The New Internationalist interviewed anthropologist Mark Schuller on the reconstruction and humanitarian aid in Haiti an excellent overview is given of how foreign intervention happened in the two years following the earthquake. “There is a clear failure here. The world can make a clear signal that if Haitian reconstruction is what we want, then we have to play a backup role and not impose our vision, our priorities and these top-down foreign unaccountable, unelectable structure to implement.”
While most of the sector clusters were in fact taking over the responsibility of the government were held in English and excluded Haitian participation, the one exception is the Water and Sanitation cluster: “I don’t think that it is a coincidence that the one cluster that was co-chaired by the Haitian government got more results. Because they were on the ground, they had the authority that NGOs don’t. They have a structural accountability to all Haitian citizens that others don’t.”
Addressing the issue of the weakness of the Haitian government Schuller states that “It is more a question of political will than capacity question of the Haitian government. If there is a government agency that is working, then they should be given the resources so that they can do a better job.” But apart from government ownership there is a great need to include the Haitian people themselves: “It was just more expedient to just deal with two people in the camp committee than it was for them to have a longer community meeting. It was the easier out for the NGOs, but it replaced a system of solidarity, that those of us that were in Haiti immediately after the earthquake saw, with a system of the same old exclusion that even donors say is a big problem.”
Staying optimistic Schuller states that it is “not too late to reverse some of that. I think that with proper guidance, with unified political will, it is possible that a real decentralization can happen. But it requires peoples ownership of the process. NGOs can play an important role in this, if they understand that their role is a support, is an accompaniment. Too often however NGOs inflict themselves.“
Mark Schuller, assistant professor at the State University of Haiti and the City University of New York, is a leading anthropologist who has been publishing extensively on Haiti. He is one of the few academics that have done in-depth research on the conditions of the internally displaced people in the camps. His book “Tectonic Shifts: Haiti after the earthquake” that just appeared, is an anthology of Haitian and foreign views on the Haiti that pulled itself out of the rubble after the devastating earthquake of 12 January 2010.