March 31, 2009; New York Times; Haiti’s Woes Are Top Test for Aid Effort; by Neil MacFarquhar.
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti Paul Collier, a leading poverty guru, spent a recent morning here waxing positive about how the world’s economic freefall might prove the perfect moment for Haiti to sell more exports like T-shirts and mangoes to Americans.
His improbable enthusiasm coincided with appearances by a bevy of luminaries descending on Haiti this month, including Ban Ki-moon, the United Nations secretary general, and the entire Security Council. All of them came to stress that this destitute nation stands at a crossroads between salvation and “the darkness,” as Mr. Ban put it.
The spotlight was calculated. A landscape of deepening woe is emerging among the world’s most destitute. About 46 million more people are expected to tumble into poverty this year amid the largest decline in global trade in 80 years, according to the World Bank. The results ripple through every index. An additional 200,000 to 400,000 infants, for example, may die every year for the next six years because of the crisis, the bank said.
Amid the turmoil, the United Nations is reminding the world’s wealthy nations, however embattled their finances, not to forget the poorest. A panel commissioned by the United Nations General Assembly suggested on Thursday that one percent of any nation’s stimulus package be set aside for poor countries, while Mr. Ban has vowed that when he joins the leaders of the Group of 20 at their economic summit meeting in London on Thursday, he will voice the concerns of the uninvited.
“There are many countries who cannot even dream of formulating their own fiscal stimulus packages,” Mr. Ban said. Last week, he sent a letter to the Group of 20 members arguing that, domestic problems aside, they should give $1 trillion over the next two years to the world’s most vulnerable nations.
Mr. Ban is trying to turn Haiti into something of an Exhibit A on the need to keep foreign aid flowing despite tighter budgets. Haiti’s upheavals last year proved particularly intense, with the nation staggering beneath the double whammy of food riots that toppled the government and a series of hurricanes that killed hundreds and battered the economy.
Now the United Nations worries that while the groundwork has been laid to get past those threats, the moment will fade because of the global crisis. The organization has spent some $5 billion on peacekeeping operations here since 2004, when the government of the still popular President Jean-Bertrand Aristide was toppled many say with a shove from the Bush administration.
The peacekeeping force declared war against the gangs that plague Haiti, with some success. Kidnappings dropped to 258 victims last year from 722 in 2006, according to United Nations figures.
With the issue of security improved, Mr. Ban commissioned Mr. Collier an Oxford University don whose book on fixing failed states, “The Bottom Billion,” turned him into a darling at United Nations headquarters to whip up some solutions for rejuvenating Haiti.
Haiti needs jobs, a particular challenge in the current economic climate. Haitians often seek work in the United States, but that safety valve has been squeezed given the recession. With some 900,000 youths expected to come into the job market in the next five years, dismal prospects are the main threat to stability.
“There is nothing that is going to turn Haiti around until people have jobs,” said the rap artist and native son Wyclef Jean, who came to the island with Mr. Ban and former President Bill Clinton. Mr. Jean’s charity, Yéle Haiti, underwrites education for thousands of young Haitians.
In a downtown park, Idelson François, 24, said he finished high school four years ago and had failed to find a job or money to continue his education. “When you have no self-esteem, sometimes you can’t resist the desire to do something violent,” he said.
It required five months to seat a new government after the April 2008 food riots, and United Nations officials say development is stymied by a corrupt judicial system, weak land tenure laws and wildly inefficient ports. The roads are such moonscapes that some 40 percent of the mango crop gets too bruised to be sold abroad, said Jean M. Buteau, a leading exporter.
Some diplomats worry that the government does not have the capacity to carry out even Mr. Collier’s limited prescriptions for improving manufacturing, infrastructure, agriculture and the environment.
“What is lacking is the determination to put these good ideas into a coherent policy,” said Yukio Takasu, the Japanese ambassador to the United Nations, on the Security Council tour here. “I don’t think there is a focus.”
Constant upheaval has long scared off investors. To counter that, last year the United States Congress granted Haitian textiles duty-free access to the American market for a decade, giving rise to Mr. Collier’s optimism. The policy has added just 12,000 jobs thus far, but it is viewed as a possible boon in an era of rising protectionism.
Senior United Nations officials and other diplomats worry, however, that the tempo of new factory jobs is too slow, so they think money should be pumped into emergency programs like creating jobs to fix the environmental disaster by planting the denuded hills with forests.
There is also some criticism that Mr. Collier’s basic recommendation involves turning Haiti into a sweatshop for American consumers, with workers paid $5 per day or less. He and others defend the approach, with Mr. Clinton noting after a visit to a Hanes T-shirt factory here that its workers earned some two or three times Haiti’s minimum wage of $1.75 a day.
Haiti is so close to the United States that its problems tend to reverberate as illegal immigration, and the Marines have stormed ashore repeatedly since the first American occupation started in 1915.
Not every problem can be addressed with the military, and ignoring development has proved deadly, said Susan E. Rice, the American ambassador to the United Nations. “Where we have neglected it, it comes back to bite us.” Haiti could receive more than $245 million in American development aid this year.
Haitian officials hope the world gives generously, though there is a certain recognition of donor fatigue, especially in the economic storm.
But young Haitians grumble that their government has yet to paint a vision of the country’s future complaints echoed by United Nations officials who say it is difficult to get President Réne Préval or his ministers to commit to an action plan.
“Just providing rice and beans is not a long-term solution,” said John Miller Beauvoir, 26, who founded a charity right out of college and wrote a book calling on other young Haitians to get involved in development. “If the captain does not know where you are going, no boat will take you in the right direction.”