By Graham Sowa
Between Africa and Europe there is a fault named the Azores-Gibraltar. On November 1, 1755 a massive movement along this fault caused the Great Lisbon Earthquake. Earthquakes had happened along this fault before, but this one was special because of the timing. It happened during the Enlightenment.
New ways of thinking about the natural world and human adaptation to that world were the great achievements to be pulled from this magnificent calamity. Architectural designs were inspired to prevent damage from future earthquakes. It was the first earthquake studied scientifically by different disciplines, giving rise to geology and seismology as academic subjects.
Like the Great Lisbon Earthquake the Haiti earthquake of 2010 caused widespread devastation in the seat of government during a rapid period of technological development for our species, in the contemporary case the digital revolution. However, unlike Portugal in the 18th century, we are failing to learn from our repeated mistakes in Haiti. The methodology comes across as very pre-enlightenment.
Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) continue to ineffectively rule the reconstruction process. Few voices in the aid and development industry are speaking out for radical change in how the Haitian government, and thus the Haitian people, should take control of the fruitless reconstruction process from the multinational NGOs.
Timothy Schwartz has been one of the few not afraid to publish material the NGO industrial complex would rather remain in dusty files. Schwartz’s book Travesty in Haiti and post-earthquake field surveys have inspired little more than condemnation by multinational NGOs that rely on hyper-inflated, make-believe statistics for their fundraising purposes as they refuse to be honest with their donors, stake holders, or clients.
Mark Schuller is the author of several pre-earthquake publications about NGO culture in Haiti including Gluing Globalization: NGOs as Intermediaries in Haiti and Invasion or Infusion: Understanding the Role of NGOs in Contemporary Haiti. Mr. Schuller’s work should have been required reading for anyone wanting to step foot or put resources into Haitian reconstruction. From all apparent observation his studies were ignored by the industry.
Most concerning is that the UN Special Envoy to Haiti, President Bill Clinton, and his deputy, Dr. Paul Farmer, have been largely silent on the failure of the NGO industry in post-earthquake Haiti.
Dr. Farmer, a man who Tracey Kidder once said “would cure the world” on a book cover, seems to be at peace with President Clinton’s continued failures in trying to get housing for Haitians with the billions of donated dollars for reconstruction. After a housing expo that was given a thorough lambasting by seasoned Haiti reporters as a representation of everything that is wrong with the reconstruction process President Clinton announced 73 million USD for new housing. This will benefit only thousands of the hundreds of thousands of Haitians still homeless. And none of this money will go toward repairs of existing structures that were only damaged by the quake.
To his credit Dr. Farmer did lend a blurb to the back of Timothy Schwartz’s book: “This book knocks it out of the park.” Out of the park is exactly where the multinational NGO leaders want books like Travesty in Haiti to remain. Self-reflection and admission of errors has no place in their game.
Non-governmental organizations in Haiti are an industry. And industry does not self regulate. Therefore perhaps a few measures should be put in order to reestablish the Haitian state as the holder of the mandate of the Haitian people over multinational NGOs. Four ideas come to mind:
- Haiti prioritize enforcement of all laws governing NGOs currently on the books
- A law that requires the distribution of any aid-in-kind be accompanied by a monetary offer of equal value to the aid. The recipient would choose if they want the object being offered or the money and NGOs would be forced to operate in a marketplace with their consumers.
- A removal of all tax-exempt status from multinational NGOs
- A law requiring NGOs and the United Nations to pay any and all workers the Haitian minimum wage and a ban on food-for-work programs
Just a month after the Great Lisbon Earthquake in 1755 the King of Portugal had his Prime Minister present four plans to rebuild the collapsed, drowned, and burned city of Lisbon. A plan was chosen, and within a year the debris was cleared, new streets were being laid, and seismically protected constructions were being raised. It was a successful state undertaking.