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In January 2010, a massive earthquake devastated the island nation of Haiti. In the months and years that followed, billions of dollars were pledged to help rebuild the country’s broken infrastructure and government institutions. But three years later, many critics feel the international community has squandered a historic opportunity of “building back better.” Kojo examines the lessons learned — and unlearned — in the wake of disaster.
- Vijaya Ramachandran Senior Fellow, Center for Global Development
MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood with the world. Later in the broadcast the military at a crossroads as the Pentagon draws down from two wars and confronts a new era of austerity. We examine the culture and politics influencing today's armed forces.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIBut first a grim anniversary raises tough questions in Haiti. This weekend the island nation marked three years since a devastating earthquake, destruction that was immediately followed by an outpouring of pledges to help Haiti rebuild better than ever. Nearly half of all Americans gave money, adding up to billions of dollars meant to erect sound infrastructure and reshape broken institutions.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIBut many of those billions never materialized and the money that did arrive in Port-au-Prince and around the country did have an immediate impact of sorts as Haiti became known as a nation of NGOs. And three years on many feel that a historic opportunity might just have been squandered. Joining me in studio is Vijaya Ramachandran.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIShe is a senior fellow with the Center for Global Development. Her work focuses on issues including donor accountability, private sector development and development interventions in fragile states. Vijaya Ramachandran, thank you so much for joining us.
MS. VIJAYA RAMACHANDRANThanks for having me, Kojo.
NNAMDII should say Vijaya Ramachandran. When we were in Tampa for the RNC last summer, the tropical storm that swept through town causing much hindering and leaving a few puzzles, however wreaked havoc in Haiti and left 24 dead. Just how much farther does Haiti have to go in terms of recovery?
RAMACHANDRANI think Haiti has a long way to go in terms of recovery. After the earthquake we saw $9 billion of development assistance in both public and private funds. But very little of that went to the government of Haiti or to rebuild its infrastructure and so in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy we saw the devastation in Haiti. It has hardly any roads, very little drinking water that's safe, an infrastructure that has barely been rebuilt. So we have a very long way to go.
NNAMDIIt seems as though there's been a lot of focus on attracting business to Haiti but without that improved infrastructure, improved healthcare, political stability, our leaders may be putting the cart before the horse there?
RAMACHANDRANPerhaps to some extent. I think what happened in Haiti was that a lot of the money went to the delivery of immediate services, you know, healthcare, food, some education services that were delivered by donors themselves in a very mobile manner. And we didn't see a lot of rebuilding of local capacity of the government's own ability to manage its affairs.
RAMACHANDRANOf the roads, of the electricity, which requires large scale investments and also a true collaboration with government. Without that it's going to be very hard to attract private investment to Haiti.
NNAMDI800-433-8850 is our number, if you'd like to join the conversation. Have you been following, are you still following the aftermath of the Haitian earthquake? Or did you donate after the earthquake in Haiti? As a contributor are you satisfied with the progress of rebuilding efforts? 800-433-8850, you can send email to firstname.lastname@example.org or send us a tweet @kojoshow.
NNAMDIThe flood of donations and aid organizations that poured into Haiti after the earthquake have turned out to be both a bit of a blessing and a bit of a curse, why?
RAMACHANDRANWell, it was a blessing in that immediate needs were met, you know, in the aftermath of the earthquake of January 12th, 2010. Hundreds of thousands of people were left homeless. Between 200 and 300,000 people lost their lives, the entire city of Port-au-Prince was destroyed and the money that poured in it showed the enormous generosity of the American people as well as the willingness of the NGO community in particular to go and help out.
RAMACHANDRANAnd what we saw was that many lives were saved because of the influx of food and clean water and so on. But it's been a curse in the long term because what has happened as you mentioned is that Haiti has become republic of NGOs. you know, we haven't seen long term rebuilding efforts, we haven't seen a real effort to work with the government of Haiti, which has stated its needs and many of those needs have not been met.
RAMACHANDRANWhat we have seen is donors is trying to do things themselves and good intentions are sort of translated into often uncoordinated behavior. And efforts that while have been positive in the short term have not led to enough long term reconstruction.
NNAMDIAs aid groups and NGOs now start to leave Haiti, is the government stepping up?
RAMACHANDRANThe government is stepping up. Very recently it made a request for $2 billion of funding for infrastructure, to provide clean water, roads and electricity to 80 percent of the Haitian population. The question is whether donors will respond to these funding requests and whether they will work with the government. So far there has been almost no response to the Haitian government's request for $2 billion to fund infrastructure.
RAMACHANDRANI think as the donor community here in Washington D.C. and in New York and around the world we need to listen better to the Haitian people and to the needs of the Haitian government.
NNAMDIOur guest is Vijaya Ramachandran. She is a senior fellow with the Center for Global Development whose work focuses on issues including donor accountability, private sector development and development interventions in fragile states. Please don your headphones because we're about to go to the phones where Ravi in Falls Church, Va. awaits us. Ravi, you're on the air, go ahead please.
RAVIYes, thank you for taking my call. The question I have is the, your guest just said that $9 billion was donated for the earthquake in Haiti. And the question I have is, of the $9 billion, how much was actually spent by the NGO on their staff and housing and travel or whatever and how much was actually spent in benefitting the local communities in Haiti?
NNAMDIWhere did all that money go?
RAMACHANDRANIt's a very a good question. I think what has happened is that we've seen very little tracking of the money, you know, we know that about of $6 million pledged in public funds about half of that went to the NGO community and to private contractors. But after that the trail goes cold, we don't know what happened to that money.
RAMACHANDRANWe don't know how much of it was spent on administrative costs, we don't know how many Haitians were reached, how much services were delivered, what the outcomes were, what the mistakes were that were made. There's almost no documentation around this and, you know, it leaves me asking this question, where has all the money gone?
RAMACHANDRANI think the issue you raise is a very important one. it's very important to know how much of the money went back to administrative costs and to housing and to car rentals and to, you know, other types of services for the donor community itself. But we really don't know what has happened to this money. We need far greater accountability, I think, from all of the players who are operating in Haiti.
NNAMDIDoes that kind of outpouring and the knowledge that this money has been pledged lead to a sort of stasis or inaction on the part of the government or even from some of, from some aid groups and NGOs?
RAMACHANDRANYou know, I think it does. I think it's very difficult for the government of Haiti to operate in a normal manner when you have this enormous amount of money coming in and all of this activity going on alongside. The Haitian government has repeatedly asked for more information from the aid community and from the Nongovernmental Organizations operating in Haiti.
RAMACHANDRANFor it to do its job it needs to know what these players are doing but so far we've seen very little information provided to the Haitian government or even to the public despite the fact that we do have some tools whereby NGOs and private contractors can report their activities.
NNAMDIOnto the telephones again. Here is Dave, in Winchester, Va. Dave, you're on the air, go ahead, please.
DAVEKojo, thank you so much for having me on. I love your show.
DAVEThe question I had is maybe switching more focus on the government than the NGOs. having been a donor several times, you know, not millions of dollars like some organizations, how much concern has the NGO community had in the historic reputation of the Haitian government being corrupt and funneling some of these monies into their pockets rather than to everyday people that has prevented them from partnering with the Haitian government and providing some of the information and accountability?
RAMACHANDRANYes, it's a very good question. You know, there's no doubt that the Haitian government lacks capacity, that corruption is an ongoing issue, that there have been many changes of government. You know, it's also the case that the U.S. has approved of certain governments and then has not approved of other governments. And as a result I think everybody has tended to rely on the NGO community to provide assistance to the Haitian people.
RAMACHANDRANI see the point about low capacity and about corruption, I'm sympathetic to that view but at the same time I think for Haiti to rebuilt itself it must in the long term have a stronger government and a government that donors will work with to deliver services in a coordinated manner. Otherwise, I think what we're going to see is, you know, the donor community is slowing exiting. It's now been three years since the quake, the money is sort of drying up and, you know, where does that leave Haiti? Where does that leave the Haitian people? I think that's the dilemma.
NNAMDIDave, thank you for your call. You've got some suggestions for keeping tabs on funds that have contributed or have been contributed for rebuilding. Can they be easily accomplished?
RAMACHANDRANYou know, I think they can. I mean, there's something called the International Aid Transparency Initiative or IATI and it's like an accounting standard and donors and NGOs and private contractors and other players can report their data in a standardized manner to the International Aid Transparency Initiative.
RAMACHANDRANIt's sort of like a website with a very sort of standardized template for reporting data. It's very straightforward, it's easy to use and I think what we need to see is more NGOs signing up and committing to reporting that data to the standardized format.
NNAMDIYou mentioned listening to the people you're trying to help earlier but I'd like to underscore it some more because one lesson that seems to be emerging from Haiti that can apparently be applied universally whether we're talking about Syria, Mali or even in New York, New Jersey in the wake of super storm Sandy, seems to be what you just said, to listen to the people you're trying to help. Why do you think that is still such a stumbling block?
RAMACHANDRANYou know, when my co-author Julie Wallace and I were in Haiti in June we were told repeatedly by the people we met that they had not had much of a chance to discuss what they needed with the NGO community or with the United States government. You know, part of it, I think, is the rush to deliver services in the aftermath of the quake. It was easy enough to just show up and do what you always do and know how to do.
RAMACHANDRANPart of it, I think, also is language. You know, I think the donor community needs to invest some time in speaking Creole and speaking French, in meeting with the local Haitians not just relying on a handful of elite. If they listen better, I think, to the Haitian people then they will deliver what Haitians need and so far we have not seen that as much we would like to.
NNAMDIIn the three years since that quake struck our collectively short attention spans have been largely pulled elsewhere but you say if there's one overall lesson for us to learn from Haiti it's that we must be in it for the long haul.
RAMACHANDRANYes, I think we have to be in for the long haul. I think we cannot abandon Haiti just because, you know, three years have passed and our attentions are elsewhere. This is a country that requires a lot of assistance and a lot of coordinated help, help that's carefully provided in accordance with what the Haitian people need. Haiti is our neighbor, is it a country with which we have had a very history and I think we have an obligation to continue to provide assistance but to it better and to build Haiti back better.
NNAMDIVijaya Ramachandran is a senior fellow with the Center for Global Development whose work focuses on issues that include donor accountability, private sector development and development interventions in fragile states. Thank you so much for joining us.
RAMACHANDRANThanks for very much, Kojo.
NNAMDIWe're going to take a short break. When we come back, the military at a crossroads, the Pentagon draws down from two wars and confronts a new era of austerity. We'll be examining the culture and politics influencing today's armed forces. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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