Twelve years after the 2010 earthquake that devastated Haiti, a new report from the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) examines US aid failures in Haiti, identifies several core reasons why US aid has not resulted in measurable and lasting improvements, and proposes several reforms that could be made to how the US Agency for International Development (USAID) operates in Haiti.
The report, “Capacity Development for Whom? An Agenda for USAID Reform in Haiti,” by Jake Johnston and Annee Lorentzen, identifies several institutional and systemic problem areas relevant to USAID’s operations beyond Haiti, and is based on 12 years of investigation into USAID operations in Haiti and on interviews with development experts, leaders of Haitian organizations, individuals working with USAID contractors, USAID officials, and congressional staff.
“Twelve years ago, the US government vowed to ‘build back better’ in Haiti,” paper coauthor Jake Johnston said. “But the US response is now remembered for diverting millions of dollars to Beltway-based contractors while bypassing Haitian organizations, for its lack of transparency, and for promises undelivered while people in Haiti suffered.”
The report identifies several key problems in USAID operations that have persisted despite efforts at reform:
- USAID is overly reliant on a small cadre of largely US-based contractors.
- USAID staff levels remain woefully inadequate.
- USAID reform efforts have rarely been accompanied by legislative action.
- Organizational culture and systemic racism also play a role.
Johnston and Lorentzen show that only 3 percent of USAID spending has gone directly to private companies or organizations based in Haiti, while more than half of all USAID spending has gone to a handful of firms in Washington, DC; Maryland; and Virginia. The top two recipients, Chemonics International and Development Alternatives Inc., are for-profit companies that have received 20 percent of all USAID contracts and grants awarded for work in Haiti over the past decade-plus, and are two of the largest recipients of USAID funding worldwide.
The report proposes the following reforms be made if USAID is to truly assist Haiti “on [its] own development journey to self-reliance” (to quote USAID’s stated goals):
- Establish a permanent presence outside of Port-au-Prince;
- Perform a mapping exercise to identify local organizations in Haiti;
- Make every effort to empower the local mission and local staff;
- Establish a pilot program focused on supporting local partners;
- Fully incorporate community engagement and feedback into the contracting process;
- Provide direct support to Haiti’s Directorate General of Civil Protection (DGPC).