Yesterday’s UN meeting of governments and international organizations on aid to Haiti ended with a $10 billion pledge. The funds will be committed to development that may dramatically restructure the country’s human geography and physical infrastructure by focusing on urban development outside of Port-au-Prince.
The US promised $1.2 billion in assistance, with almost 60 other countries and nongovernmental entities pledging the rest. Many remain skeptical, however, that the money will reach those who need it or that those who have promised aid will actually come through. This is because international aid promised to date has yet to reach those who need it most. As the hurricane season begins, worries mount about how already homeless and displaced people might fare.
Alarms about accountability are also sounding, in light of the fact that the $10 billion pledge will be administered by a body of political leaders and nongovernmental funders housed within the World Bank. Bill Clinton, who has a very checkered history in the country, and Haitian Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive will be part of the administrative team. Though the World Bank has pledged to cancel all outstanding Haitian debt, the entity has a shady history in Haiti and other countries, where it has facilitated and often required neoliberal trickle-down development models at the expense of equitable growth. Inequality often grows as a result of market-oriented economic development models because, though thee GDP goes up, wages and quality of life for most normal people do not.
To check these forces, the Haitian government has proposed a process for parliamentary approval for development plans — but countries and non-governmental entities who give over $100 billion will still have a voting say in reconstruction decisions. While ultimate authority in the proposed model remains within the Haitian government, the process raises questions about Haitian sovereignty in the process.
The Haitian government is calling for direct and immediate investment in the government itself, instead of in NGOs and private enterprise. Many international funders have expressed tired concerns about the Haitian government’s capacity to act, and have previously funded NGOs instead. The approach, however, is a self-fulfilling prophesy — because without the necessary resources, the Haitian government will continue to be unable to accomplish its economic development goals.
Raymond Joseph, the Haitian Ambassador to the US explains: “NGOs cannot build the infrastructure of Haiti. They cannot build the roads, the electricity, the water system and so forth. So I’ve been pleading with international organizations … to work with the Haitian government so that they cannot continue to say the government is too weak.”
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton seemed to agree, saying that it is possible to “build an economy if it is embedded in a political system,” that functions “to make sure that resources are more equitably shared.” The language suggests a recognition that government is a necessary actor in responsible and equitable development, and a move away from disaster capitalism, a reliance on and total acquiescence to markets in the face of crisis.
Haitian planners envision a redevelopment that consists of a massive redistribution of the country’s population and resources out of Port-au-Prince, the three-million-person capitol, to smaller urban “growth poles.” The plan would dramatically change the country’s human geography by constructing a new urban infrastructure in a country currently dominated by its largest city.
The proposals, inspired by the New Urbanism movement, would aim to build more accessible, walkable and community oriented cities and, by building the infrastructure in smaller sites, aims to give displaced people incentives to move. Whether or not the development plans will be able to achieve equitable results, and whether they will be kept out of the hands of unaccountable private enterprise, is unknown. And exactly how the government plans to draw Haitians to move from their home city of Port-au-Prince may raise some concerned eyebrows.
All this said, the $10 billion in promised aid offers an opportunity from a kind of international assistance very different from the patriarchal and destructive kinds of development forced on the country in decades past.