Published in The Boston Globe
Since January's devastating earthquake in Haiti, well-meaning experts have proposed an abundance of short-term and long-term recovery solutions. They ask why aid delivery has been so slow, why previous development plans for Haiti have rarely been successful, and why billions of dollars in funding over decades have not improved conditions for the most impoverished people in our hemisphere.
Some blame the government of Haiti, while others, including the organizations we represent, often point fingers at the international community. The simple answer is that those who have the greatest stake in rebuilding Haiti, Haitians themselves, don't now and never have had a real seat at the table.
While Haitian resilience has been duly recognized around the world, few appear to be interested in talking to Haitians about how to rebuild their communities and how the billions likely to be pledged to their country will be used. And no one is talking about what recourse Haitians will have if promised projects are never completed, or worse, pledged money never arrives. Unfortunately, past failures can be found in every community across Haiti - water projects that were promised but never built, resulting in water-borne illness and death; food aid that was delivered, but spoiled or sold in markets below the prices asked by local farmers; non-government organizations that started educational programs, but then shifted priorities, leaving children without access to schools.
From our perspectives as a Haitian-American and an international human rights advocate, both working to protect the most basic of human rights, including the rights to health, water, and food, we know the people of Haiti not only deserve, but are entitled to better lives.
The solution is simple, practical, and driven by human rights. Representatives of donor states, government agencies, NGOs, and international organizations should meet with Haitians to discuss their communities' needs, be it a water source, a school, a road or health center, and then determine specifics like where it should be constructed, how it will be maintained and when it will be completed so communities know what to expect before breaking ground. If it is behind schedule, poorly maintained, or never built, community members should be able to report back to an independent body that is partnered with the Haitian government and can track all such complaints.
In the short-term, the international community and the Haitian government could create a traveling body to help community members track any problems with current projects. Information gathered through this body would be accessible to the Haitian people, a critical first step toward ensuring that the principles of participation, transparency, and accountability are more than mere slogans. In the future, community members could work with their government to develop a more permanent monitoring infrastructure across the country.
This month, all concerned eyes will be on the United Nations-hosted donors conference convening in New York. Experts will gather to discuss development strategies and donor countries will make public pledges of support to Haiti. In addition to the few elected leaders and a handful of NGO representatives who will speak to the donor states, representatives of the people we know and work with should be present and heard. These are people who, after suffering untold loss, still live in the streets of Port-au-Prince, starving nearly two months after the earthquake, or live in rural areas dealing with skyrocketing food prices because of the influx of earthquake survivors into their communities, or are among the millions who suffered without access to clean water long before the earthquake hit.
Those who have worked in Haiti and other places around the world and have suffered large-scale death and destruction know that successful long-term recovery needs to be driven by the people most intimately affected. Beyond the enormous funding and international experts needed to rebuild Haiti, it is time to make a new pledge - to heed and support the experts who can truly rebuild Haiti, the Haitian people.
Loune Viaud is the director of strategic planning and operations at Zanmi Lasante/Partners in Health in Haiti. Monika Kalra Varma is the director of the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Human Rights.