The Humanitarian Imperative

10 Jun

It’s hard for me to write this.

But I think it’s time for Aid to leave Haiti.

It’s hard for me to write this because it goes against everything that I believe and value as a humanitarian. It goes against my belief that not only should we “help”, but also that we can. I think the foreign experiment in Haiti, for the past two hundred years and culminating with a roundly botched response to the earthquake of 2010, however, is showing that we actually can’t and probably shouldn’t.

The international community has spent the better part of the past two hundred years proving itself fully incapable of helping. And if you look with any kind of objectivity at Haiti during that same period, it seems clear enough that Haiti has also shown by its actions that it is not particularly interested in being helped.

Before you fill my comments thread with hate for that, let me first clarify that I do not at all minimize the damaging effects of a brutal colonial period, the repeatedly exploitative nature of international treaties since independence, or basically self-serving interests of foreign investors, missionaries and secular humanitarians alike. Haiti has been and continues to be a victim, no question. But it also seems clear enough that the relationship between Haiti and everyone else is essentially a dysfunctional one. And it takes two to have a dysfunctional relationship.

It is hard for me to write this, because it feels ethnocentric or as if I am blaming the victim. It is hard to write this and I do so with deep reservation and misgiving. But this is how I see it.

I think it’s time for Aid to leave Haiti.

I’ve certainly defended Aid enough on this blog, including different things about the earthquake response in Haiti. In this case, though, I see the earthquake response in Haiti as simply the icing on the cake. Many have said that Haiti was a disaster before the earthquake, and I’d agree. What is said less often, is that Aid also was broken in Haiti before the earthquake. Depending on which numbers you crunch, and how you crunch them, Haiti is only incrementally worse off now than it was on January 9, 2010. I do not say this to in any way compliment the combined, inter-agency relief response, but rather to highlight just how bad things were pre-earthquake, despite decades of foreign assistance. It’s time to call this what it is: a massive debacle.

I honestly think that the very best thing for Haiti would be for us all to leave. I do not (yet) believe that Aid is broken globally. But it is certainly broken in Haiti. I sincerely believe that in the grand scheme of things we are not doing Haiti any real favors by staying on. We need to get out. All of us. All of the foreign governments with their incentives and their politicians who visit and make speeches about “Haiti’s bright future.” All of the UN and INGOs with their massive compounds and their VHF radios and their strategies. All of the hippy architects with their houses made out of recycled trash, the BOGO entrepreneurs with their GIK dumping, the bright-eyed innovators with their “platforms” and their earth-friendly gadgets. The journalist opining on about how “aid has failed” while utterly failing to understand what that even means. The comfortable-in-New York Haitian diaspora arrogantly claiming to be “one of the people.” For heavens’ sake, all of the church groups with their matching T-shirts and their pet orphanages.

I honestly believe that what Haiti needs more than anything else is simply the opportunity to figure out for itself what Haiti wants and needs, without interference variously disguised as “help” from outside. Haiti has never in its entire history had this opportunity. Yet it seems clear to me that this is what is needed most.

If we take seriously The Humanitarian Imperative – the value which holds that when people need help, the international community is obliged to respond – then I do not believe we can hide any longer from the reality that what Haiti needs more than anything else right now is for us to stop meddling. And historically we, the outsiders, have never once been up to the task of being part of the Haiti conversation without simultaneously imposing our will. It is time for Aid to leave Haiti.

It is hard to write this. But for the sake of The Humanitarian Imperative, if nothing else, we all need to have one last Prestige, and then head for the airport. All of us.

[See also: Looking Back on Haiti – Crisis of Purpose, Crisis of Practice ]

53 Responses to “The Humanitarian Imperative”

  1. Val B 10 June, 2011 at 6:12 am #

    Having followed your writings since the Haiti earthquake, I imagine this was VERY difficult for you to apprehend and write about. For many of us, the desire to help, to do something we believe matters, is very strong.

    So if we come upon a time in our lives when the best help we can give is no help, I think it goes against our grain.

    On an individual basis, it is easier for us to pull back and let another single person find the ground beneath their feet, learn their strengths, fall and get back up. That’s manageable.

    But how does one do this on a macro level, in a country with multitudes of people? (I don’t know)

  2. solemu 10 June, 2011 at 6:45 am #

    I think it’s brave of you saying this…
    I tend to agree, considering the history of Haiti and the constant external interventions (from the malevolent ones to those considered benevolent & linked to assistance).
    I’d love to listen/read the “beneficiaries” voice, even one of them, as an example of a non-aid discourse…Do you reckon you can interview someone in one of your programmes? Or ask him/her to write/draw their thinking about the topic?
    Thanks again for your sincerity and pushing the ethical boundaries in the industry.

    • Erik 21 May, 2012 at 6:10 am #

      Thank you for spreading the word about Haiti. Yes, today I too found it imilbspsoe to think about or blog about anything else.I visited Hait this past summer and my life will never be the same. Prior to this earthquake, life in Haiti was harsh, to say the least. Now, I cannot imagine the conditions and the suffering. In Haiti, I visited an orphanage called Danita’s Children ( and saw a little bit of heaven in hell. Danita and Brenda, one of the other missionaries, have since visited me in my home. They are beautiful women, both inside and out. The orphanage in now planning to make room for more orphans. These people are not “foreigners,” they are our neighbors and need our help. Again, thanks for letting people know how to reach out and help others.

  3. ansel 10 June, 2011 at 7:59 am #

    Hear hear.

  4. maria 10 June, 2011 at 8:04 am #

    I not only agree with you and will not fill the comment with hate, but think that this could m and should, be applied equally to Africa, all of it. But hei then loads of people woulf loose ther jobs-and some are extremely lucrative!.

    People often forget (or perhaps dont’ know) that the aid industry is much more than the work of humanitarian ngos (btw frequently financed to a high percentage by donors such as the EU for instance, which at the end of the day means “governmental”). It involves also bilateral aid (between states=governmental) and aid given by the EU directly to states, for a variety of goals (education, building health systems, and fostering governance and political stability, for instance). In this way, many States around the world are under a continuous perfusion of funds on which their entire economies function (Im talking millions of euros per year, directly to the State adn without conditions,-in the name of “ownership”). Haiti is one of those.

    Of course one of the problems comes when the state is unable to either absorb the aid (simply lack of government, I mean a real government/state , and not necesarily a democratic one) or manage it (becasue of lack of structures, lack of effective government, widespread corruption, armed conflict…you name it) It happens all the time.

    Besides direct state aid, states receive aid in the form of ngos coming to provide what the state should be providing wiht the funds it received that year from the EU (for example, since its the biggest donor in the world right now). The state/goverment is so happy! weeee! it does not need to justify what it does with direct budget support form the EU (ownership”, and anyway indicators we need ot rspond to are are so lousy …who cares?) nor does it need to actually DO the job because ngos are doing it for him! SO as long as you shut up and not mess too much with human rights in rogue states (Sudan, 2005, MSF…) you cna stay anddo the job the State should actually be doing. Of course, its not enough and will not work.

    NGOs frequently confuse their mandate. they mix ethics, humanitarian “imperatives”, emergency, needs,..of doe not work.

    The current aid industry is unfit to addres poverty and injustice around the world. Because it does not and will not question its own ways of doing. The machine is on, it has to go on. there’s too much money to be spent, and too much need in the world!! voters and taxpayers want it. EU civil servants, nog heads of mission, ngo workers sitting confortably in HQ want their salaries and careers.

    the Aid industry is unfit, but its OK, because its moraly on the good side. So, ummovable. Because even at international ngo level, (I speak of pèrsonal experience here) ngo staff do not want and are not knowledgeable enough to analyse situations beyond immediate action, thinking that good intentionsand a certian sense of ethics suffice to become an aid worker. Because it takes more than aid to build societies. Because the donors are giving millions every year to aid (bilateral, UN, EU…) while at the same time signing juicy contracts with rogue states for natural ressources, polluting industry relocalisation. Because international law applies only to those states that want to follow it. Becasue while the State is the responsible one for guaranteeing the chart of universal human rights, it is frequently the first to violate it. Becasue even when states become “good pupils” , transnational companies remain free to violate, exploit, expoliate populations and trade with ressources around the wrld.

    the aid industry is not only unfit, uneducated enough to analyse/address structural causes of poverty and injustice, and too proud of itsel f(we’re the good guys), it is also simply lacking power and mandate to change the underlying causes of “underdeveloment”.

    • Val B 10 June, 2011 at 11:43 am #


    • Jean Joseph 11 June, 2011 at 1:46 am #

      They don’t want to really help, but they use help as a way to appear as good samaritains and zombify the country for control. Aid help gathers the population support and renders the local government useless. Aid has turned Haiti into a corrupt country with everyone having a ONG in their own little government. Haiti has enough resources to move quick from a poor to an advanced country. Haitianas are everywhere helping others.

  5. Gil 10 June, 2011 at 8:14 am #

    Stop Making Sense! You are suggesting serious harm to the humanitarian industrial complex.
    Think of all the unemployment Mr. Hood. Somone will then have to help the helpers….or at least the marketers. Oh, the humanity……

  6. GS 10 June, 2011 at 8:33 am #

    I totally see your point. I work for a small INGO that has been doing outreach work in Haiti for many years now….and not much to show for it.

    But, following the vein of your argument, what about Haiti makes it more difficult than working in parts of India or SS Africa or even Afghanistan? What is unique to the aid landscape of Haiti that renders it counter productive? Would love to hear more on that.

    I can think of some reasons:

    –proximity to the US makes it easier for missionaries and matching T-shirts to make the quick 3 hour jaunt from Miami to a “third world” country…and the ensuing problems of coordination, piece-meal efforts…

    –The frequency of natural disasters….

  7. Mykel Jean 10 June, 2011 at 9:25 am #

    I sincerely appreciate your blog and this specific post. And while I approve of the courageous principle, I still believe some good is done through the Aid Business. One way or the other people received life saving aid in a chaotic environment in the first weeks after, very basic emergency and then transitional shelter, and one can only imagine how bad cholera would be without the Aid Business’ halfhearted response. There are neighborhoods in Port au Prince where people (NGO people and “regular people”) have worked together to clear rubble, and build shelters. Real progress – albeit it temporary and incomplete.

    But overall, the progress and impact is pathetic. We know the factors that contribute, including fragmented, poor quality and disorganized interventions of all NGOs, the lack of structure and leadership of UNOs (who work outside their mandates and compete against each other – confusing!), and the lack of leadership from the government.

    I try to look on the bright side: don’t try to chew off too big a chunk, and work together with Haitians to help Haitians help themselves. Manage your expectations, but it’s possible!

    • Mary Rutten 11 October, 2011 at 9:38 pm #

      Cholera would not be in Haiti if it were not for the UN forces from Nepal. Hence if the UN were not there, cholera would not be there either.

  8. softheartsandhardtruths 10 June, 2011 at 9:27 am #

    Can’t find much to back this right now but I remember hearing in a class that after the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami India was the only country to refuse international aid and they ended up better off because they were able to be in charge of their own disaster recovery. Maybe this is a model that the International Community should follow? It’s hard to just say “We’re not going to get involved because even though you may think you need help now you’ll be better off without us in the end.” I feel like there has to be some sort of happy medium.

    • Devt Setter 10 June, 2011 at 12:35 pm #

      India also had a massive economy to draw on, well developed institutions, and a highly educated workforce ready to take charge. Sri Lanka, for example, would not have likely had a similar outcome!

    • tom 22 May, 2012 at 10:01 am #

      See also Chile after the last earthquake (2008?). For mor on all this topic beg/borrow/steal Dambisa Moyo’s book ‘Dead Aid’.

  9. Parody 10 June, 2011 at 11:18 am #

    Why is this such a controversial position?

  10. Susan F. 10 June, 2011 at 12:40 pm #

    I am very interested in joining the Global Health arena and International Development so I’ve been doing a LOT of research lately to see where I can best contribute. While I am not familiar with the history of Haiti, all of the efforts that have been made since the earthquake, or their successes, I can see that there has been an overwhelming urge to throw money at the problem, decide that money spent on evaluation of a program is unnecessary, and that no matter what, have something positive to say for your efforts.

    Coming from a scientist background, I learned early on that failures were just as important as successes and that while no one likes to talk about them, it is IMPORTANT to share them so that we can learn and improve and make better decisions going forward. As a business woman, I also see the need to step back and say- this isn’t working, we need to stop banging our heads against the wall, to stop throwing money away and THINK about what can we do better / differently, then act again. I’ve also worked in the consumer products industry and see that no one in development likes to think of the people we’re assisting- the “end-users.” WE know better.

    Here is what I see needs to be considered:
    1) Giving (money, time, serves, products) is great but it won’t last forever, so what can be put in place from the start that will enable future sustainability or allow for transition into a sustainable next phase.
    2) Just because WE think it needs to happen, doesn’t mean that the recipient WANTS it to happen or thinks that it NEEDS to happen. If we aren’t including them in the conversations from the beginning, the efforts CAN’T be successful. Those end-users/ recipients have a wealth of knowledge and input that we need/ HAVE to acknowledge and consider when developing solutions. The best solution is worthless unless it can be fully implemented- ie. used/ grown/ championed by the ones most affected by it.
    3) Just because the goal/ sentiment of a program is good and positive, doesn’t mean that it is the best approach, OR that it will actually provide a benefit.

    It is a difficult decision to STOP/ NOT do something, but it often needs to happen, and sooner rather than later. I am impressed with your post as well as the responses it has received.

    What do you think the next steps are? How do we begin to share these thoughts?

  11. meslippers 10 June, 2011 at 4:59 pm #

    How about ask Haitians how we can help them? And I don’t mean the top 8%.

  12. Carla Murphy 10 June, 2011 at 5:06 pm #

    Interesting. What *specifically* prompted you to write this post? (I think you’re writing from Haiti now, right?) What’s the straw that broke the camel’s back?

  13. ben waldman 10 June, 2011 at 5:51 pm #

    there it is. this issue should be discussed more often. helping someone can be as simple as giving them the space to take in a breath and process. unfortunately, haiti has never been given the chance to take a breath.

  14. Frank B. 11 June, 2011 at 7:14 am #

    It totally disagree with the content of Mr. Hood’s posting. The presence of INGOs and the humanitarian community in general is a stabilizing factor, in the absence of real investment that would create jobs and increase household revenue. However, I would agree that the phase for saving lives has ended and the millions of dollars being spent on humanitarian assistance are actually helping prolong the disaster and its consequences. INGOs should stay in Haiti and continue to accompany Haitians in their miseries, as long as they use private resources, not government funding.

    Donor nations should rather utilize the billions of dollars promised to rebuilding Haiti to facilitate migration opportunities for Haitians. Countries such as Canada, France, Australia and the US should take the lead. Haiti was meant to be a transit point for slaves to the new world. Today there isn’t enough land for the 10 million Haitians. A renowned scholar recently said “migration is a form of development”. Unskilled Haitians also should qualify for temporary farm labor visas in the US like Mexicans and Hondurans. I still don’t understand why they were never considered for such an opportunity.

    • katemriley 15 June, 2011 at 7:49 am #

      I find it strange that there is not comment on the incredibly un-just trade policy that has busily been turning Haitians from producers to consumers…robbing Haiti of a domestic economy and priming it to once again become an island of slaves. NGOs are clearly not the answer, they are not meant to be a permenant presence. Unfortunately, Haiti is too lucrative. Let real business back into Haiti and bring food-aid to a halt. Protection for Haitian-produced goods against artifically cheap imports (just like we have in the US) will solve all kinds of problems: joblessness, food insecurity and national debt.

      If you want to help: write to your rep, senators, president and tell them to stop supporting unfair trade policies which hobble countries like haiti. do it monthly, observe what happens and vote accordingly.

      I am also writing from the hood in Haiti. It’s easy enough to say: “yeah, it’s not working, let’s pull the plug” when your neighbor’s kids aren’t subsisting on American rice handed out by the WFP.

      Haitians don’t need to go anywhere and if “farm laborer” in the US soudns like a step up to you: you clearly have not read about the recent slavery cases being brought before juries all over the US. There is plent of land here: just no incentive to restore, protect and plant it.

  15. Moi 11 June, 2011 at 8:15 am #

    THANK EFFING GOD YOU SAID IT. I didn’t spend that much time there before I went scurrying out saying, “That’s a load of horseshit going on in there. Aid my ass”. No interest in being part of that boondoggle. (Is boondoggle still a word?)

    I have experience in developing countries, but that was my first experience in an aid context. It surprised me that anyone could do the work they were doing and not feel like a moron contributing to a system that was evidently dysfunctional. I’m very sad for Haiti, but that doesn’t mean I should pretend to know what to do to help that country. And nor should any of the aid organizations that have been in Haiti the past 20 years and have watched that country get poorer and worse off. Seriously, I’m really glad you said it. More people in Haiti need to get over their ego and just accept it’s not working. They actually *aren’t* making a difference.

  16. Marc 11 June, 2011 at 9:43 am #

    Tough post. Having never been there, I don’t have much of a feeling for the impact of aid in Haiti. Obviously, there are quite some issues. When it comes to the aid armada in Haiti, even if the negative outweighs the positive, have you asked yourself whether the only thing worse than the aid response would be an actual absence? At least on the humanitarian side, programming is too often dictated by the perversity of the context, and it’s more a question of taking the least worst option rather than finding some sort of good path.

  17. Jason 11 June, 2011 at 12:38 pm #

    I don’t want to disagree with your post, I don’t know very much about Haiti or the earthquake response. However, there is a suggestion in some of the replies that aid has done, or is doing nothing, because things haven’t changed in many places where there has been a lot of aid. The trouble with this analysis is that it seems the think that aid happens in a vacuum. Maybe we have promoted aid as the means of bringing development, when I think much of the time we are simply alleviating the worst of poverty, and holding back the tide of all the myriad of factors that make things worse, not better, for people. The amount of aid that has gone to Africa over the last 30 years or so may be huge, but is fairly insignificant compared to the amount that Africa has repaid in debts to the west, and absolutely insignificant when compared to the amount of earning that have been denied to Africa because of trade laws that benefit Europe and North America. When Europe continues to subsidise its own farmers but has used the WTO to force African governments to stop subsidising its farmers, then surely it becomes clear that aid has done absolute wonders in many cases to stop complete catastrophes happening every day across Afrcia and other parts of the world. That doesn’t mean we shoudn’t criticise aid and recognise its many failings, especially when it is used to prop up corrupt regimes for strategic reasons, but to blame aid alone for the lack of development in many countries is naive and doesn’t understand the effect of many many other factors.

    Having said that, maybe it would be good for Haiti if everyone stopped meddling. Or maybe if we stopped much of the aid, but pushed or supported policies that would benefit the poorest, that would be better. In other words, much like we should have done when Aristide was put back in power after the coup in the early 90’s, but instead he was told to shut up and stop all the liberation theology if he wanted to be returned.

    Its not aid as such that’s the problem, its the bad policies that are so often attached to it.

  18. T Wren 12 June, 2011 at 3:03 am #

    I agree somewhat. Jason, above, talks about the billions in aid poured into Africa, and I certainly agree that it has not worked. Nor have all the long term interventions in Haiti.

    But I know you were there shortly after the earthquake. You saw Petionville Golf Club, Champs de Mars, Gaston Margron. I have difficulty believing that if there was another earthquake, following which the INGOs, the UN, the RC/RC Movement did nothing, that the situation would be any better. We, as a community, might not have provided any significant aid to help Haiti *develop*, but, for example, we provided clean water at a time when few people had access to any water at all, other than the rain running down the rubbish-filled ditches of Carrefour.

    I am perfectly willing to question what the organisations I worked for, in Haiti, are still doing there. Are the transitional shelters that are just being finished really worth the wait? The schools that are being opened now? Haiti was poorly managed, even in a challenging context to work in. There were too many agencies, too many conflicting philosophies and approaches, and most importantly, for my employers, an ambition and a need to be seen that outstripped their capacity to respond.

    Can we suggest for future disasters, national governments ask for a rapid exit strategy before allowing the humanitarian community to step in. Can humanitarian aid be limited to emergency contexts? Haiti is no longer an emergency – it’s in a dire state, but it left the first phase a long time ago.

    But, thinking back to the situation in those first few weeks, first few months, we were wrong for trying?

  19. GPJ 12 June, 2011 at 5:15 am #

    I think my fundamental disagreement with the post is the assumption that somehow there is a way for ‘Haiti’ to work out what ‘Haiti’ wants. Either way, what Haiti would get with all those interfering foreigners gone is (a) fewer resources (b) fewer professionals and (c) even more completely captured by the local elite who are a big part of the problem. Yes, you’d also get rid of a bit of bureaucracy, lots of ‘big white cars’, and some well meaning but misguided people who certainly make things difficult, but it’s rubbish to think for a second that that would make the life of the average Haitian ‘better’ in any objectively measurable fashion. The idea that you’d somehow open up space for a local version of the US founding fathers is ludicrous, and you would cause a huge amount of preventable suffering in the process.

    Just because Aid in Haiti (along with a whole lot else) is dysfunctional, doesn’t mean that life wouldn’t be a lot worse without it.

    Having said that, I can appreciate the sentiment. I’ve been doing this for ten years and I sometimes wonder why we bother too. But only for a very few seconds at a time.

  20. Prentice 12 June, 2011 at 6:53 am #

    The aid disaster in Haiti saddens me.

    I have wanted to make this point but I have lacked your boldness.

    As often as I can, I ask Haitian cab drivers, doctors, NGO leaders, hair stylists, health aides, —anyone I can find if they think that international aid has helped.

    They all express similar sentiments in different but illuminating ways.

    Your point provokes all of us to have a much deeper discussion about the dark side of the humanitarian industrial complex.

    But it is not easy. It is hard not to react defensively and think critically when we are part of the problem.

  21. AD 12 June, 2011 at 7:37 am #

    Fabulous post. I have thought the same thing and said it aloud to my fellow development colleagues more than a few times. I agree that Haiti could be a much different country if all of the international aid orgs (including INGOs, missionaries, perhaps UN) stepped out and local NGOs and private investment for job creation stepped in. The proximity of the country to the US has made for some very interesting development experiments in the past and present. One of the only positives that I see with the post-earthquake scene is that there are a few jobs created by orgs that need security, drivers, cleaners, and sometimes program/technical staff.

    There are good examples out there of aid and development brewed locally by trained Haitian professionals who stayed or returned to their country and are trying to assist their neighbors. Unfortunately, these endeavors usually do not get the attention or funding that the INGOs receive.

  22. T 13 June, 2011 at 12:46 am #

    Brave post, my friend.
    I don’t disagree and I have felt this in many other contexts, as well as Haiti. Sometimes a fleeting thought; sometimes a rock in the middle of the road.

    I second Carla’s question: What was the last straw for you in this conclusion, particular to Haiti?

  23. akhila 13 June, 2011 at 8:52 am #

    I think what you say really does make a lot of sense – but I have a couple of thoughts. I’m no expert in aid though so I am just providing my honest opinion, based on what I have heard from others..

    1 – I have heard that PIH (Partners in Health) truly does an exemplary job in Haiti providing health services. The communities where they work have tremendously benefited from PIH’s work and impact and I would hesitate to say they should leave. I think they should stay. They have the right perspective and are undoubtedly improving/saving lives.

    2 – True that Haiti has not improved significantly over time despite aid flowing in, and much aid has been ineffective. But would it have been even worse without aid? Would more people have died from the earthquake, cholera, etc?

    3 – Why would you say Haiti is different/worse than aid in other parts of the world?

    Again I am no expert in aid or development but it seems there are still good initiatives out there that are bettering lives.

  24. Anonymous 14 June, 2011 at 12:53 am #

    J, could not agree with you more. I’m currently at a large “Government Mission” where a significant portion of the population’s next posting seems to be Haiti. And when “Haiti” is spoken of, its only about the beaches, readily-available rum, and inevitable “easy living”. But, they also sinisterly speak of “exporting” lessons-learned and methodologies from the failed effort in this country, because it will “give them cred” and “beef up their next performance report”. It makes me sick to know that the same failed ideas and policies are going to be pushed inappropriately on Haiti by a careerist, ignorant civilian corps…..

  25. vanitylicenseplate 15 June, 2011 at 10:01 am #

    All your points have merit. And yet. “Fuck this, we’re outta here” has worked such wonders in south central Somalia.

    taking you seriously, that’s what you need to say either won’t happen, or is a better outcome, of an intl community exit stage left.

  26. Andie @ THF 16 June, 2011 at 9:27 am #

    I take your point and agree there has to be an exit strategy. However, I would go further and discuss what that exit strategy should be. The only way to ensure that leaving wouldn’t cause a vacuum is to enable local organisations to “shoulder” the needs. That can only be done by raising the civil society sector, nurturing it and enabling it to develop.

    For example, in the first stages of the Libyan unrest, when migrant workers were rushing to the borders, the majority of aid provision was done by local Tunisian communities and organisations. INGOs were still at the needs assessment stage.

    Am I alone in thinking that local organisations in Haiti, if they were allowed to develop, would be able to “compensate” to some degree for the lack of INGOs in the country?

  27. Sha 16 June, 2011 at 12:20 pm #

    I agree. I honestly think Haiti would’ve been better off without the DECADES of meddling. Let the nation create better leaders and progressive thinkers, students and jobs in order to help itself. Call me cynical, but I don’t think the international community (or at least U.S. and France) want that.

  28. Haiti Justice Alliance 16 June, 2011 at 1:26 pm #

    I want to second Carla’s question – this is quite the stark position to take, and I would love (both on a personal and a professional level) to hear some discussion of what *specifically* led you to reach this conclusion.

    • Haiti Justice Alliance 21 June, 2011 at 3:03 pm #


      I’d still love to hear more on this, and in the meantime have collected some thoughts about one arena in which I think the US relief/reconstruction effort has been particularly egregious: agriculture.

      I’ve been to Haiti, but not spent any time around the folks (i.e. large NGO/USAID types) that you spent time with. Do you find my characterization of USAID’s WINNER program unfair? I tend to see this type of problem being at a root of many of the IC failures in Haiti. I’m curious to hear your thoughts, if you can spare a moment to read this take on WINNER:

  29. CD 20 June, 2011 at 3:36 am #

    This post feels like it was written at the end of an awful day, at the end of an awful week, at the end of an awful month. And we’ve all been there, mate.

    For what it’s worth, I don’t think anyone disagrees that the aid community is in a dysfunctional relationship with Haiti, and that the long term solution has to come from Haitians themselves working out their own internal power dynamics and then creating a functional state that represents their interests. And most would agree that the aid community as a whole certainly enables the current power structure and the fragile nature of the state. None of that is new, nor is it particular to Haiti.

    But enabling is not creation. As GPJ said above, there’s no guarantee that if we leave, a functional state will emerge, but we are certain that a lot of vital services currently provided by the aid community would stop. In some ways, I think the aid community has a tendency to overstate both our positive and negative impacts on a country – we may contribute to the underlying problems but we’re not the only nor even the main reason behind it.

  30. Jamuna 9 August, 2011 at 12:45 am #

    Have you read anything about “US should be using its “migration policy” as a disaster relief response towards Haiti?” Michael Clemens wrote something here about “limited humanitarian entry” that initially confused me:

    But as I read related links, reports and comments it does seem convincing. Only because I myself am someone who instead of looking for a flawless solution/POA would rather roll out a POA whose flaws I am willing to reconsider and rework time and again.

    A related article on the Haiti chaos a.k.a. “Republic of NGOs” – and how aid and assistance might just mean and require Haiti to migrate out….


    But hey, the US is going to be reeling again under a crisis – in that case France and Canada?

  31. Lisa D. 6 September, 2011 at 11:58 am #

    Aid should leave Haiti. But people who care about Haiti who are not Haitian can still help. Support home grown, Haitian run organizations like Mouvman Peyizan Papay (MPP)) The next best thing that foreigners can do to help Haiti is to lobby their governments in France, Canada, and the US to stop interfering with the political process in Haiti (either by supporting dictators or deposing democratically elected officials) and stop the harmful trade practices that have made Haiti (with the complicity of aid institutions) worse off every year. There are enough intelligent Haitians of good will in Haiti and in the diaspora to solve Haiti’s problem. The “Aid Community” had their chance and blew it because they never asked the people they wanted to help the simple question, “How may I help you?”


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  10. 3 Principles to Ensure You Do (or Support) Effective, Appropriate Work in Haiti « Haiti Justice Alliance - 30 November, 2011

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    […] If the humanitarians can’t do that, then they are not actually humanitarians. And they should leave. […]

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