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Civil society wants bigger role in reconstruction

Engineers still need to survey unsafe structures  and demolish them
Earthquake damage in Haiti. Engineers still need to survey unsafe structures and demolish them (Phuong Tran/IRIN)

As the Haitian government appeals for an estimated US$11.5 billion in recovery and development funding at a UN donor conference on 31 March, NGOs – through which 65 percent of current donor contributions are channeled - are looking for a more coherent role in rebuilding the country.

Ahead of the conference, a host of major civil society groups gathered at New York University on 25 March in a consultative meeting hosted by former US President Bill Clinton, who is the UN Special Envoy for Haiti, and with the European Union and InterAction, a coalition of US-based international NGOs.

According to Sam Worthington, president of InterAction, civil society had a significant role in the recovery of the country after the 12 January earthquake, which killed approximately 200,000 people and left more than 1 million homeless.

“The NGOs are the third largest donors in Haiti,” he said. “We have a major accountability to the government of Haiti and to the people of Haiti. The only way we can meet this accountability is to engage in effective coordination among ourselves and within the UN system. The Haitian civil society still feels disenfranchised from this process.”

If the donor conference is committed to bridging the gap between Haitian civil society, foreign NGOs and international organizations, more resources should be funneled through local NGOs, said Jean Luc Dessables, co-coordinator of the Haiti Response Coalition – one of only three Haitian NGOs at the New York meeting.

"We feel isolated"

''We Haitians are proud. We know what we want, we know what we need, but we don’t have the means. We feel isolated, disconnected and we want to reconnect.''

“We Haitians are proud. We know what we want, we know what we need, but we don’t have the means,” said Dessables. “We feel isolated, disconnected and we want to reconnect. We are so used to people coming to us saying what they want to do for us, but that has never worked so far. Our concern is that won’t work again.”

Mario Joseph, director of Bureau des Avocats Internationaux, a public interest law office based in the Haitian capital, Port-au-Prince, echoed the sentiment of civil society “exclusion” repeatedly expressed at the conference, and the need for better cohesion.

“We don’t have a mechanism to have the participation of the NGOs, and without that, without that kind of inclusive involvement, how do you find any accountability?” Joseph asked.

Clinton acknowledged the need to improve government transparency, but said that should also extend to local NGOs working in Haiti.

“If it is true that Haiti has made a decision that they want to build a truly independent, self-sustaining, modern country worthy of their people, for the first time… if it is true that the elements of Haitian society that have been too long overlooked and left out of decision making are making their way into it to a greater degree than ever before, then we have to ask ourselves, how should that change what NGOs do in Haiti?” said the UN special envoy.

Kristalina Georgieva, the European Union Commissioner of International Cooperation, Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Response, said that multilateral collaboration in Haiti was having a positive impact, but would take time to fully develop.

“You can see in camps when there is partnership; the design of the camps is better, the security is stronger,” she said. “Gradually, over time, we need to see a bigger role for civil society and local NGOs, and a smaller one for international NGOs, but we are not there, quite yet.”


This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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