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January 21, 2010

Haiti, how Canada should help?

Yves Engler

Yves EnglerBelow are 10 things Canada should do to help Haiti. To make sense of the list below, however, it’s necessary to mention some recent political context.

In February 2004 Canada, the US and France overthrew Haiti’s elected government, which ushered in a terrible wave of political repression and an ongoing UN occupation. Canadian and Haitian non-governmental organizations funded by Ottawa played an important role in destabilizing Jean-Bertrand Aristide’s government and justifying foreign military intervention to the North American public.

A sort of NGO laboratory, Haiti is a highly vulnerable society where NGOs have a great deal of influence.

By one estimate, Haiti has the most development NGOs of any country per capita and the vast majority of the country's social services are run by domestic or foreign NGOs.

In 2005 the Canadian International Development Agency admitted that, "supporting non-governmental actors contributed to the creation of parallel systems of service delivery. ... In Haiti's case, these actors [NGOs] were used as a way to circumvent the frustration of working with the [Aristide] government ... this contributed to the establishment of parallel systems of service delivery, eroding legitimacy, capacity and will of the state to deliver key services." CIDA further explained that, "emphasis on non-governmental actors as development partners also undermined efforts to strengthen good governance."

Over the past four days NGOs have been widely promoted as a source of relief for the recent tragedy. Considering the circumstances they are. But, at the same time, foreign funded NGOs have contributed to a process that has undermined Haitian governmental capacity, to the point where it has barely been able to respond to the recent catastrophe.

Here are 10 things Canada should do to help Haiti:

10. Focus relief efforts on the poorest neighbourhoods of Port-au-Prince.

9. Stop deporting Haitians from Canada. Open our border to allow more immigrants from Haiti, especially family members of current Canadians.

8. Fund a new Haitian government disaster relief ministry to immediately start paying unemployed Haitians, much of the population, to clear up rubble.

7. Provide the Haitian government with money and expertise to strengthen building codes and government inspection processes to ensure all new construction meets safety standards that would mitigate any future disasters.

6. Provide funding for the Haitian government to set up a housing ministry that would be responsible for rebuilding destroyed neighborhoods. Make money and expertise available for the construction of apartments, commercial buildings and houses. It is critical that this involve Haitian architects and construction workers. If training is necessary provide it free of charge, in Haiti, so that the know-how and ability to train stays in the country.

5. Provide the Haitian government with the resources to create a forestry ministry to re-forest the countryside, which has lost almost all of its trees. This ministry could seek funds from around the world to pay poor Haitians to plant trees and reduce erosion in this once verdant country.

4. Insist Canadian companies in Haiti pay at least three times the minimum wage of $3 per day so that workers can afford to feed, clothe and house their families. $9 a day is hardly an extravagant wage and, with some prodding from Ottawa, Canadian corporations could set an example for other foreign investors.

3. Shift tens of millions of dollars worth of Canadian “aid” from training police and building prisons to funding human infrastructure programs that provide various levels of government with the expertise and resources to build decent transport, electrical capacity, public health, water and sewer systems.

2. Understand that the best aid empowers Haitians to control their own affairs. This largely means assisting various levels of Haitian governments to serve the population. Haitians have a right to expect public services from their government just as Canadians do. How would we like it if almost all our schools, medical services, public health, and social services were run by private, foreign charities?

1. Once this is all done get the heck out and let Haitians run their own country.

Yves Engler is the co-author of Canada in Haiti: Waging War on the Poor Majority. His most recent book is The Black Book of Canadian Foreign Policy

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