Monday, November 15, 2010

The "Parallel State" of NGOs in Haiti

Haiti has more Non-Governmental Organizations than any other nation, as many as 100,000. The NGO aid groups and charities are as varied as the big names such as the Red Cross and World Vision to American churches who sponsor an orphanage.

Some observers of the Haiti situation say that the volume of NGOs in Haiti have created a "parallel state," meaning the NGOs provide basic services while the government does not. Another problem is that the NGOs continually provide for the immediate needs of the people while not having the time or money to create long term solutions for food, sanitation or jobs.

From the Wall Street Journal, Writer José De Córdoba looks into this issue.

Critics say the NGOs have put Haiti in a Catch-22: By building a parallel state that is more powerful than Haiti's own government, aid groups are ensuring Haiti never develops and remains dependent on charities. "The system as it is guarantees its failure," says Laura Zenotti, a political scientist at Virginia Tech who has studied NGOs in Haiti.

"A word for the NGOs," warned former President Bill Clinton, the U.N.'s special envoy to Haiti, at a ceremony here marking the six-month anniversary of the earthquake, "tell us what you are doing, and where."

Pope Benedict XVI appeals for international aid efforts for Haiti as cholera continues to ravage the earthquake-stricken population. Video courtesy of Reuters.

Even NGOs with a long history in Haiti sometimes show a cavalier attitude toward the authorities, Haitian officials say. For two months, the government refused to allow a new obstetrics hospital built by Médecins Sans Frontièrs to open, saying the group ignored its request to locate the hospital elsewhere to better cover the country's health needs. "They didn't even ask permission to build, and when we asked them to stop, they didn't stop," says Dr. Claude Surena, the coordinator of Haiti's national commission to reconstruct the health system.

Paul McPhun, who oversees MSF in Haiti, says the group did inform the government about its new hospital, which replaced one destroyed in the quake, and only as the hospital neared completion did the location become an issue. Mr. McPhun says MSF could have done a better job of "giving updates" to the ministry of health, but the urgency of saving lives after the quake was too acute. "To continue in Haiti, we need to be partners and have to be a part of the reconstruction plan, but I don't think anybody knows what those plans are," he says.

Aid groups provide four-fifths of social services here, according to a 2006 analysis by Washington's National Academy of Public Administration, a congressionally chartered, nonpartisan group of management experts. Jean Palerme Mathurin, economic adviser to Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive, says NGOs may account for as much as a quarter of Haiti's gross domestic product. He says the NGO presence has permanently "infantilized" the country, creating a vicious cycle: The government lacks the money—and historically, the inclination—to provide social services. Those services, therefore, are provided by NGOs, which means the government, in turn, has no incentive to improve.

Paul Farmer, founder of Partners in Health, an NGO which, in conjunction with the ministry of health, is the country's largest health provider, believes that NGOs and foreign governments should channel some of their funds directly to the Haitian state. "NGOs have flourished in number and size as the public sector has withered in Haiti," says Dr. Farmer.

1 comment:

Don Stoll said...

Fancy the Wall Street Journal addressing a development question so instructively! But even if influential voices like Dr. Farmer's can persuade the "parallel state" of NGO's to seek close cooperation with Haitian officials, will NGO muscle manage to straighten out this notoriously corrupt government, or will government divert the NGO community from its presumed path of righteousness?