Developing strategies to end hunger

14 posts from January 2010

Building Haiti Back Better

In a packed hearing yesterday of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Chairman Kerry reminded us that prior to the earthquake, Haiti had actually begun to show some signs of progress, with violent crime declining and increased access to the U.S. market. Indeed, this week a CNN report, examined the garment industry, which before the quake employed 130,000 people, with workers earning $4 a day (more than half of Haiti’s minimum wage) and new investments fueling a potential resurgence of the sector.  Much of this gets lost in the flood of stories about how the earthquake has destabilized a “basket case” of a country. But I digress.

U.N. Deputy Special Envoy for Haiti, Dr. Paul Farmer, turned our attention to a new set of health concerns, such as outbreaks of cholera and water-borne diseases in the newly formed tent cities. He also urged a focus on quickly establishing safe schools, hospitals, and storm-resistant housing.  Wreckage must be cleared, students need to be back in school, and life -- as wretched as it appears in the present -- must continue. Dr. Rony Francois detailed the massive infrastructure challenges. Among them is assessing the structural integrity of the remaining buildings. We know that many people, even with homes intact, are loathe to return to them. He also called for a long-term plan to decentralize Port-au-Prince and reinvest in agriculture, food security, jobs, roads, and the like. James Dobbins of Rand Corporation pointed out that as post-conflict environments go, Haiti is “no Somalia, Iraq, or Afghanistan.” So we don’t need American troops in Haiti for the long haul, but we do need to focus on creating jobs, alleviating poverty, and enhancing Haiti’s capacity to govern. We should also pay Haitians to build back their own country as my colleague discussed earlier this week.

In light of the billions anticipated for recovery and reconstruction, all commentary led back to what Farmer described as the failed “aid machinery” and how to do it better than it has been done in the past. The AP reported this week that of the $379 million the U.S. spent on earthquake relief in Haiti, less then a penny of each dollar is going to the Haitian government in cash. See the full article for a breakdown on how this money has been spent. To date, $2 billion in relief has streamed into Haiti, almost all into the hands of NGOs. With more NGOs per capita than any other country in the hemisphere, this is no surprise. 

Some creative measures were put on the table, such as coordinating Haitian-American volunteers into small groups linked with their former hometowns and institutions in Haiti; creating a multilateral recovery fund and new ground rules for NGO involvement in Haiti; and my favorite, appointing a U.S. Haiti “czar” comparable to the role Ambassador Richard Holbrook now plays in Afghanistan. This could raise the profile of the recovery effort and help improve coordination among U.S. agencies. But there were no easy prescriptions for engaging the Haitian government, other than the acknowledgment that yes, there is corruption and weak capacity, but a “better” Haiti is one in which strengthening governance, civil institutions, and the economy is central. 

Excel Test: 2014 HR Data Table 1

Haiti: Hard Rain's Gonna Fall

Almost everything I read about Haiti comes accompanied with an image or piece of information about crowds of dispossessed people. Crowds on line for food. Crowds waiting to get assigned to a tent.
Currently there are 690,000 people homeless and only 14,000 spaces available in the sites designated to accommodate them. As the Financial Times reports today, the suffering caused by this quake is bound to get worse. Deeper trouble is one storm away.
Since the quake struck, the skies have been mercifully clear. But nature won’t give us such charity forever. Rains are coming. Will we bear witness to images of squalor in the camps and on the streets, people dying from cholera and other diseases that arrive with these conditions?
I don't know why, but for me the information coming from Haiti brings to mind a line I read almost 20 years ago in the novel Mao II by Don Delillo. “The future belongs to crowds.”

Moving Closer to a Coordinated Global Strategy to Reduce Hunger

Congratulations are in order for Ann Tutwiler, who will now head a USDA team supporting the U.S. Global Food Security Initiative. Tutwiler has been a leader in pushing the food security initiative forward. As the USDA representative, she will collaborate with colleagues from other agencies, including USAID, the Treasury Department, and the Millennium Challenge Corporation.

Here is the official USDA announcement:
Ann will be advised by a Food Security Council comprised of experts from across USDA to ensure that the entire department contributes to the initiative and works closely with other USG partners at the State Department, USAID, and Treasury, among others. The Global Food Security Initiative was launched in 2009 by President Obama as a multi-agency and international effort to reduce hunger and malnutrition in some of the world's poorest countries. Ann will ensure that the department's expertise in creating functioning markets and improving productivity throughout the value chain is brought to bear on one of the greatest challenges of our time. The U.S. and other donors will work with the world's poorest countries to reduce hunger by building strong agricultural sectors. Over the long term, the department's engagement will contribute to the economic growth and market orientation of these countries, which will benefit U.S. farmers and agribusinesses. 

Meanwhile, we still anticipate USAID will take a leadership role in the initiative. Hopefully USDA’s announcement will be the first of many about how the food security initiative will function and who will serve as a coordinator.

Reconstructing Haiti (part two)

Conjectures about how long it will take to rebuild Haiti are imprecise at best, except for the one thing they have in common. It’s going to be a long while before the country is put back together.

The Active Learning Network for Accountability and Performance in Humanitarian Action (ALNAP) says it will take three to five years, basing this on 30 years of historical evidence following other earthquakes in developing countries. My colleague in a post yesterday quoted officials who estimate as long as ten years. Keep in mind there are many factors that could lengthen or shorten the time it takes to rebuild Haiti.

But this doesn’t mean development in Haiti should be put on pause for years. Relief, recovery, and development should be going on concurrently.

Here’s a way to combine all three. Weak infrastructure caused the devastating effects in Port-au-Prince. Earthquakes of 7.0 have occurred in the developed world without causing collapsed buildings and mass fatalities. Poor infrastructure is symptomatic of underdevelopment writ large.

Haitians, not international NGOs or the U.S. military, should be paid to rebuild the country. Unemployment was a big problem before the earthquake and now it’s an even bigger one. Again, the numbers are imprecise, but USAID puts unemployment between 70-80 percent in the formal sector before the quake. We know Haitians need jobs, and rebuilding the country’s infrastructure can create lots of them. Here in the United States, much of last year’s federal stimulus was invested in infrastructure improvement. Investments in infrastructure create jobs right away and they can lay a solid foundation for future economic growth.

Here’s where the international community needs to help. The U.N. has launched a cash-for-work program that will “enable the population to take part in the reconstruction of Haiti by employing Haitians in recovery efforts, such as cleaning the streets and clearing earthquake rubble. It allows people to receive $5 a day for their work and hopes to ultimately enroll some 220,000 Haitians, indirectly benefiting one million people,” according to U.N. officials.

Five dollars a day may not sound like much, but it’s actually double what most Haitians have been living on. At the end of last week, the U.N. had garnered $5 million in aid. This won’t get us very far, but let’s hope it’s just the start. Most of the world’s attention right now is focused on getting food to people and getting the homeless into makeshift shelters. That’s understandable, but the country’s economy, such as it is, has to be put back together too.

The effort to rebuild Haiti should be driven by its own government and civil society organizations. A lot of people have a knee-jerk reaction against trusting the Haitian government with leadership on anything. I understand that. Transparency International ranks Haiti 168 out of 180 countries on its Corruption Perceptions Index -- obviously not a stellar showing, but the country scores higher than two notably large beneficiaries of U.S. aid and attention these days: Iraq and Afghanistan.

“In fact, Haiti in recent years has been much better managed under President René Préval and has shown signs of being on the mend,” writes Nicholas Kristof in The New York Times.

I’m not going to get into it about the corruption in Haiti. All I’m saying is development doesn’t stand a chance in Haiti, as elsewhere, unless it is country-led.

One of the best things we can do to help Haiti is to pay Haitians to rebuild the infrastructure necessary for their society to function effectively.

Haiti: Toward Reconstruction

Efforts in Haiti now turn to the wrenching task of clearing wreckage (with untold numbers still trapped in rubble) and housing hundreds of thousands before the rain and hurricane seasons start. Still reeling, Haiti must quickly turn to reconstruction and recovery, while balancing ongoing relief for the 2 million people affected.

On Monday, Haiti’s top leaders gathered with international donors in Montreal to assert their central role in the reconstruction agenda. Foreign ministers from 14 countries largely agreed that we are looking at a decade, at minimum, of concerted investment in Haiti. The outcomes of the meeting outlined the obvious: Haiti will need deep and broad long-term assistance. A more involved donors conference will convene down the road where actual dollars will be pledged following an independent needs assessment.

While the beleaguered Haitian government presented an initial $3 billion plan to salvage Port-au-Prince (housing the homeless and rebuilding infrastructure), others have begun to press for unprecedented levels of aid and coordination.

On Project Syndicate this week, Jeffrey Sachs recommends focusing on five key sectors for long-term reconstruction and development: smallholder, or peasant, agriculture; reconstruction; port services and light manufacturing; local small-scale trade; and public services, including health care and education. He also pushes for an overarching framework and an unprecedented display of international cooperation led by the Inter-American Development Bank because of its track record in Haiti. His price tag for this effort: $10-$20 billion over 10 years.

To naysayers of aid to Haiti, Sachs says:

“Other countries have risen from the rubble of natural disaster and war, and Haiti can do the same over the next five to ten years. For the next decade, however, and especially for the next five years, there will be no escape from the need to rely on international financing, and mainly grant assistance, to finance the rebuilding effort. The world has spent heavily in Haiti before, but very ineffectively. This time, it must be done right.”

So world leaders must now grapple with how to structure aid efforts in Haiti, with its history of corruption and weak institutions. In a statement following the meeting, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said,

"It's important that we see ourselves as partners with Haiti, not patrons… We bear a responsibility to our taxpayers to assure that the money that our government commits will be well spent transparently and with results on the ground for the Haitian people.”

Let’s see if the interest, concern, and good will emerging from this tragedy can be channeled into a coherent, transparent, and collaborative development agenda that prioritizes broad-based economic growth, debt relief, and poverty reduction. This is our opportunity.

Haiti Needs Debt Relief

Haiti owes the International Monetary Fund $165 million for loans incurred before last week's devastating earthquake. These loans should be forgiven. How in the world will the country be able to pay them now?. In a sense, this is beside the point.

It’s worth noting the conditions under which the IMF loans were made, as Richard Kim did in The Nation last week.

Debt relief activists tell me that these loans came with conditions, including raising prices for electricity, refusing pay increases to all public employees except those making minimum wage and keeping inflation low.

And now, as Kim explains, the IMF is offering a new loan to Haiti for $100 million, with mostly the same conditions attached.

At this point, it's helpful to have a refresher on Haiti’s historical experience with creditors. As Kim writes:

As historians have documented, the impoverishment of Haiti began in the earliest decades of its independence, when Haiti's slaves and free gens de couleur rallied to liberate the country from the French in 1804. But by 1825, Haiti was living under a new kind of bondage--external debt. In order to keep the French and other Western powers from enforcing an embargo, it agreed to pay 150 million francs in reparations to French slave owners (yes, that's right, freed slaves were forced to compensate their former masters for their liberty). … It took Haiti 122 years, but in 1947 the nation paid off about 60 percent, or 90 million francs, of this debt (it was able to negotiate a reduction in 1838).

Then of course there are the structural adjustment policies imposed by the IMF and World Bank in the 1990s. In 1995, for example, the IMF forced Haiti to cut its rice tariff from 35 percent to 3 percent, leading to a massive increase in rice-dumping, the vast majority of which came from the United States. …During this period, USAID invested heavily in Haiti, but this "charity" came not in the form of grants to develop Haiti's agricultural infrastructure, but in direct food aid, furthering Haiti's dependence on foreign assistance while also funneling money back to US agribusiness.

A 2008 report from the Center for International Policy points out that in 2003, Haiti spent $57.4 million to service its debt, while total foreign assistance for education, health care and other services was a mere $39.21 million. In other words, under a system of putative benevolence, Haiti paid back more than it received.

Lately there’s been a lot of chatter on editorial pages about why Haiti is such a development "basket case." The agenda—and, frankly, it appears to me the earthquake has been exploited to forward that agenda—is to bash foreign aid.  In The Wall Street Journal, Brent Stephens tells us the reason Haiti is such a basket case is because we haven’t treated Haitians like adults. David Brooks in the The New York Times blames it on voodoo and a Haitian predisposition to fecklessness. Interesting.

Here we have two polar opposite views of Haitians, but the same agenda to discredit aid. What's missing from theirs and others' anti-aid agenda is how we might have done things differently and gotten better results. Rather than explore that angle, they conclude we should stop providing aid. 

Indeed, we need to do aid better in Haiti—because we owe it to Haitians, for one thing. But first let’s clear the decks. Debt relief for Haiti should come first. More on how to do aid correctly in the coming days.

Staying on Top of Relief Efforts in Haiti

News and analysis from IRIN, a project of the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, get about as close to what’s happening on the ground right now as you can get.

For example, here’s an excerpt from a report released today:

Joanne, 18, a high-school student, is living in a makeshift camp on a football pitch in the Corridor Icare district, less than 2km from the presidential palace in Port-au-Prince, which was wrecked in the 12 January earthquake. She spoke to IRIN about her experiences:

“My days now start around 4am. Every night since the earthquake is a trial,” she said. “I don’t think I really sleep until everybody wakes up, but that’s the time of morning prayers."

IRIN publishes multiple reports like this every day.

The graphic below, pulled from another U.N. source, provides some information on conditions in Haiti before the earthquake.


Obama's Initiatives on Hunger and Health: The Case for an Integrated Approach

The president is hip-deep in the process of reforming U.S. foreign aid, with multiple initiatives, ongoing studies, and congressional scrutiny. If Secretary Clinton’s speech at the Center for Global Development is any indication, the role of U.S. development assistance will be significantly elevated over the coming months and years.

Guiding principles abound for what reform should look like. One clear need is better coordination within aid programs and across development and diplomacy efforts. The State Department is tackling the question of how to coordinate development and diplomacy agendas, which will likely receive considerable attention in the upcoming Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review (QDDR). Unfortunately, a year into the new administration, the QDDR is still at least a month away.

In the meantime, the administration has launched two large initiatives that will create a blueprint for how aid efforts will work together internally. First, the Global Hunger and Food Security Initiative (GHFSI) is an outgrowth of the announcement made at last year’s G8 meeting to increase assistance for agriculture; the U.S. has committed $3 billion over the next three years. Since the announcement, an task force comprised of the National Security Council, State Department, USAID, the Department of Agriculture, the Treasury Department, and the Millennium Challenge Corporation have been working to clarify what a “whole-of-government” approach to development (and food security, in this instance) looks like in practice. The task force is expected to release a revised strategy document later this month.

The other major effort is the Global Health Initiative (GHI), an attempt to integrate U.S. global health efforts into a single coherent program of action. Currently, different funding streams, offices, and actors within the U.S. government tackle different aspects of global health, including the Office of the Global AIDS Coordinator, the Centers for Disease Control, and USAID. The GHI is intended to promote better coordination and cooperation among these groups and to create a more coherent approach to funding different health programs overall. The president plans to spend $63 billion on the GHI.

Where these two initiatives overlap is on the critical issue of nutrition.

Continue reading "Obama's Initiatives on Hunger and Health: The Case for an Integrated Approach" »

Remittances and Relief for Haiti

It will take lots of money to address the catastrophic earthquake that struck Haiti Tuesday—money to cope with conditions now and over the long haul, as the poorest country in the Western hemisphere struggles to recover from a natural disaster the Financial Times described today as equal in force to a half-megaton nuclear bomb.


Americans are generous people and the act of helping anyone anywhere in distress seems to be written into our DNA. But we also have short attention spans. Months from now, or even weeks and days, once the earthquake and relief efforts drop several notches in the hierarchy of news stories, Haitians will remain in desperate need of help.


Those who won’t stop giving will be the 800,000 Haitians living in the United States, whose remittances are crucial to supporting their families and Haiti’s economy. It’s estimated that 20 percent of Haiti’s Gross Domestic Product comes from remittances; the largest share is from the United States.


In good times, remittances from the U.S. to Haiti average about $100 million per month. The recession and continued high rates of unemployment have put tremendous stress on all workers in the United States, but especially immigrants. At a time when their remittances are most needed, Haitians living in the U.S. may not be able to provide them.


Responding to a disaster of this magnitude will require billions of dollars of assistance—most of it, let’s hope, coming from a consolidated effort of many governments. But we individuals can do our part. Please be generous and give.


Here is information on how you can donate to organizations already involved in the relief effort. 

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