With So Much Pledged, Haiti Relief Offers ‘A Great Opportunity To Do Things Differently’

Saying “the devastated island nation has become a textbook example of the need to reform an outdated U.S. foreign assistance system,” a prominent anti-hunger organization put forward recommendations to make the most of the $1.15 billion the United States committed Wednesday to rebuild Haiti which sound similar themes as expressed by the top U.S. diplomat.

The Obama administration committed to that funding level during of a high-level donors’ conference of more than 100 countries and international development organizations to help the Haitian people cope with the widespread destruction caused by the massive Jan. 12 earthquake.

“Haiti presents a great opportunity for us to start doing things differently,” says Rev. David Beckmann, president of Bread for the World.

Beckmann’s plea echoes sentiments also expressed at the donors meeting by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

At the end of the daylong U.N. meeting, pledges from nations, non-governmental agencies and others, totaled $9.9 billion, including the $1.15 billion from the United States. The Haitian government estimates long-term recovery will cost $14 billion.

“Bread for the World is encouraged that so many donor nations came together yesterday at the United Nations to gather pledges of nearly $10 billion in additional funds to bolster humanitarian relief efforts for the earthquake-ravaged Haitian people,” says Rev. Beckmann. “However, the significant challenges we are facing to effectively coordinate the ongoing relief work as we approach 90 days out from the disaster tell us that in order to achieve real success, we must administer Haitian aid with a more capacity-building approach from this point forward.”

Aid to Haiti particularly is critical since it already was the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere, even before the disaster, with about 80 percent of the population living with extreme poverty and hunger, Bread for the World notes.

To make long-term aid in Haiti more effective and sustainable, Bread for the World created guiding principles for donors—including the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), other governments, and nongovernmental organizations.

“We need to make long-term development the primary objective, with an empowered USAID leading the way for U.S. government efforts in Haiti,” Beckmann says. “USAID should seek the active and sustained participation of Haiti-based civil society coalitions and their U.S. partners—Haitians helping Haitians, with the U.S. playing a crucial supporting role.”

As the United States and other aid-providers implement the promises made Wednesday, Bread for the World urges that they ensure an all-of-government approach so that policies do not undercut efforts to reduce poverty and promote sustainable economic growth, and that USAID has the resources and capabilities to respond to Haiti’s needs.

Also, USAID must partner with the Haitian government to build an effective public administration infrastructure that can better deal with future natural disasters or other catastrophic events, the organization adds.

Assist ‘in a smarter way’

Clinton also vowed to approach Haiti’s recovery differently by saying, “We cannot do what we’ve done before.”

“The leaders of Haiti must take responsibility for their country’s reconstruction. They must make the tough decisions that guide a strong, accountable, and transparent recovery. And that is what they are starting to do with the creation of a new mechanism that provides coordination and consultation so aid can be directed where it is most needed,” she says. “And we in the global community, we must also do things differently. It will be tempting to fall back on old habits – to work around the government rather than to work with them as partners, or to fund a scattered array of well-meaning projects rather than making the deeper, long-term investments that Haiti needs now. We cannot retreat to failed strategies.

“I know we’ve heard these imperatives before – the need to coordinate our aid, hold ourselves accountable, share our knowledge, track results. But now, we cannot just declare our intentions. We have to follow through and put them into practice,” Clinton adds. “Therefore, this is not only a conference about what financially we pledge to Haiti. We also have to pledge our best efforts to do better ourselves – to offer our support in a smarter way, a more effective way that produces real results for the people of Haiti.”

The publisher of the news site On The Hill, Scott Nance has covered Congress and the federal government for more than a decade.

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