Haiti: “The Republic of NGOs”

The Red Cross on Haiti. One of many aid providers. Photo: British Red Cross. FlickrRarely are non-governmental organizations (NGOs) thought of in a negative context. NGOs are rather portrayed as the perfect tool in desperate situations, where a nation’s government is neither willing nor capable of dealing with the situation themselves. In the case of Haiti however, the situation is not so clear-cut. Even before the earthquake in 2010, Haiti was known to have the largest number of NGOs per capita in the world, giving it the nickname “The Republic of NGOs”. With such a large amount of organizations active in the same area, one might wonder if it could give an opposite effect; what if all the NGOs turn into a problem, rather than benefiting the troubled country.

It is important consider the possible consequences of thousands of NGOs involvement in an unstable region such as Haiti. First and foremost, there is an uneven spread of resources. It goes without saying that the bigger NGOs require more resources in order to deliver any practical help. With so many NGOs active in the one area, it becomes difficult for foreign aid to be spread properly. Some of the NGOs that receive funds are no doubt good ones, with a proper system and strategy in place. While others intend to do good but unfortunately are simply ineffective, lacking in experience and a clear agenda.

Also, without proper communication between the NGOs (which is unfortunately often the case) there is a chance of NGOs overlapping in certain areas, while completely missing others. People might be living in the same country, in the same city even, under the same desperate conditions, yet receive various amounts of help. One area might be properly covered by multiple NGOs, while other areas fall between the cracks. As well as this, a large amount of NGOs creates a large expenses in the form of wages, travel and similar costs, and in many instances aid ends up paying for these expenses rather than ending up in the hands of people who needs it.

It seems that these problems are all present in Haiti. Billions of dollars have been sent to the country in the form of aid. Most of it never sees its way to the Haitian people or the institutions that are put in place to help the population. Instead most of the money either gets caught up in expenses by (mainly) the American government, or in the hands of large international NGOs, such as the Red Cross. Even though these funds are earmarked for the Haitians, there are no guarantees that these NGOs will spend the aid in the desired areas. This is proven by that less than only 1% in fact makes it all the way to the Haitian population. In the capital of Port-au-Prince a divide exists between the different areas in the city, inequities from one block to the other. The reason is simply that certain areas have received aid from multiple NGOs, while others have received far less attention, often leading to this sort of odd situations where the Haitians with food and proper protection against mosquitoes live a few hundred meters from inhabitants who get some tarp to cover their heads with.

Haiti after the earthquake in 2010. Photo: UN Photo/Logan Abassi . wikimediaAdditionally, it is also important to highlight the role of the Haitian government. After all, Haiti does not have a history of stable rule, and so much foreign aid is not entrusted to the government but rather to the NGOs. This has problematic effects on the future development of the country, making it more dependent on the organizations. The ministries and institutions of the Haitian government have become greatly undermined by the NGOs, since they receive less funding. This in turn leads to greater corruption among government officials, since they start looking for money elsewhere when the wages are so low. Even among the public employees who do not turn to corruption, many Haitians end up in the hands of the NGOs instead, as they are always looking for the most educated local Haitians for their work and many times offer a better paycheck than the government.

Anna Fairbrass, a representative from Save the Children, has a more hopeful view of the future relationship between the NGOs and Haiti’s government:

More can be done to have NGOs and the government develop “accompaniment” programs which would have more and more programs conceived and implemented jointly with a gradual assumption of greater responsibilities by the government of Haiti.

In conclusion; it seems as though, good intentions aside, NGOs could prove a serious threat to the future of Haiti. It is however important to remember the important role that these organizations play in the area, and to recognize that, at least for the time being, the Haitian government is unable to handle the situation on its own. Measures needs to be taken to make the government more independent. After all, the final goal needs to be a Haiti that no longer needs its NGOs. 


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