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Haiti Relief Efforts Hindered by Excessive Bureaucracy June 24, 2010

Posted by Elizabeth Cutler in Analysis.
Tags: , , , , , , ,

The words excessive fragmentation, stalled, disagreement, and difficult odds are not terms one wants describing a massive disaster relief effort, but they are all over this week’s report by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee regarding the slowed relief efforts in Haiti following the January 12 earthquake that devastated the country.

The SFRC report reveals key setbacks in the relief efforts as they stand now and makes recommendations for how to address them.  Ironically, the problems cited are not new and the solutions have been voiced before.  But it remains unclear whose responsibility it is to actually take charge and implement the changes needed in order to improve aid effectiveness.

Just two weeks ago on June 10, the House Foreign Affairs Committee held a hearing on the effectiveness of U.S. foreign aid and democracy assistance. Expert witnesses Thomas Carothers of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and Jennifer Windsor of Freedom House emphasized the vital need for procedural reform at the State Department and USAID to streamline processes, such as multi-step reporting requirements and internal human resources regulations.

As it stands, existing processes are so incredibly complex that they significantly slow progress and fundamentally delay achieving the goals that they ostensibly seek to reach. Even the dollar amount of $5.3 billion in aid pledged to Haiti has been slow to materialize, with only 2% actually being delivered by donors thus far.

The SFRC report reinforces many of these same concerns, emphasizing the following organizational problems facing the Haitian rebuilding efforts

  • Lack of coordination among donors worldwide
    • No single person or office is tasked with simply coordinating the efforts of government agencies, nonprofits and NGOs, and international bodies particularly the UN-created Interim Haiti Recovery Commission. As it currently stands, “there has been a tendency to operate outside the main development framework, leading to redundancies and overlap,” according to the report.
    • The SFRC report states that “there is too much fragmentation in the donor community and too much disagreement.” With every delayed decision, tangible progress becomes less feasible.  Quite simply, better coordination and decision-making is needed at the macro level.
  • Excessive bureaucracy on the American side
    • The SFRC report states that “the outlined process has the potential to dramatically slow things down through cumbersome bureaucratic obstacles at a time when Haiti cannot afford to delay its rebuilding.”  The HFAC hearing spent a great deal of time discussing the hindrances caused by excessive bureaucracy, especially in the State Department and USAID.
    • U.S. government agencies have long struggled with streamlining their own bureaucracies, outlined in a recent report by Carothers.  In regard to Haiti, the U.S. government has also over-promised and undelivered, thus far providing far less than it pledged
  • Leadership and capacity void within Haiti
    • The SFRC report states that while “it is understandable that having lost so many of its own personnel in the earthquake, the Government of Haiti has limited capacity, but Haitians need to be reassured that their Government is resolutely leading the rebuilding process and is executing a well-thought-out plan.”
    • President Rene Preval and Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive must assume responsibility for the relief efforts so that long-term rebuilding is sustainable on a national level and not entirely dependent on the international community.

It is worth noting that immediately following the earthquake, Chairman John Kerry specifically asked during a SFRC hearing, “Who is coordinating this? Who is going to call the shots and say ‘you’ve got to get debris out of here and here’s where that debris is going to go’? How do we get to the kind of coordination that makes sure that we are shifting to a Haitian solution as fast as possible?”

These continue to be the right questions to ask. Leading experts offer practical solutions, but who will take the lead and actually implement these recommendations remains far from clear. (Photo Credit: La Progressive)



1. Democracy and Society » Complaining is easier than doing stuff - June 25, 2010

[…] is a bit ironic for the branch of government that makes the bureaucracy to criticize its own creation. If Congress doesn’t like the excessive bureaucracy in the executive branch, it could, you […]

2. US Development Policy & the Sisyphean Task of Figuring Out Who’s in Charge of What « PAID: Private Actors in International Development - July 21, 2010

[…] exacerbate the “gross fragmentation” of the US global development system? The Budget Insight blog at the Stimson Center recounts a tragic repercussion of bureaucratic bottlenecks and gross fragmentations: the Haiti […]

3. Elizabeth Cutler - July 23, 2010

A variation of this article was featured as part of the Stimson Center’s Spotlight series on their homepage on July 22, 2010. You can access this version of the article here: http://www.stimson.org/pub.cfm?ID=990 .

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