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Foreign Aid A Blessing, Curse For Struggling Haiti

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Foreign Aid A Blessing, Curse For Struggling Haiti

Latin America

Foreign Aid A Blessing, Curse For Struggling Haiti

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.

Rebuilding Haiti, that task will draw international donors to New York tomorrow where they're expected to pledge several billion dollars for the effort. Even before the January earthquake, international aid agencies played a huge role in Haiti. And some U.N. officials and relief organizations say international aid is one of the reasons the country remains so entrenched in poverty. They'd like to see a new approach. NPR's Jason Beaubien reports from Port-au-Prince.

(Soundbite of truck backing up)

JASON BEAUBIEN: The United Nations is omnipresent in Haiti. U.N. bulldozers are clearing fields to make camps for people to live in. The World Food Programme distributes food. The World Health Organization has carried out mass vaccination campaigns. White U.N. dump trucks, SUVs, backhoes, fire trucks and buses are all over the capital. One of my drivers, looking out at a convoy of U.N. trucks, declared cheerfully, the U.N. is taking over my country. He feels that this is a good thing.

At a distribution of tarps and water jugs in Port-au-Prince by the International Organization for Migration, blue-helmeted U.N. soldiers from Argentina provide security.

Mr. DORESTANTE PHILIPPE: (Speaking in foreign language)

BEAUBIEN: Dorestante Philippe, who's coordinating this operation for the IOM, says it's absolutely, absolutely necessary to have the U.N. troops for security. Without them, he says, they wouldn't be able to get their supplies through the city and wouldn't be able to distribute these desperately needed goods.

At the airport, U.N. planes and helicopters are lined up on the edge of the runway. And the U.N. is just one part of the massive humanitarian apparatus in Haiti.

Mr. EDMOND MULET (Head, United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti): This is the largest concentration of NGOs per capita in the world.

BEAUBIEN: Edmond Mulet, the head of the entire United Nations operation in Haiti, estimates that there are more than 10,000 nongovernmental organizations working in the country.

Mr. MULET: And most of them, I mean, don't care about coordination. They do their own thing on their own. And they don't share what they do, and we don't know what they do. And probably they don't want us to know what they do.

BEAUBIEN: In 1948, the U.N. launched its first development program here, yet Haiti remains the least developed country in the hemisphere. Haiti has a long, tragic history filled with violence, political instability, corruption, imperialism and other ills. But Mulet says another significant problem has been that international aid has stifled the development of public schools, clinics and other infrastructure.

Mr. MULET: If we want to change the situation in Haiti, this is the time for the international community to really work with the state, with the government, through the state and through the government in order to build their own capacities. If we don't do that now, we will be here, you know, for the next 200 years addressing some of these issues.

BEAUBIEN: For example, private schools supported by international donors have flourished while the public education system has floundered. This international aid may have benefited some Haitian children, but many others have been left behind. Haiti has one of the lowest literacy rates in the world. Mulet acknowledges that this is an awful time to be asking the earthquake-ravaged Haitian government to step up to the plate, but he says the only way to build lasting social infrastructure in Haiti is through the government. And among the elite - priests, business leaders, politicians - there's a growing sense that Haiti's dependence on aid has serious shortcomings.

Mr. PATRICK ELIE (Former Minister of Defense, Haiti): We should be careful that this tragedy does not become the occasion of a humanitarian coup.

BEAUBIEN: Patrick Elie is a former minister of defense and in his own words a militant for democracy. As the country embarks on rebuilding, Elie says, Haiti can't be working off a plan devised in some foreign capital and imposed on the Haitians by international donors. He calls the earthquake both a tragedy and an opportunity.

Mr. ELIE: It has, I hope, convinced the Haitian elite that the way they've been leading this country is totally wrong, and that they were building literally on sand. And that's what the earthquake showed us.

BEAUBIEN: As billions of dollars flow into Haiti in the coming months to rebuild from the quake, Elie says, Haitians need to control and coordinate that money. Given the country's corrupt past, however, this might not sit well with some donors. But who controls the reconstruction of Haiti, who provides the overriding vision could have a huge effect on what kind of country gets built.

Jason Beaubien, NPR News.

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