As international dignitaries gathered in New York last week to announce their nation’s pledges to relief efforts in Haiti, this outpouring of support could not alleviate concerns that donors might be growing tired of giving to Haiti.
With January’s earthquake now almost three months back in the rear-view mirror, an inevitable onset of donor fatigue seems to be emerging. Events such as the recent Health Care Reform debates have pushed Haiti off the front pages and off the all important top-ten trending topics list on twitter. As with recent natural disasters such as Hurricane Katrina and the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, waning media interest usually translates to dwindling funding interest.
This issue was addressed in a post on the Haiti by Hand blog in February. Haiti by Hand, an artisan group of Haitian women founded by Rebecca Sower shortly before January’s earthquake, offers an interesting case study for the complex nature of donor mobilization as it pertains to Haiti. In addition to this Haitian women’s artisan collective, Haiti by Hand also organizes an etsy-group “to sell items donated by artists and crafters who want to help this group of Haitians rebuild and establish themselves after the devastation of the earthquakes.” So Haiti by Hand is at once an economic development project and a conduit through which people can offer aid, a dual-purpose underscored by the urgency of Sower’s appeal to the blog’s readers: “We cannot let [these women] down now just because the words "Haiti" and "help" are making us yawn.”
Although as Johanna Mendelson Forman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies suggests, garnering support for Haiti’s recovery doesn’t depend on how long Anderson Cooper is talking about Haiti, but on whether Haitian leaders can develop a viable recovery plan. “Haiti will need an economic reconstruction strategy that looks to short-term survival, but also to shifting the development paradigm away from a Port-au-Prince focus and reaching beyond the capital to stimulate new economic opportunities. This means…distributive energy systems to end rural isolation; and a rededication to agriculture so that Haitians can grow their own food, thus creating a more secure future.”
These comments are aimed toward ensuring that Haiti doesn’t become further susceptible to what ColumbiaUniversity business professor Glenn Hubbard has called “the aid trap,” the process through which economic sustainability in developing countries is undermined by benevolent charity and other aid efforts. But his concerns about aid’s intoxicating effects in this era of porno-misery, appears to have bypassed Haitian president René Préval, who recently quipped: “Do I need to develop a nuclear program for Haiti so that we come back to talking about Haiti?” This came in response to a question about the international audience’s shifting focus.
It is safe to say that neither the fickle couch potatoes who Sower sought to rouse in February, nor the array of donors who gathered at the United Nations on March 31st to pledge their nation’s commitments will decide Haiti’s future. These groups will undoubtedly play a role in the island’s post-earthquake development, as will Haiti’s Diaspora.
But Haiti’s future will inevitably be decided by Haitians, ironically enough what that means precisely, remains to be seen.
* Ferentz Lafargue is guest blogger to AmericasQuarterly.org and is an assistant professor at the The NewSchool for Liberal Arts.