Iveta Silova, the Frank Hook Assistant Professor Comparative and International Education, studies social inequalities in public policy and is co-editor of the book, “How NGOs React: Globalization and Education Reform in the Caucasus, Central Asia, and Mongolia."
Although Haiti has received billions in foreign aid, it has been rightfully named "a veritable graveyard of development projects" (Farmer, 2008; http://www.thenation.com/doc/20081006/farmer). Some critics blame Haiti's corrupt government for development failure. However, the story is much more complex. Bilateral and multilateral organizations, international non-governmental organizations (NGOs), civil society organizations (CSOs), charitable organizations, and other institutions have all failed to some extent.
Undoubtedly, the concept of foreign aid has good intentions, but more often than not it perpetuates poverty rather than solves it. By trumpeting the ideology of rescue, it places power in the hands of aid agencies. By stripping away the ownership of the poor, it allows international donors to dominate local decision-making. By encouraging market-based solutions, it tends to by-pass and ultimately undermine the government's obligations to its citizens.
As money pours in during Haiti's latest crisis, it inevitably lands in the bank accounts of international NGOs, CSOs, and non-profits. They provide services and relief that should come from the government but that the government can’t provide. This paradox leaves NGOs as a necessary evil: in times of disaster they are capable of meeting needs faster than a shattered government, yet they ultimately undermine the government itself. NGOs are good, but too many seek self-preservation—not national preservation. The longer international NGOs are present, the more likely the government will be unable—or unwilling—to provide essential services to its people. This unfortunately leaves a freely elected government to focus its attention away from its people, opening itself up to corruption and creating conditions of future destruction helped by the hands of those trying to “help.”
It is the failure of Haiti's public sector—which we owe in part to last decade's foreign aid policy—that is a harsh reminder of why and how foreign aid leads to debt, dependency, and devastation, not necessarily to development.