Diaspora pushes for accountability in US aid to Haiti

The Haitian Diaspora has long maintained close ties to Haiti. Over the many decades Haitians have been immigrating to the US, they have continued to support their brothers and sisters in Haiti by sending remittances, and by standing in solidarity with them, including advocating on their behalf. Now more than ever, the Haitian Diaspora cannot sit idle while gross human rights injustices continue to claim the lives of Haiti’s marginalized citizens.

As the two year mark of the devastating January 12, 2010 earthquake approaches, Haiti’s reconstruction and development have barely begun.

Approximately 500,000 Haitians are still living in precarious and deplorable conditions in tent settlements throughout the country. The recent flooding has led to the resurgence of the cholera epidemic, increasing the vulnerabilities of poor, displaced Haitians. Since the outbreak of cholera last year, the epidemic has caused a total of 465,293 cases of infection, and 6,559 deaths. A recent report from the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs notes that access to water and sanitation continues to deteriorate in Internally Displaced Persons camps, torrential rains in September and October led to more cholera outbreaks, and food security affects one in two Haitians.

From the vantage point of our fellow Haitians forced to live in tent settlements while being threatened by forced evictions, there is very little evidence of progress in Haiti. Now is the time to rethink development in Haiti and institute a sound US government policy framework to help Haiti develop in a more sustainable and organic way.

The Assessing Progress in Haiti Act is one vehicle that will help inform such development policies and will ensure that U.S. tax payers’ dollars are spent efficiently and effectively. The law would require the Administration to report to Congress regarding the status of post-earthquake humanitarian, reconstruction, and development efforts in Haiti. This law will further incentivize the Administration to implement key recommendations as outlined in the May 19, 2011 Government Accountability Office (GAO) and Inspector General (IG) Report’s audit of USAID/OFDA shelter programs. The GAO recommends that USAID “take steps to ensure planned monitoring and evaluation activities in a timely manner.”

In addition, the IG report recommends that USAID/OFDA provide grantees with standardized shelter designs to reduce costs, prevent delays in implementation, and to ensure shelters meet international standards for security, privacy and comfort. The Assessing Progress in Haiti Act would seek to address issues raised in both of these reports by establishing a reporting and accountability mechanism to assess the progress of U.S. funded programs and projects. It would also build upon the existing reporting requirements passed by congress last year, which mandate the State Department to consult with representatives of the Haitian national, provincial or local government, local communities and civil society organizations on all U.S. funded programs in Haiti.

In all, the Assessing Progress in Haiti Act will help inform U.S. engagement with Haiti and make certain that our efforts to build institutional government capacity and address the most urgent humanitarian and long term development needs of Haiti, are implemented in a more efficient and accountable manner.

The future of U.S. government policy in Haiti depends on passage of this bill. Call your Senators now and urge them to vote for the Assessing Progress in Haiti Act to support just and sustainable reconstruction.

Kysseline Jean-Mary Cherestal is an advocate who resides in Washington DC; A.D. Rachel Pierre is the executive director of The Andora Project, Inc.