Connect to share and comment

Opinion: Haiti stands alone

President of international aid organization CARE hopes this time aid dollars won't be squandered.

Aid workers are certainly self-aware. They know when their programs are not working. A few years ago they staged a major world conference and issued a call for action entitled the Paris Declaration on Aid Effectiveness. It offered a list of recommendations, but chief among them was “the need for effective partnerships among donor and recipient countries based on the recognition of recipient countries’ leadership and ownership of development plans.”

That’s the problem. Haiti effectively has no government, despite President Rene Preval’s insistence to the contrary. The State Department puts Haiti in the same category as Somalia, the two nations with the weakest governments in the world, both of them inept, incapable and thoroughly corrupt.

When former presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush visited a refugee camp in Port-au-Prince last month, Preval joined them, and they were greeted with catcalls. Refugees wanted to know why Preval had done nothing for them. In the months since the earthquake, he and his government had essentially gone into hiding.

Late last month, donors met at the United Nations and pledged almost $10 billion for Haiti over the next three years. The United States pledged $1.15 billion; Montenegro offered $10,000. Ban Ki-moon, the U.N. secretary general, offered an expansive vision of “a wholesale renewal, a sweeping exercise in nation building on a scale and scope not seen in generations.”

“To put this effort in perspective,” Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told the conference, “after the 2004 tsunami” in Southeast Asia, “more than 80 countries provided immediate humanitarian assistance and more than 20 countries pledged assistance for reconstruction. “As of today, more than 140 countries have provided humanitarian assistance to Haiti and nearly 50 countries have made pledges of support for Haiti's building.”

Haiti stands alone; no other nation is showered with such largess. No other nation has squandered so much.

The government and the donors have agreed to form a so-called reconstruction committee through which all the aid will flow. Bill Clinton and Jean-Max Bellerive, the Haitian prime minister, are to chair it. And you can hear both Clinton and his wife, the secretary of state, now talking about accountability — making sure the funds do not slosh down the corruption sewer. The government is asking for $350 million in direct aid right up front. All this offers a depressingly familiar ring.

But Gayle hopes and believes this time will be different. What choice does she have? “I hate to think that the great equalizer has to be this earthquake. But take what you can get. It’s a missed opportunity if you don’t use it for positive change.”