmental organization, credentialed as an ambassador, and a reputedly close friend of the nation’s president and prime minister. After four years working on, and in, the country at the highest levels of international power, Penn has as much or more claim to the slippery mantle of expertise as plenty of other foreigners who took more traditional paths.

Still, the relationship remains a bit awkward between the media and policy worlds on the one hand and the square-jawed actor on the other. Case in point: Penn’s op-ed on Haiti’s “tremendous progress” in Wednesday’s Wall Street Journal.

The outlines of his argument seem straightforward at first blush. Penn primarily wants to highlight the work his aid group and allies in the Haitian government have done since the catastrophic earthquake of January 2010, which left an estimated 100,000 to 316,000 people dead and the country’s political and economic center in ruins. “The people of Haiti have come a long way,” he writes, which is fine as far as it goes, if perhaps conflating his organization and political allies with the national body politic.

But as you keep reading, the basis of Penn’s argument becomes decidedly less clear. Penn seems to see the enemy of this clear progress as his old bête noire, the media: “Headlines continue to spin Haiti as a dark, poverty-entrenched no-man’s-land. … Such cynicism sells papers and entices people to click, but at the cost of Haitian lives.” This kind of coverage is destructive, he argues, because it scares away the one group of people whom Penn seems to believe are the last great hope for the salvation of the Haitian people: foreign investors.

The mechanics of this are a bit hard to fathom. Does Penn suppose that investors, whose primary missions are to make money and beat the competition, depend solely on mass-media accounts of political and social problems? Is he alleging that the problems described in those unnamed reports are untrue; or just that, had journalists a bit more loyalty and tact, foreign businessmen simply wouldn’t know about them?

And what media are he talking about? Though Penn doesn’t name her, his op-ed must in some part be a response to WSJ editorialist Mary Anastasia O’Grady, who last month penned another entry in her ongoing narrative of Haiti and the world, which boils down to the personal malfeasance of Bill and Hillary Clinton. (This has been O’Grady’s take on all things Haiti for more than a decade.) O’Grady’s recent characterization of a post-quake recovery “debacle” is likely to have rubbed Penn the wrong way, or at least prompted someone to ask for his rebuttal. But it seems strange that Penn would complain about the airing of Haiti’s troubles in papers like the Wall Street Journal, since he goes on to spend the next six paragraphs airing Haiti’s troubles in the Wall Street Journal.

Moreover, the problems Penn expounds on—a continuing post-quake housing crisis and an ongoing cholera epidemic—are real, but the way he chooses to describe them do them, if anything, a disservice. Penn focuses his housing critique on the persistence of a few remaining post-quake encampments, settlements that, in a testament to the ingenuity and resilience of the people who built them, have since early on tended to be indistinguishable from other shantytown neighborhoods across Haiti, except for the fact that someone—usually the state or a powerful landowner—wanted them gone. The problem, which Penn hints at but never specifies, is that the vast majority of Haitians who have returned to pre-quake housing are living in houses as vulnerable as the ones that collapsed on January 12, 2010.

He also neglects to mention that the preponderance of evidence shows that the cholera epidemic was started by the negligent sanitation of United Nations peacekeeping soldiers, who dumped their waste in Haiti’s primary river system. Or that the U.N. and member nations including the United States steadfastly continue to refuse to pay for a cleanup, presumably because they don’t want to and nobody can make them, not because a columnist somewhere told them to beg off.

And this is where the contradictions really hit home. Penn is not, as the Journal identifies him, simply “an actor, director and the founder of J/P Haitian Relief Organization.” If he were just an outside observer, he’d likely have mentioned that one of the biggest crises in the country—and one of the ones most likely continuing to scare off investment, for what that’s worth—has been the failure of his friend, President Michel Martelly, to hold municipal and legislative elections since taking office in 2011.

Nor is he strictly a journalist. (A fact-checker would have noticed that, contrary to his claim, the cholera epidemic that erupted in Haiti in October 2010 has already spread to Mexico; and an editor would have prompted him to note that Haiti is flailing along with the rest of the hemisphere in the face of another epidemic, of the mosquito-borne chikungunya virus, and that his boasting of Doctors Without Borders’ ongoing work in Haiti is especially misguided given that the organization only works in emergency areas with little infrastructure, a particularly concerning fact for Haiti since they have been there since 1991.) But at the same time, no one hosting all-star fundraisers featuring the U.S. ambassador to Haiti and Anderson Cooper, or publishing critical op-eds in the Wall Street Journal, can fairly claim to be outside the media himself.

None of that is disqualifying. Who is without contradictions, after all? It just reaffirms the question anyone should ask when encountering such an opinion piece: Who is writing this? What do they want? Who, right now, is Sean Penn?

Jonathan M. Katz is a freelance journalist and the author of The Big Truck That Went By: How the World Came to Save Haiti and Left Behind a Disaster. Follow him on Twitter @KatzOnEarth.

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Development: NGOs and the shock of the new

By Elizabeth Blunt, LONDON, 16 June 2014 (IRIN)

The big international aid agencies have been hugely successful. Organizations that were once small civil society operations – groups of friends with a passion to make the world a better place – now have thousands of staff members, multi-storey headquarters buildings and multi-million dollar budgets. But insiders fret that they have become too big and have lost the flexibility and responsiveness they once had.

They also worry about the future, and whether big international agencies are still the best way of doing things. It’s hard to imagine a world without Oxfam or Save the Children, but 20 years ago it would have been hard to imagine a world without Kodak film and cameras, or multi-volume editions of the Encyclopaedia Britannica. Now both have gone, swept away by technological change they were slow to see coming.

In Britain a lot of soul-searching is taking place inside what is known as the START Network (once called the Consortium of British Humanitarian Agencies), which brings together 19 major NGOs and their worldwide partner organizations. The Network’s Director, Sean Lowrie, thinks the way the sector works is cumbersome and old fashioned. “NGOs are stuck in a Victorian model, which requires people to suffer and die to get on the front page of newspapers, and the newspapers trigger public donations and that triggers political will. It’s a reactive model,” he says.

It’s also very slow. The START Network is explicitly looking for a new and better way of working, and has made a beginning with the START fund, a pot of money provided by the UK’s Department for International Development (DFID) and Irish Aid, which can be mobilized immediately in a crisis and channelled to whichever organization, international or local, is best placed to use it. The key is that the money is already there – it doesn’t have to wait for a crisis to get on the television news. Smaller emergencies or slow-onset crises may never give rise to that kind of money-generating publicity.

Olivia Maehler, START’s business manager, said they aim to consider proposals and release funds within 72 hours of receiving an alert. “We could get an alert on a Tuesday and the funding could be going out by Friday morning,” she told IRIN.

This demands a collaborative way of working, and an unusual degree of selflessness on the part of member organizations, who may in the past have competed for funding and public profile. The principle is that the money goes to whoever can make best use of it straight away, and so far over half the money has gone directly to local implementing partners.

The fund is still in its ‘design and build’ stage, but has already been able to respond to the violence in Rakhine State, Myanmar, and to one of the sudden spikes in conflict and displacement in South Sudan. Until now the meetings to allocate funds have taken place in London. “We are hoping that for future project selection we will be able to do the decision-making in the field, at the local level,” Maehler says.

But the tools that make this kind of devolved, collaborative way of working possible also threaten to disrupt the traditional roles of the big NGOs and perhaps bypass them altogether. At a public debate in London, linked to START’s first annual conference, speakers presented the kind of innovations that have the power to shake up humanitarian action.

“Across the world now, there’s a bubbling sense of democracy on the march. You will only be able to transform the humanitarian sector if it becomes part of that. Otherwise, the sector is doomed”

Paul Skinner, whose organization, ‘Pimp My Cause’, matches marketing volunteers with charities and social enterprises that need their skills, spoke of the need to harness people’s underlying participatory spirit, and “make a humanitarian of everyone”.

“Whereas the NGO of the past may have been something you chose to support, maybe in quite passive ways, the NGO of the future is likely to be something you will turn to because they can help you achieve something worthwhile yourself,” he said.

From your armchair 

Luis Morago, of the online campaigning organization, Avaaz, described getting involved in a form of international activism which can bypass conventional NGOs altogether by using the example of Cyclone Nargis, which struck Myanmar in 2008.

The government was blocking aid flights so Avaaz’s online followers rapidly raised US$2 million and sent it via a network of Buddhist monks who had been appealing for help online. “I didn’t leave my armchair,” Morago said, “But still I was feeling very happy and it cost me ten dollars… But it’s what happens after the clicks that matters – how we use that support. That’s what can bring incredible change.”

Other speakers in the debate included Laura Walker Hudson from Frontline SMS, which has created tools to conduct mass campaigns using basic mobile phone technology, and Harry Wood from Humanitarian OpenStreetMap, a free collaborative mapping project that came into its own during disasters like the 2010 earthquake in Haiti.

The possibilities presented were exciting but also unsettling for many in the audience. Powerful new tools for mobilization, like Avaaz, could be used for good purposes, said Frances Stevenson of Help Age International, but also destructively. “Just imagine if they had been around in the 1930s,” she said. “It could be used either way, so I suppose we had better grab it before the other side does!”

John Borton, a senior research associate in the Humanitarian Policy Group of the Overseas Development Institute (ODI), a UK think-tank, was struck by the way all this fizz of innovation was happening outside the established humanitarian NGOs. “They create their own organizations, and that makes me uncomfortable. I guess it’s all part of the sector becoming more diffuse, expanding from dozens of organizations to hundreds,” he said. “There’s something here about the way that the established organizations embrace technology.”

That concern got short shrift from Ken Banks, author of ‘The Rise of the Reluctant Innovator’, which covers the stories of 10 people who solve unexpected problems. “Money kills innovation,” he says bluntly. “Look at Ushahidi [a non-profit open-source software development company]. Why didn’t the Red Cross build Ushahidi? They should have done. The Red Cross needed something like Ushahidi many times in the past. I think people taking their ideas to the bigger NGOs would absolutely kill them, and drive them [innovators] to despair!”

The message is clear. Change – disruptive change – is inevitable, and the humanitarian sector needs to be prepared to work differently, and also to play a very different role in the future. What can’t be predicted is whether change will kill their traditional business – as it killed the traditional business models of Kodak and Encyclopaedia Britannica – or whether – as in the case of digital publishing – it will give the sector a new lease of life.

Either way, says Luis Morago, change is coming. “Across the world now, there’s a bubbling sense of democracy on the march. You will only be able to transform the humanitarian sector if it becomes part of that. Otherwise, the sector is doomed.”

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Development: Maafushi Island Shows the Way for Inclusive Wealth Creation through Tourism

Maafushi Island Shows the Way for Inclusive Wealth Creation through Tourism

SUBMITTED BY SANDYA SALGADO ON THU, 05/29/2014

The success story of Maafushi, an island in the Kaafu Atoll in the Maldives, dates back to 2009 when the government liberalized its policy on local tourism. A visionary entrepreneur, Ahmed Naseer, lost no time in starting a four roomed guest house in 2010, to kick start the concept of local tourism in his home island Maafushi. And the rest is history!

Maafushi’s expansion from one guest house in 2010 to thirty guest houses to date is a remarkable success story which I was privileged to witness firsthand last week.

An island with 2000 locals had welcomed 600 tourists last year. They were coming in search of an affordable, simple holiday, just for the sun and sea experience, living amongst the islanders while experiencing theiruniqueculture and lifestyle. Maafushi’s model of attracting local tourists has provided an alternative to the high end tourism that Maldives is known world over for.


Asim Mohamed, better known as ‘Simbe’ of Maafushi Dive

I was curious to know what factors contributed to this amazing story of growth of local tourism on one solitary island in the archipelago.

“Proximity to Male, ease of transport, a well-functioning sewage system and a water treatment plant definitely helped us” said Simbe, the beaming thirty two year old owner of Maafushi Dive.
What he didn’t say was that the unique entreprenurial spirit of the islanders coupled with their warm and friendly nature with which they welcomed the guests, making them feel at home and comfortable at all times definitely added to their success.

A Norwegian diving instructor I met in the island said “people of Maafushi are very different in nature to some of the other islanders,” and confirmed that the success of Maafushi could also be largely attributed to this unique characteristic of its people. Having spoken to many different groups in the island, I would definitely think she knew what she was talking about.

What was most intriguing for me was how the islanders had demarcated a special area for the guests to enjoy the sun and sea, without encroaching into each others’ lives. The palm leafed fence beautifully separated the privacy of both the guests and the islanders who believed in a ‘live and let live’ philosophy to help with the growing local tourism in the island.

The success of this island is not limited to development of its guest houses, but the growth of complementary services which makes the model sustainable, inclusive and beneficial to a larger group of islanders. Some of these services include transport, laundry service, internet and cable TV services, restaurents, handicrafts, engineering and maintainence services, construction work, carpentary, garbage collection, motorbike repairs, traditional music and dance, fishing, diving and water sports and still growing…


 Unattended waste management

As any form of development is bound to have challenges, Maafushi is conscious of theirs. Sea erosion is a primary concern which will badly affect the booming industry if timely intervention is not forthcoming. The other pressing issue is the escalating consumption of electricity and beyond affordable rates that seem unsustainable with the increasing business needs. Waste management is another growing problem that hasn’t found a solution yet. The entrepreneurs are hopeful that the government will provide them with solutions to these three major threats that will determine the growth and sustainability of this remarkable development success story that has helped Maafushi in wealth creation and shared prosperity.

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Haiti, Development: Four Years after Earthquake, Housing, Sanitation, Health Care are Still Pressing Needs in Haiti

Center for Economic and Policy Research

“International community’s response remains misplaced,” CEPR Co-Director Says

Washington, D.C., January 9, 2014 – Four years after an earthquake devastated Haiti and killed some 220,000 people and displaced 1.5 million, housing, sanitation and health care remain woefully inadequate, Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) Co-DirectorMark Weisbrot said today. Weisbrot noted that while some 200,000 people are still stuck in internally displaced person (IDP) camps, and many others have beenforcibly evicted onto the streets – and while under-funded sanitation and health care allow a cholera epidemic to continue to ravage the country — many of the urgently-needed funds meant to assist the people of Haiti have gone instead into the pockets of contractors, or have been used to fund projects that benefit foreign corporations far more than they do Haitians.

“The lasting legacy of the earthquake is the international community’s profound failure to set aside its own interests and respond to the most pressing needs of the Haitian people,” Weisbrot said. “Four years of exposés in the international media, appeals from the U.N. and international aid groups, and pleas from the Haitian government, Haitian grassroots groups and many others have failed to change the misplaced priorities of the international response to the earthquake and the cholera epidemic.”

Weisbrot applauded the Assessing Progress in Haiti Act, introduced by Rep. Barbara Lee and cosponsored by 34 other legislators, which passed the U.S. House of Representatives last month. The Act is meant to foster greater transparency in U.S. government contracting in Haiti through regular progress reports to Congress.

Much of the U.S. government aid earmarked for Haiti following the quake has gone to foreign contractors, providing little benefit to Haitian businesses, organizations or workers. 67.1 percent of USAID contracts has gone to Beltway-based firms, while just 1.3 percent has gone to Haitian companies. The Haitian government has also largely been bypassed as aid funds have gone to foreign contractors, international agencies and the many groups that populate what is known as the “republic of NGOs.” Of the $6.43 billion disbursed by bilateral and multilateral donors to Haiti from 2010-2012, just 9 percent went through the Haitian government.

Weisbrot noted that although the massive displacement of people from their homes was one of the most visible and damaging aspects of the earthquake, four years lateronly 7,515 new houses had been built. A U.S. government plan to build 15,000 new houses has reduced its goals by over 80 percent.

The cholera epidemic, brought to Haiti by U.N. troops, has killed 8,500 people and sickened over 695,000. While the U.N., the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Haitian and Dominican governments launched a $2.2 billion plan to eradicate cholera over a year ago, it remains woefully underfunded, and the U.N. itself has pledged just 1 percent of the funding needed, even as the U.N.’s mostly military and police mission in Haiti costs over $572 million a year.

Projects such as the Caracol industrial park, meanwhile, continue to receive additional funding, with the Inter-American Development Bank announcing last week that it would commit another $40.5 million for the facility’s expansion. The project has come under scrutiny over poor working conditions and low pay for garment workers; theWorkers Rights Consortium [PDF] found that “On average, workers were paid 34% less than the law requires” at Caracol.

“The least that the U.N. and international community could do is to clean up the mess that they themselves made,” Weisbrot said. “This means providing the infrastructure for clean water, as quickly as possible, to get rid of the deadly cholera bacteria that U.N. troops – who did not come to Haiti for earthquake relief – brought to the country.

“The millions of dollars brought to contractors and big NGOs have often not been used to meet the urgent needs of the Haitian people.”

For more background on the state of reconstruction in Haiti four years after the quake, see CEPR’s “Haiti: Relief and Reconstruction Watch” blog.

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