Think Before You Give: IOs in Haiti Are Not Without Fault

Original.

Haiti’s birth in our collective consciousness can be dated to 4:53 p.m., January 12, 2010.

The Onion recently published an article entitled “Massive Earthquake Reveals Entire Island Civilization Called ‘Haiti.’” I condescendingly chuckled at an initial glance but knew that I stood among the ignorant sympathizers the article targeted. Prior to the earthquake, Haiti was that country mentioned on flyers plastered across the dance school on Milton that I passed for three years on my walk to and from campus – flyers that decried the Canadian government’s presence in the country.

But things change. The YouTube-uploaded apocalyptic devastation and chaos that wrecked Port-au-Prince offered unshakable images. Like many others, I immediately ran to organize something – anything – to help. Voices of Haiti has been in the works now for over a week; it will be a night of local visual and oral art aimed at raising funds and spreading general awareness about Haiti. Money is not enough to help the broken country. Knowledge, too, must be donated to those digging deep into their pockets.

We initially planned to donate all the funds raised for Voices for Haiti to Médecins sans frontières (MSF), a great organization that has been working for over 20 years in Haiti and has been providing much-needed medical services after this devastation.

After a conversation with a local Haitian activist and artist, however, my co-organizer gave me a frantic phone call asserting that we had to rethink our financial support of MSF. Taken aback, I tried my hardest to reassure her that the concerns raised were perhaps unfounded and, at best, generalized. But as a former political science student, I knew these apprehensions had merits.

During disaster relief, we are quick to throw money at the problem. Our emotions and conscience get the best of us, as we leave reason somewhere else: it becomes inaccessible for a few weeks before apathy returns. In particular, we hastily assume that if an organization is, let’s say, international in nature and approach and also UN-certified or backed, then it must be the best outlet for our money, comprised of the best people to get “the job” done. Whatever that job is.

The truth is that while international organizations ranging from MSF to the International Red Cross do a great deal of good, they are not the answer to situations such as the one currently in Haiti. International organizations (IOs) are not free of political agendas, free of bias, or free of economic and personal interests.

Like any other organization, IOs require that there be both a constant need and a constant desire for their services and products: a market. They compete against one another; survival is a necessity, not an option. Relief organizations thrive on disaster, conflict, and the needs of the afflicted. Thus a population’s dependency on IOs and the unstable situations in troubled countries allow for such organizations to constantly expand: more funding, more credibility.

And while the efforts of relief organizations are extremely important and necessary in any disaster or conflict-ridden region, we must understand that sometimes these groups can do more harm than good.

In the case of Haiti, the population has become dependent on international agencies for many basic services. Rather than promoting sustainable development that looks at transferring dependence from foreign organizations to regional groups, international relief agencies perpetuate constant dependence – sometimes intentionally. There are allegations, for instance, that MSF along with other IOs in Haiti not only quell local activism that attempts long-term development to make Haitians less dependant on foreign services, but also that these groups supported the 2004 coup d’état, backed by the U.S.

We need to get beyond the “immediate relief” mentality. I am not in the least saying that we should forget about these organizations. We should support the work international organizations do, but also empower local groups that seek indigenous solutions to persisting socio-economic and political problems that have been plaguing a country like Haiti for decades.

Within days of the earthquake, representatives from American construction companies were already discussing reconstruction plans and costs. While reconstruction is certainly important, it is more important to consider how Haitians can prepare themselves and future generations for similar or worse disasters. How can youth, among the most marginalized in the country, be empowered to lead their country in a new direction?

It is also important to consider ecological factors that may have contributed to the enormity of the quake, such as the expansive deforestation that has been the result of the intimate relationship between corrupt government and hungry international corporations. Less than two per cent of Haiti remains forested. How can this and other issues be dealt with beyond “immediate relief?”

Immediate relief is just that – a response at the very moment catastrophe strikes. Relief is not a solution. Solutions are possible: they must be local and long-term.

So donate your money, your clothes, and your non-perishable food items. Do not hold back. At the same time, be aware of alternatives and realize that Haiti’s existence and problems exceed the past two weeks.

That being said, what are you doing Friday night?

7 thoughts on “Think Before You Give: IOs in Haiti Are Not Without Fault

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention Think Before You Give: IOs in Haiti Are Not Without Fault « Aristotle's Lackey: Sana Saeed -- Topsy.com

  2. Interesting article, Sana, and you make a good point: “Thus a population’s dependency on IOs and the unstable situations in troubled countries allow for such organizations to constantly expand: more funding, more credibility. …we must understand that sometimes these groups can do more harm than good. …international relief agencies perpetuate constant dependence… We need to get beyond the “immediate relief” mentality. Relief is not a solution. Solutions are possible”

    The reason for Gaza’s endless youth bulge is that a large majority of its population does not have to provide for its offspring. Most babies are fed, clothed, vaccinated and educated by UNRWA, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East. Unlike the U.N. High Commission for Refugees, which deals with the rest of the world’s refugees and aims to settle them in their respective host countries, UNRWA perpetuates the Palestinian problem by classifying as refugees not only those who originally fled their homes, but all of their descendents as well.

    UNRWA is benevolently funded by the U.S. (31%) and the European Union (nearly 50%) — only 7% of the funds come from Muslim sources. Thanks to the West’s largesse, nearly the entire population of Gaza lives in a kind of lowly but regularly paid dependence. One result of this unlimited welfare is an endless population boom. Between 1950 and 2008, Gaza’s population has grown from 240,000 to 1.5 million. The West basically created a new Near Eastern people in Gaza that at current trends will reach three million in 2040. Within that period, Gazans may alter the justifications and directions of their aggression but are unlikely to stop the aggression itself.

    The West pays for food, schools, medicine and housing, while Muslim nations help out with the military hardware. Unrestrained by such necessities as having to earn a living, the young have plenty of time on their hands for digging tunnels, smuggling, assembling missiles and firing 4,500 of them at Israel since 2006.

    Gazan teenagers have no future other than war. One rocket master killed is immediately replaced by three young men for whom a martyr’s death is no less honorable than victory. Some 230,000 Gazan males, aged 15 to 29, who are available for the battlefield now, will be succeeded by 360,000 boys under 15 (45% of all Gazan males) who could be taking up arms within the coming 15 years.

    As long as we continue to subsidize Gaza’s extreme demographic armament, young Palestinians will likely continue killing their brothers or neighbors. And yet, despite claiming that it wants to bring peace to the region, the West continues to make the population explosion in Gaza worse every year. By generously supporting UNRWA’s budget, the West assists a rate of population increase that is 10 times higher than in their own countries. Much is being said about Iran waging a proxy war against Israel by supporting Hezbollah and Hamas. One may argue that by fueling Gaza’s untenable population explosion, the West unintentionally finances a war by proxy against the Jews of Israel.

    We must have the courage to tell the Gazans that they will have to start looking after their children themselves, without UNRWA’s help. This would force Palestinians to focus on building an economy instead of freeing them up to wage war.

    The international NGOs and social workers careers depend on perpetuating Gaza’s misery.

  3. You kinda left out one minor detail, Eagle, in your extremely questionable discussion of Gaza’s dependancy on IOs: the Israeli blockade.

  4. “The reason for Gaza’s endless youth bulge is that a large majority of its population does not have to provide for its offspring.”

    Uhm… not quite Achmed (nice try with the subtle racism btw).

    Gazans receive only the bare essentials from UNRWA. Only a few thousand Gazans who are classified as “Hardship cases” receive anything more than that.

    However, this does not change the fact that these people are in fact refugees. They were forced off their land by Israelis and are still prevented from returning to their homes despite U.N resolutions calling on Israel to take them back.

    This also does not factor in the simple fact that Israel as occupier of the Gaza Strip and West Bank is responsible for the upkeep of the people living there. A responsibility that the Israelis shun and force the international community to take on their behalf.

    Anyway, nice attempt trying to shift the blame from the occupier (Israel) to the victim (the Palestinians living under a brutal military occupation). If Israel ended the occupation and blockade, people in Gaza wouldn’t need UNRWA.

    “The West pays for food, schools, medicine and housing, while Muslim nations help out with the military hardware.”

    What military hardware are you referring to? Gazans rely heavily on home made weapons. Furthermore, Israel chooses which agencies get to stay in Gaza. Finally, Gazans rely on themselves for most of their food, housing, and clothing. The pittance of aid they get from Western agencies is not what keeps them going.

    Anyway, I’m sorry that the fact that Brown people are having Brown babies disgusts you so much.

    “As long as we continue to subsidize Gaza’s extreme demographic armament, young Palestinians will likely continue killing their brothers or neighbors.”

    Demographic armament? You do realize that you are implying that Palestinians giving birth is somehow a weapon… an essentially racist arguement.

    In any case so long as Israel insists on occupying the Palestinians and starving them through a blockade, Palestinians will continue to resist and will continue to be justifiably angry.

    The international NGOs and social workers careers depend on perpetuating Gaza’s misery.

    Nice try blaming the victim.

    Gaza’s misery will continue so long as Israel brutally occupies and blockades the Gaza strip. There is no getting around this simple reality. Israel is the occupier and primary source of Gazan misery. Your racist blaming the victim arguments don’t change that reality.

    You remind me of those sick bastards who blamed the Black South Africans for their misery because they couldn’t “pull themselves up by the boot straps and relied on Western Aid Agencies for support.”

  5. I was under the impression that the article here wasn’t looking to place blame for the bad conditions as much as it was addressing the role of the aid agencies? Aid agencies which may, in some cases, be making things worse. For example, it could be said that the international NGOs and social workers careers depend on perpetuating Gaza’s misery.

  6. For example, it could be said that the international NGOs and social workers careers depend on perpetuating Gaza’s misery.

    While this argument can be made, and even if it were to be true (partially or in total), it does not change the fact that the primary reason for poverty and misery in the Gaza strip are due to the Israeli enforced blockade and brutal military occupation.

    The NGO’s don’t have to do anything to perpetuate the misery in Gaza, Israel essentially does all the work for them in that regard (this is of course if we are assuming that the NGO’s are actually involved in perpetuating Gazan misery which by all accounts they aren’t).

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