Empowering Haitians

Unless Haitian farmers and other small business-owners have the opportunity to generate revenue and create jobs, the recovery from last January’s catastrophic earthquake will continue to flounder.

The Haiti Empowerment, Assistance and Rebuilding (HEAR) Act, sponsored in the Senate by John Kerry (D-MA) and Bob Corker (R-TN), will help ensure that America’s aid to Haiti empowers Haitians to develop their economy on their terms. The HEAR Act clearly articulates priorities for future multi-billion dollar appropriations committed in U.S. aid to Haiti and emphasizes local procurement. John Conyers (D-MI) is expected to introduce a House companion to the HEAR Act, which will have almost identical language.

You can tell your congress people to pass this important legislation without delay by signing this petition.

Before the earthquake even happened, 80 percent of the Haitian population was living on less than two dollars per day. In fact, a post-earthquake study by Oxfam found that finding employment is the single greatest concern among Haitians.  Across Haiti, communities are organizing to advocate for better services and for protection of their land and water rights. Progress on these fronts—as well as local procurement and trade policies that would level the playing field between Haitian farmers and multi-national corporations—would dramatically improve the environment for job creation.

The good news is there are other encouraging signs Capitol Hill is making moves to embrace grassroots development. The Congressional Black Caucus held a hearing supported by the Haiti Advocacy Working Group (HAWG) to discuss how Haitian civil society can play a greater role in reconstruction planning and urge Congress to actively solicit input from grassroots organizations that can bring a nuanced perspective to the table. This was the first congressional hearing to feature substantial involvement of Haitian civil society.

Paul Farmer of Partners in Health knocked the cover off the ball, calling for jobs generated among impacted populations to be part of any formal evaluation of a project’s success. Dr. Farmer also offered some perspective on the feeble relationship between the Haitian government and donor nations, which have historically dismissed the government as a partner. These same donors have also been quick to throw the Haitian government under the bus as of late. From the Boston Globereport:

“Our historical failure to do so is one of the primary reasons that trying to help the public sector now is like trying to transfuse whole blood through a small-gauge needle or, in popular parlance, to drink from a fire hose,” Farmer, a UN deputy special envoy for Haiti, said on Capitol Hill.

“How can there be public health and public education without a stronger government at the national and local levels?”

And later yesterday, the house passed a $918M supplemental funding package for Haiti as part of the mammoth H.R. 4899 Supplemental Appropriations Act, 2010, which also includes increased funding for the war in Afghanistan. Language emphasizing local procurement would have made the bill much better, but politics got in the way—of course.

While there are these encouraging signs for Haiti, we still need to keep the pressure on Congress to make sure America’s aid benefits the Haitian people first and foremost.