July 16, 2020 Public Contract Law Journal

Bringing the Spirit of "Konbit" to Disaster Relief: Reforming USAID Procurement to Promote Partnership Between Donors & the Local Community in Haiti1

by Erica Bilkis

Erica Bilkis (ebilkis@law.gwu.edu) is a J.D. candidate at The George Washington University Law School and member of the Public Contract Law Journal. She would like to thank Professor Collin Swan for his invaluable feedback and guidance during the development of this Note.

Abstract

In 2010, a 7.0 magnitude earthquake rocked the small island nation of Haiti and caused about $7.8 billion in damages. As an already low-income, less-developed country, this earthquake absolutely devastated Haiti. It exacerbated the issues surrounding development that the country had been dealing with for decades. In the aftermath of that earthquake, the country received over $9 billion in aid; yet it is still one of the least developed countries in the world. This Note suggests that one of the main donors, the United States Agency for International Development (“USAID”), did not use the most effective procurement practices when it came to disbursing the millions in contracts toward Haiti’s disaster relief and reconstruction projects. Part of the reason was that the Haitian community was sidelined from the rebuilding of their county. As a result, there was a disconnect between what the money was spent on and what the Haitian people wanted and needed. In addition, excluding them weakened their own capacity and ability to help break the country out of its cycle of dependency on foreign aid. As a solution, after the immediate crisis of a disaster is stabilized, foreign donors should actively work to include the local community in the disaster relief and reconstruction. There should be a focus on capacity-and institution-building projects as well as a more inclusive procurement policy when it comes to providing foreign aid.

I.  Introduction

In 2010, a 7.0 magnitude earthquake rocked Haiti, killing about 200,000 people, rendering several million people homeless, and causing $7.8 billion in damages.2 As an already low-income, less-developed country, this earthquake absolutely devastated Haiti and exacerbated the issues surrounding development that Haiti had been dealing with for decades.3 This earthquake thrust Haiti into the world spotlight and foreign countries, organizations, and individuals all wanted to help.4 While the world had good intentions, the aid given was, at times, actively unhelpful and wasteful.5 Because the donor community did not connect and partner with the Haitian community, there was a disconnect between what the Haitian people needed and what the world provided.6 For example, before the earthquake, most of the country got their water “from wells, bottled and bagged water, and cisterns filled by trucks.”7 After the earthquake, the Haitian people still had access to this water supply but needed tools to purify the water.8 “Yet the aid effort offered no image more iconic than its human chains passing along boxes of bottled water, plastic shrink-wrap gleaming in the sun….”9 Had the donor community worked with and listened to the local community, it would have enhanced the benefits of the foreign aid and reduced the waste.

After the earthquake, Haiti received billions of dollars in foreign aid.10 However, about ten years later, Haiti is still considered one of the poorest and least developed countries in the Western Hemisphere and the world.11 In evaluating the way aid was and continues to be distributed after the 2010 earthquake, a main issue that impedes successful development emerges. Those spearheading the reconstruction process sidelined the Haitian people.12 In the beginning, the donor community did not consider Haitians as partners in the rebuilding, and this attitude did not dissipate.13 Rather, the international community took the “we’ll do it ourselves” approach, and, if they did work with national actors, they waited until the implementation stage to do so.14 This approach is problematic as it does not create the stable and lasting partners needed for long-term development.15 Partnership is so essential in bringing efficiency and sustainability in development that the signatories of the Grand Bargain, an agreement between more than thirty of the biggest donors and aid providers, highlight partnership as an “essential principle in humanitarian assistance.”16 By not connecting and working with the Haitian people, the development community overlooked an important and valuable resource that promotes successful projects and development.17

Most of U.S. assistance to Haiti goes through the United States Agency for International Development (“USAID”).18 USAID disburses the money by contracting with public and private partners and providing grants for reconstruction and development projects.19 As of January 2018, USAID had disbursed over $2 billion in contracts toward Haiti’s development.20 However, this Note suggests that USAID funding could have been improved had it worked directly with the Haitian community, both in the public and private sector, in the relief efforts. The lack of community-driven development and the failure to implement a partnership between the foreign donors and local community hindered Haiti’s development. First, there was a disconnect between what the money was spent on and what the Haitian people actually needed to rebuild successfully.21 Second, by excluding the Haitian community from the rebuilding process, the foreign aid did not strengthen their capacity or create a more self-reliant community, but instead reinforced Haiti’s dependency on foreign aid.22 Third, the Haitian people, government, and NGOs received very little of the billions of dollars that was spent on foreign aid.23 Including the Haitian community in the funding, however, would have spurred economic growth, promoted self-reliance and self-sufficiency, and helped break the country out of its cycle of dependency on foreign aid.

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