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Mark Feierstein

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Doing Things Differently in Haiti

Posted: 01/12/11 10:50 AM ET

When President Obama and other world leaders pledged a year ago to help Haiti rebuild following the devastating earthquake, they recognized that humanitarian assistance and sustainable development must go hand in hand. For Haiti to not only recover from the earthquake but achieve lasting progress required not merely deploying foreign aid groups, but strengthening the capacity of Haiti's public institutions and private organizations.

Despite the best of intentions, years of international generosity had failed to transform Haiti into a prosperous country. Over the last two decades, the international community has spent billions of dollars, but Haiti remained the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere and one of the poorest in the world, with 80% of the population living under the poverty line and 54% in abject poverty.

Thousands of aid organizations have operated in Haiti for decades, trying to mitigate extreme poverty and promote a stable democracy. And while humanitarian needs were often met and halting political and economic progress made, the efforts were often insufficiently coordinated, focused on quick-fixes, and pursued outside the purview of the Haitian government or private Haitian organizations. With good reason, Haiti earned the moniker of the "Republic of NGOs."

Today, the United States, other donors and our NGOs partners are doing things differently. We are coordinating our efforts, mobilizing private sector expertise and working closely with the government through the entity charged with overseeing the reconstruction, the Interim Haiti Reconstruction Commission. We are empowering Haitian institutions - public and private - to take their rightful leading role in the country's development. In order to achieve sustainable development, we are strengthening government bodies, embracing the private sector's innovative solutions, and harnessing the resilient spirit of the Haitian people.

The U.S. Government began revising its approach in Haiti in 2009 before the quake and now we are implementing a long-term strategy designed to enhance the capacity of Haiti to provide for its own citizens, and, over time, decrease its reliance on foreign aid. For example, to combat malnutrition and reduce Haiti's reliance on food imports, the United States Agency for International Development is not just providing food aid, but helping farmers to increase crop yields, cultivate more profitable products, and improve their access to markets, both national and international.

Instead of merely vaccinating Haitians against disease and providing health care, we are building up the capacity of the Ministry of Health to develop and manage a health care system that can provide affordable and quality care.

And, rather than rely solely on U.N. forces to provide security, the United States and other countries are continuing to build up the Haitian National Police.

Already, these initiatives are showing results. The Haitian Ministry of Health has led the effort, together with international agencies, to combat the cholera epidemic. The National Directorate of Civil Protection coordinated the preparations for Hurricane Tomas in October, preventing potentially hundreds of casualties. And the Haitian police have helped preserve the security gains made before the earthquake.

Early efforts to spur economic growth are promising as well. In 2010, a collaborative campaign between USAID and the Ministry of Agriculture helped more than 10,000 farmers to double the yields of staples like sorghum corn and beans.

Putting Haiti on a path to sustainable development will depend on such efforts to spur growth and create stable, well-paid jobs. That's why the Obama Administration incorporated local job creation into our immediate post-quake relief efforts. Rather than using only outside experts to assist in rubble removal, we have generated thousands of jobs and imparted skills by employing the residents of decimated and inaccessible neighborhoods to clear debris from their streets. We are also training Haitian builders to construct housing that is more resilient to natural disasters.

Sustained economic growth, however, will require private investment, from both foreign and domestic companies. The U.S. Government has therefore backed initiatives designed to spur job growth in the private sector.

USAID has financed a local micro-credit program to help small and medium-size businesses to prosper. Through a partnership with Coca-Cola, we are helping to develop the local mango juice industry to take advantage of the world-class variety grown in Haiti.

We are also working to overcome what is one of the leading factors hindering economic growth in Haiti and much of the developing world: lack of access to financial services. And this week, USAID and the Gates Foundation awarded Digicel $2.5 million for being the first telecommunications company to develop a competitive mobile money service in Haiti. The new service will enable Haitians, 40% of whom own cell phones, to send, receive, save and store money on their devices.

Rebuilding Haiti will be a long and difficult task. The challenges of rebuilding an already poor country devastated by the hemisphere's worst natural disaster in history are immense. But, as President Obama has pledged, the United States' commitment to Haiti's recovery and reconstruction will endure. The people of Haiti deserve partners who will stick with them over the long-term, empower them to take the lead in their own development, and invest in building up their capacity to govern and support themselves.

 

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