24 January 2010


The terrible earthquake in Haiti has generated a lot of discussion in the media about the logistics of humanitarian aid: Which countries are giving it? Why is it taking so long to get there? Who is in control? Who is getting the aid? What is the role of the military?

These are important issues and questions and addressing them will help save lives and provide relief to a shattered nation.

But there is a set of less newsworthy questions, the answers to which will help determine the development trajectory of Haiti, post-quake.

1. Will the earthquake's aftermath redefine the relationships between citizen and state?

• The state’s capacity to provide public goods, not strong in the first place, will be severely compromised. Will this result in reduced liberty under the banner of enhanced security? And is that appropriate in the circumstances?
• Will the destruction of papers and social networks result in some residents losing their citizenship status and hence their ability to make claims on the state?
• Will this power vacuum combined with all the new humanitarian actors result in Haitian citizens having a weaker voice in decisions around reconstruction efforts?

2. Are the media becoming too big a part of the story?

• Does media interest lead development agencies to make rash choices to demonstrate action rather than do most good?
• Do the media exacerbate competitive tensions among relief agencies and create bottlenecks to cooperation?

3. What is the impact of the response of US residents on Haiti and what is the impact of the tragedy on attitudes in the US?

• How important will US social networks and remittances be in supporting the survivors?
• Has this hardened or softened US attitudes about the effectiveness of the UN as a coordinating force?
• Will the attitude of the American taxpayer towards development be influenced positively by the earthquake, or will it be seen as a one-off act of humanitarianism?
• Will anyone draw parallels with New Orleans in 2006?

4. Have the lessons learned from the 2004 Tsunami been used to strengthen the response to Haiti’s earthquake?

• Is the gap between geological data and development relief monitors as large as in 2004?
• Have the global preparedness mechanisms put in place in 2005 been helpful?
• Is NGO coordination (national and international) as good--or better--than in 2005?

The relief effort is not about getting Haiti back on its feet—it never really was. But the current work represents the first step in building more resilient development pathways for Haiti. The choices that the Haitian government, its people, and the outside agencies make in response to questions like those above will shape those pathways in profound ways. The incredibly hard task of thinking about medium term development amid the tears and the rubble needs to begin now.

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