Experts: Aid Must Target Haiti's Underlying Issues As attention turns from search and rescue to rebuilding Haiti, experts say that the billions of dollars in aid may be wasted unless money is invested in long-term projects. They say that soil erosion and a decline in agriculture exacerbated the quake's toll.
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Experts: Aid Must Target Haiti's Underlying Issues

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Experts: Aid Must Target Haiti's Underlying Issues

Experts: Aid Must Target Haiti's Underlying Issues

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Madeleine Brand.

In the coming weeks, aid agencies in Haiti will begin planning how to rebuild the country. People who know Haiti worry that money could be wasted if entrenched problems aren't addressed. In a moment, I'll talk with a human rights lawyer about why the rebuilding should focus on the areas outside the capital city.

First, to NPR's Christopher Joyce, who reports on some of the obstacles to long-term recovery.

CHRISTOPHER JOYCE: When Rajiv Shah, the head of the Agency for International Development, met with reporters after the earthquake, he emphasized that the U.S. government would collaborate with, not replace, Haitian authorities.

Dr. RAJIV SHAH (Administrator, Agency for International Development): That is the way we hope to work, in partnership and in responsiveness, to request from the Haitian government.

JOYCE: That could be a problem, says Gerald Murray. Murray is an anthropologist at the University of Florida, who's worked in Haiti for three decades, advising international banks and organizations on aid projects. He says a lot of money has been wasted.

Professor GERALD MURRAY (Department of Anthropology, University of Florida): A bad scenario would be one in which some Haitian government officials insist that any aid be channeled through them, that they have authority to send crews to where they want them to go. And it would be a terrible outcome.

JOYCE: Murray is talking about long-term aid, not emergency help. He says he's interviewed thousands of Haitians and they tell him they don't want foreign aid going to the Haitian government. They prefer that nongovernmental organizations handle it.

Prof. MURRAY: You're damned if you do, you're damned if you don't. If you use that strategy - many of the NGOs are foreign NGOs - you know, you are not developing the institutions of the country. But if you do, do your duty and give the money to the Haitian government, it will disappear.

JOYCE: Murray adds that NGOs have their own problems. They sometimes misspend the money themselves on things like overhead or travel. Murray suggests that the decline of agriculture exacerbated the quake's toll. Haitians left the countryside for Port-au-Prince, creating a dense population in poorly built housing that couldn't withstand the quake.

Prof. MURRAY: The village I lived in, people were still planning a future for their children on the farm. They would try to acquire more land and purchase more land. Now it is more common to find people selling land to finance emigration.

JOYCE: Emigration not only to Port-au-Prince but to Haiti's neighbor, the Dominican Republic, which is not eager to see more Haitian immigrants. Murray says the quake will probably propel even more Haitians to leave the country.

Anthropologist Glenn Smucker, who advises USAID and international banks on Haiti, says soil erosion is the main culprit in this social breakdown. Most of Haiti's forests have been cut for fuel and the soil just washes away. Smucker also says farmers have switched from growing coffee to crops like corn and beans that have to be replanted every year.

Mr. GLENN SMUCKER (Adviser, Agency for International Development): Farmers on the upper slopes, for example, plant erosion-intensive crops because they have few choices. They live right on the edge of existence.

JOYCE: Smucker says too many Haitians now live in harm's way: on those steep, eroded slopes, or in floodplains along the coast.

Mr. SMUCKER: You have then all of the ingredients for a major disaster and for death and loss of housing literally every time it rain.

JOYCE: And it can rain a lot there. Haiti lies smack in the middle of hurricane territory and has suffered through several deadly storms in recent years.

Alex Fischer, a political scientist at Columbia University, was discussing agricultural aid with Haitian officials in Port-au-Prince when the quake hit. He was evacuated the next day. Fischer says rural Haitians depend on imported food, either bought or donated, that comes through Port-au-Prince.

Mr. ALEX FISCHER (Political Scientist, Columbia University): Now that those lifelines are cut off, there's major questions on how to sustain the system of food and not allow for starvation.

JOYCE: Fischer said the Haitian government and aid groups were making plans to fight erosion by planting timber and fruit trees or building retaining walls on steep slopes. Those efforts are now on hold. Whether they'll resume depends on how post-quake aid for Haiti is spent.

Christopher Joyce, NPR News.

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