05/30/2010 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Before Rebuilding Haiti, Donors Should Do More Than Consult With Aid Organizations

Tomorrow's donor country meeting on Haiti reconstruction should be informed by the field-based knowledge of U.S.-based international non-governmental organizations (NGOs). Many have been working in Haiti for more than thirty years providing life-saving services such as health care, education, sanitation, micro-loans and agricultural assistance. And as the third largest donor to the Haiti crisis, right up there with the European Union and U.S. government, NGOs, or aid organizations as many describe us, deserve to be heard.

Just to clarify, the goal and role of aid organizations working in Haiti has been to build the capacity of local organizations and tackle the needs of a population, not to step in for an overmatched or unstable government. Thanks to the generosity of private donors--including the American people -- NGOs have been able to mitigate the impact of the instability in Haiti before the earthquake and since, to stay consistent in their presence and focus.

We were able to immediately partner with the United Nations, U.S. government and military to conduct rescue efforts soon after the earthquake struck Haiti. And now heavily into the recovery phase of disaster response, we are continuing to work with our partners on a long list of items including, offering Haitians cash for work programs, removing rubble, offering health care, supplying transitional means of shelter and doing whatever else necessary to advance progress and move closer to reconstruction.

As many following the progress of recovery in Haiti are aware, longer term needs are now more pressing, with health care, infrastructure and shelter topping the list. The rainy and hurricane seasons will only complicate an already difficult situation, with horrific images of Haitians in seas of mud soon to hit the Internet and television airwaves.

NGOs want Haiti to be rebuilt as quickly and efficiently as possible, just like everyone else. But despite what you have heard or read from prognosticators and pundits, it takes about a year for a country struck by a natural disaster of this magnitude to reach the reconstruction phase. The situation in Haiti may look worse before it looks better. A little more than two month's time is not long enough to build an infrastructure, let alone housing, that can withstand soaking rain and hurricanes.

Critics of the NGO response in Haiti have begun to ask why the money raised has not been spent more quickly to allay the country's devastation. It is because we know, after responding to the 2005 Tsunami and Hurricane Katrina, that each phase of disaster response is exhaustive and expensive. Americans have again been extraordinarily generous by contributing more than $800 million dollars to the disaster in Haiti, but for every $2 given for the first two phases of disaster response, approximately $6 will be needed for the final phase of reconstruction. All of the money currently available, plus that not yet raised, has to be budgeted by aid organizations to exist until houses are built and schools are reopened with teachers.

Aid organizations have the credibility and experience to help get the job done in Haiti. We worked with local communities after the tsunami to rebuild houses and move communities to new locations. And over a period of eight months, we assisted with securing land rights and titles, and determined the types of houses people wanted -- including the layout, location of the houses and who would supervise construction. After expectations were established for us and the community, houses were built quickly, and local communities were happy with the end result. The same process must be followed in Haiti. If not, Haiti's reconstruction will be a failure.

We call on all of the donors attending the meeting in New York, including the U.S. government, to build upon the successes of the NGO community working in Haiti by engaging our staff, skills, knowledge and leadership to help address the overwhelming needs of a devastated country.