What we shouldn't do in Haiti

The disaster in Haiti has prompted foreign aid to start pouring in from around the world.  With all these good intentions I think people are forgetting that there is the real possibility of harm.  This disaster presents a perfect situation for abuse, and what's worse, for well intended actions to be implemented that are poorly thought out.

Depending on Government Aid
The use of government aid poses real problems.  Governments around the world don't have a good history of ensuring aid dollars get to the places and the people that it needs to get to.  Government run charity simply put has been ineffective and unproductive.  A simple look at the states around the world that have received government aid shows that in some cases nations are worse off accepting help then would have been otherwise.

Now I write this not intended to criticize the work of those that do good work in government run or government sponsored aid organizations.  There are just some things that they can't change that are part and parcel of the nature of the beast they work in.  Those things hinder their efforts on a daily basis.

For one, a person up in Ottawa directing and making decisions about relief efforts for people thousands of miles away is not only hard it's a little silly.  The modern concept of "remote management" is a farce.  Someone on the ground, smelling the air and walking the streets of Haiti will be able to make decisions that are of higher quality and faster than someone a thousand miles away.

Further, government run aid faces the problem of the "tyranny of the majority."  The guy up top will want to make the best decision for everyone in mind.  Usually that means the best decision for everyone will not be the best decision someone at the bottom.  Letting people at the bottom take more responsibility and make more decisions provides an opportunity for people to make the best decisions for themselves tailored to unique circumstances.  Private aid organizations don't have that extra manager called "government" and they can tailor decisions for what people need on the ground.

It would be far better to have hundreds of charities and NGOs descend on Haiti without or with as little government supervision.  They would be given free license to simply move and get the job done.  That would be far better than it would be for those same organizations to be placed under heavy restrictions along with a myriad of rules that they would have to follow with the state involved.  Governments mean rules and regulations - and plenty of them.  Non government funded aid places the least number of restrictions on a group of people trying to fight the suffering.

Having the UN involved
“The government is a joke. The UN is a joke,” Jacqueline Thermiti, 71, said as she lay in the dust with dozens of dying elderly outside their destroyed nursing home. “We’re a kilometre from the airport and we’re going to die of hunger.”

UN run relief efforts have had some serious problems in the past.  Again I'm sure there are many people that do good work with the UN.  But why add an extra level of bureaucracy on foreign aid and relief?

No only does a relief organization have to deal with the rules of his  home nation, but on top of that they have deal with a world wide bureaucracy.  A world wide bureaucracy filled with people making decisions from the top down.  I can only imagine what it must be like to be an aid worker in some places of this world.  You have to follow rules devised by someone completely removed from the situation on the other side of the planet that you know don't apply to you.  Meanwhile people are literally suffering and dying around you.

In short, the UN should back off.  It should stick to what its good at: being a forum for diplomacy.  It should set the stage for those below, and deal with the decisions that can't be done by anyone at a local level.  It's best to stay out of the details and let those that are on the ground have the greater say.

Troop stay too long and unfocused

I think this should be self evident, however I think there is a big possibility that the stay won't be short, and it will won't be productive.  Haiti has no standing army.  It was disbanded years before.  Quite frankly I believe this situation is ripe for a good intentioned western leader to conclude that some nation building is in order.  After all how can Haiti provide for security itself we'll say?

The people of Haiti don't need to be patronized.  They can build a nation on their own very well.  The goal we should have is to convince and persuade them of the appropriate steps forward using diplomacy, fostering good relations through trade, and resisting the urge to think we're better.

If Haiti decides not to have  standing army - that its choice.  At a certain point we can alleviate the suffering all we want, but we may put ourselves in a situation where our continued intervention is preventing the right decisions from being made.

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