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When Helping Hurts

Monday, February 15, 2016 @ 8:21 AM
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Jeremy Wiggins Producer/Talk Radio MORE

When we see pictures on television or in magazines about children in third world impoverished countries, the heart tugging usually leads us to start wondering how in the world we can help make things better. But what if our helping was actually doing more harm than good to the people in that country? Haiti is a country where this phenomenon is taking place, and only those who live there seem to be noticing. 

Haiti is a beautiful country, and I know that because I was privileged with the opportunity to visit there on a short term missions trip several years ago. There are some places in that country that are so beautiful, you almost forget you are in an impoverished third world country, where the people are so poor that they sometimes eat dirt cookies to fill their stomachs.   

In 2010, a 7.0 magnitude earthquake struck Haiti, leaving the country wide open, and for the most part willing, to receive all types of aid from all different types of agencies, from foreign governments to humanitarian agencies like the Red Cross. It is sad to say, however, that it is the non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that are doing the most damage to Haiti, and its people. 

It seems almost like an oxy-moron that a relief organization is harming the country it is supposed to be helping, but these NGOs have effectively turned Haiti into a country that runs on charity. 

Haiti, according to the North American Congress on Latin America, has “the most privatized social-service sector in the Americas, with some 80% of the country’s basic services provided by the private sector through non-governmental organizations (NGOs).”  The NGOs run everything in Haiti, and one study found that they provided 70 percent of healthcare and private schools.  

The rise of the NGO to power in Haiti is primarily due to the volatile nature of Haitian politics. Changing political winds are a natural thing in Haiti, and with new governments often come a new level of corruption, so much so that foreign governments and entities often refuse to release aid money to the country. The level of corruption is so bad that the US State Department has taken notice. 

Here is where the hurting starts. 

Instead of the Haitian government getting aid relief, and passing that relief on to the people, the NGOs receive the money, and they decide where to invest the funds. The Center for Global Development breaks down where the money goes from relief aid, according to the Office of the UN Special Envoy for Haiti, using data from 2011: 

-34% of the aid goes to the donor’s own civil/military entities.

-28% of the aid goes to UN agencies and NGOs.

-26% of the aid goes to other NGOs and private contractors.

-6% of the aid goes to unspecified parties.

-5% of the aid goes to the Red Cross, which was the only specific agency named.

-1% of the aid goes to the Haitian government. 

The American Red Cross, one of the few agencies that is singled out by name in the UN Special Envoy report, has come under fire for its handling of donations made for earthquake relief. The NACLA reports that the Red Cross collected $255 million dollars for earthquake relief, with only $106 million reaching the Haitian people. That, for all the math challenged people out there like myself, means that only 41% of the donations made it to Haiti, leaving $149 million in donations squandered for what only can be called overhead costs. 

The United States Institute of Peace reports in “FY 2007-2008, USAID spent $300 million in Haiti, all of which was implemented through foreign NGOs, which went to projects that had an operating budget greater than the Entire Ministry of Planning.” 

To summarize so far, Haiti receives a lot of money through foreign countries and entities, and little of it goes to the actual Haitian government, and even less to the Haitian people. 

Despite all of the apparent charitable donations that have been intended for Haiti, the statistics show that the people are still suffering. Haiti Partners, a group that tries to influence change through education, has put together some startling statistics: 

  • Haiti ranks 168 out of 187 on the 2014 Human Development Index (UNDP 2015)
  • Gross National Income per capita (at Purchase Power Parity) is $1730. The average for Caribbean/Latin American developing countries is $14,098. (World Bank 2014)
  • 59% of the population lives on less than $2 per day (World Bank 2012)
  • 24.7% lives in extreme poverty on less than $1.25 per day. (UNDP 2013)
  • Poverty is mainly rural, at 75.2%, vs. 40.8% in urban areas. (MDG rpt 2013

Poverty has reached crisis mode, and it’s being reported that Haiti now faces its worst food crisis in 15 years.  The UN solution is to follow the same pattern that has been tried and tried again in Haiti, all to no avail, and that is to throw money at the problem, to the tune of an additional $84 million in aid money. 

It seems perfectly clear to those who are actually interested in the well-being of the Haitian people, that throwing more and more money into the country is not going to solve the problem. We witness the same problems here in America, but on a different scale.  We have seen time and time again that money in the hands of the wrong people with the wrong motivation never solves the problem, it only makes things worse. 

So what should we do? 

One part of the solution is education and training. Ensuring that Haitians are equipped to take care of Haitian problems will go a long way towards stability and independence.  Another portion of the solution is to stop causing Haitians to become completely dependent on foreign aid. When you give money to people, and don’t expect any accountability on their part for it, you have created a dependent person, not an independent person. Combining the first two points would mean a move towards a capitalist society, and away from a social welfare program disguised as a society. To quote Bono: “Capitalism takes more people out of poverty than aid.” 

The current way of rendering aid to Haiti  is doing more harm than good. The power should first be put back in the hands of the Haitian people, instead of large non-governmental agencies. Putting Haitians to work is a much better plan with a better payoff than simply throwing more and more money at the problem. Only time will tell if this lesson will be learned.

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