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How Food Aid Impacted Haiti

By       Message Mary Wentworth     Permalink
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Since private donations were insufficient to meet CARE International's operating costs as well as underwriting other projects, acceding to the demands of USAID not only solved that problem but also guaranteed continued funding by the US government.

Schwartz found that other US NGOs like Catholic Relief Service, World Aid, and Compassion International were also involved. In on the game for the same reasons were the UK's British Child Care, the Bureau of Nutrition and Development from the Netherlands, and France's InterAid. Germany was on board with PISANO and Agro Aleman Action. The United Nations had UNICEF and its World Food Program. At this point, NGOs with offices in Haiti number in the thousands.

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Further Investigation

Over the fifteen years that Schwartz worked in Haiti, he observed failure after failure in most of the projects funded by the aid agencies. Planners sat in their offices in capitals in France, Germany, the United States, and the Netherlands, deciding what projects they would undertake in Haiti, favoring ones that would have fund-raising appeal. Roads that were built washed out, leaving deep ruts, because deforestation had not been remedied. Consequently, the countryside was subjected to periodic flooding. Seeds were distributed to farmers that required a longer growing season than Haiti's, which meant that farmers planting these seeds wound up with zip at harvest time. Peasants wanted fruit trees to plant but received problem trees like the eucalyptus that requires a lot of water. Yet many of the same projects were undertaken year after year.

At the local level almost no NGO employee spoke Creole. Little attempt was ever made to sit down with "the poorest of the poor" to find out what they felt they needed to lift them up and out of their precarious existence. For example, one peasant farmer pointed out to Schwartz that they could use storage and refrigeration facilities for their produce, but none had appeared.

  Another Money-Maker for US farmers

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The swine eradication program is an example of a botched project that cost the Haitian farmers dearly. US veterinarians, assisted by local police, swept through Haiti in 1983, supervising the slaughter of the pig population to prevent the spread of swine fever. All well and good -- maybe. Farmers were promised financial compensation for this loss, but the money was not put directly into their hands. Instead, most of the funds were siphoned off by military attaches. In addition, in some kind of a last minute shuffle, large, white-skinned hogs from Iowa that are programmed to consume corn and require constant care were shipped in by the Organization of American States (OAS) to replace the now extinct population of small, dark-skinned pigs that were hardy enough to survive life in a tropical climate. It was a disaster for Haitians, but a boon for yet another group of US farmers.

Schwartz sums up his experience in Jean Makout, Haiti's largest province, "" the aid appeared to be having no effect at all. Indeed, what I discovered and what I try to show in this book is that it was precisely the aid that was sabotaging the capacity of the Jean Makout economy, the social and medical systems, and the [efforts of] people living there to overcome the growing crisis that confronted them."

Orphanages, Anyone?

In yet another failure to help the poor, the purveyors of food aid began in the late nineties, to see that feeding children in orphanages offered an opportunity for wider distribution of their product. Immediately, the same middle-class Haitians that had already made money in the food aid racket began to apply for food aid to feed children in orphanages.

Schwartz found in his investigation, however, that 1) the numbers of children were inflated 2) in more than one "orphanage" that he visited there were no cooking facilities and an indeterminate number of children 3) in orphanages that were actually a going concern, the children tended not to be "orphans" or even poor children, but were children of the middle and upper classes who used the orphanages as proto-typical boarding schools and 4) In typical fashion, NO ACCOUNTABILITY PROCESS had been put in place by the NGOs.

This was as true for many of the religious-based charities as for the secular NGOs. People back home who were contributing, say, $40 a month to support a particular child would have found that half that amount went straight into the pocket of the people in charge of the so-called orphanage. These people built mansions in Port-au-Prince and/or bought homes in Miami, purchased expensive cars, and went on vacations at luxury resorts. The rest of the money went toward providing a free ride for children who were by no means the "poorest of the poor."

Food aid created markets for the subsidized agribusinesses of the United States and other wealthy nations as well as ensuring cheap labor for hundreds and hundreds of corporations involved in the garment industry.

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What happened in Haiti over the past thirty, forty or fifty years happened, of course, in other countries around the world. The result has been the immense wealth gap that exists globally between the richest people on this planet and the poorest.

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Now retired and a writer, I am a feminist and political activist, a radical Democrat (have come to dislike the term "progressive"), and a blogger. Have done political tours of Cuba, Nicaragua, Honduras, West and East (way back when)Germany, China, (more...)

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