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Humanitarian Aid on the move # 17, special issue: The World Humanitarian Summit

Towards genuine partnership with Haitian NGOs
Prospery Raymond

On 12 January 2010, Haiti experienced one of the biggest disasters in its history. This was followed by the mass arrival of humanitarian actors of all kinds, from all over the world. American, European, religious and non-faith international NGOs, as well as numerous United Nations agencies organized and coordinated the humanitarian response. The failings of the humanitarian response in Haiti have been widely documented [1]. One of these was the fact that Haitian civil society organisations were not sufficiently included despite already being present in the field to provide the victims of the earthquake with assistance, and despite their experience in dealing with the frequent crises that affect the island.

Why were these local stakeholders left out? This seems difficult to understand with hindsight, knowing that the participation of communities and civil society is recognized as being a determining factor for the quality and long-term sustainability of programmes. The answer is to be found in the inequality that exists between international and local Haitian organisations, in terms of power, and notably financial power. Thus, local NGOs, who were unable to take part in the Cluster meetings organized in the early months of the crisis because they were held in English, were sidelined and were unable to gain access to the majority of international funds.

The reason that is often given to justify this inequality is that local stakeholders did not have the capacity to absorb and manage the humanitarian funds. This is undoubtedly a valid reason. How can a local NGO whose annual budget rarely exceeds 50 000 USD suddenly be expected to manage millions? And this is without mentioning the procedures involved in responding to calls for proposals and in reporting that certain international donors impose, and which are sometimes very complicated.

The fact that local stakeholders were not taken into account in the humanitarian response in Haiti unfortunately (but quite naturally) caused frustration among the population, local and national authorities, and civil society, who, as a result, often ended up as observers of the reconstruction of their country.

However, following a great deal of criticism, the humanitarian community, including the United Nations, has made a great deal of effort in the last two years to include local stakeholders in the design and monitoring of their programmes. It is now generally recognized that Haitian civil society organisations are essential players due to their understanding of the cultural and social realities of communities, their legitimacy within communities and their experience. Many of the international NGOs who are still present in Haiti work with local structures, whether these are associations, the authorities or NGOs. Organisations like Christian Aid made the most of the partnerships they had established with Haitian NGOs and were able to implement sustainable programmes. In recent years, the involvement of civil society stakeholders in Haiti’s thematic working groups and in coordination structures like the CLIO [2] or the CCO [3] has also considerably increased.

But do local stakeholders really play a bigger role in making decisions in terms of strategies, programmes or budgets? Were another disaster to take place, would the roles of local and international NGOs be distributed differently than in 2010? This is not certain. The argument would be put forward that local NGOs are development organisations and do not have the capacity to respond rapidly in the event of a humanitarian crisis What, then, is needed? First of all, time is needed to understand the specific characteristics of Haitian civil society and to identify areas where there is a need for capacity building. Genuine support should be provided, in the medium term, to build the capacity of local actors to access the financial and logistical means needed to respond to disasters, and to manage them in accordance with the demands of the sector. Despite the political crisis that the country is currently going through, the humanitarian situation in Haiti is calmer at the moment. It is important to take advantage of this period to establish genuine partnerships and transfer skills and technologies. Donors and United Nations agencies no doubt also need to make their funding request and reporting mechanisms more flexible, as these are difficult to understand for anyone not from the sector.

Haitian civil society is rich and varied. It has been mobilized independently of the international humanitarian sector for years. There is great dynamism among structures such as the Plateforme de la Société Civile sur le Changement Climatique [4] (PSC-CC), the Réseau National De Défense des Droits de l’Homme (RNDDH) [5] and APROSIFA [6] who have been able to establish strong links with the communities they work with, and have sometimes developed coordination and evaluation mechanisms that are more effective than international structures. It would be a shame not to take advantage of these resources to avoid the errors of the past and ensure that programmes are sustainable.

Above all, there is a need for a paradigm shift within the international humanitarian community, which tends to see local actors as intermediaries that they are forced to work with, rather than as stakeholders who can bring genuine added value to their programmes.

 

Prospery Raymond, President of CLIO (Cadre de Liaison Inter Organisation) and representative of Christian Aid in the Caribbean.

[1] Frédéric Thomas, L’échec humanitaire : le cas Haïtien Cetri/ Couleur Lires 2013
Répondre aux crises : l’AFD, la Fondation de France et le financement des ONG en Haïti après le Séisme, 2015 http://www.afd.fr/webdav/site/afd/shared/PUBLICATIONS/RECHERCHE/Evaluations/Evaluations-conjointes/Evaluation%20conjointe%20Ha%C3%AFti_financement%20reconstruction%20post-s%C3%A9isme.pdf

[2] Cadre de Liaison Inter Organisation

[3] Comité de Coordination des ONG

[4] http://psccchaiti.org/

[5] http://rnddh.org/

[6] http://www.aprosifa.org/