What Can We Learn from Haiti in our Response to Typhoon Haiyan?

With Typhoon Haiyan causing widespread destruction and death in the Philippines only a week ago we should revisit the earthquake in Haiti to see what worked, and what didn’t work:

What Went Wrong in our Response to the Earthquake in Haiti

Some of the things that we need to be aware of with this kind of disaster response are that:

  • Three years after the Haiti earthquake there were still over 350,000 people still in temporary accommodation (source)
  • Only 10% of the public’s money donated went to the Haitian government or organisations (source)
  • Many NGOs worked at “cross purposes” with Haitian officials and programs, even competing with each other (source)
  • Local businesses, farmers, and producers were often undercut by goods being brought into the country, causing them more economic hardship (source)
  • Some of the money donated to Haiti ($2 million) went into building a luxury hotel, instead of accommodation for the victims (source)
  • Nearly half of the money donated actually went back to the donor countries (source)
  • Some organisations, like the Red Cross, put money donated into their “general fund”, and not directly to Haiti (source)
  • Very few local companies were engaged in the actual process of rebuilding, with only 23 of 1,537 aid contracts going to Haitian companies (source)
  • More than 8,000 Haitians died, and hundreds of thousands made sick, by cholera, which was most likely introduced by UN Peacekeepers from Nepal (source)
  • The International Monetary Fund (IMF) gave loans instead of grants to Haiti, continuing a long running policy of controlling the internal working of the country through debt and loan conditions (source)
  • Many NGOs jumped on the opportunity to raise money for work in Haiti, but could not deliver any services there. The NGOs would then take a 9% – 10% cut of the donations and pass it on to another organisation. (source)
  • According to an official cable from the US Ambassador to Haiti that was leaked by Wikileaks “The Gold Rush Is On”, with many going out of their way to profit from the disaster relief effort.

Capitalizing on the disaster, Lewis Lucke, a high-ranking USAID relief coordinator, met twice in his USAID capacity with the Haitian Prime Minister immediately after the quake. He then quit the agency and was hired for $30,000 a month by a Florida corporation Ashbritt (known already for its big no bid Katrina grants) and a prosperous Haitian partner to lobby for disaster contracts. Locke said “it became clear to us that if it was handled correctly the earthquake represented as much an opportunity as it did a calamity…” Ashbritt and its Haitian partner were soon granted a $10 million no bid contract. Lucke said he was instrumental in securing another $10 million contract from the World Bank and another smaller one from CHF International before their relationship ended.

Typhoon Haiyan - Cebu
EU Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection / Foter.com / CC BY-ND

What Can We Learn from Haiti

  • NGOs Should Buy local – support local producers, farmers, businesses, etc. wherever possible to help bolster the local economy
  • Donate to organisations that you trust
  • Open your eyes and do your research into where the money that you are giving is actually going
  • Engage and partner with local NGOs and those who had a presence before the disaster
  • NGO programs should be coordinated with government officials and programs to support each other, and not compete
  • Make sure the organisation you are donating to will actually be using the money directly for work in the country, not taking a cut of the donations as passing it on to another organisation

Youth With A Mission (YWAM) Disaster Relief

YWAM RescueNet in Philippines Typhoon HaiyanThe organisation that I work with, Youth With A Mission (YWAM), has done some great work in Haiti both before and after the earthquake. We are all full-time volunteers, with no one taking a salary, and with the work in Haiti many local Haitians were involved in the work, as well as international volunteers.

In response to Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines YWAM has already mobilised many teams of volunteers and working hard to provide relief there.

You can read more about the work that YWAM is doing in the Philippines on their web-site.

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