When a lack of long-term strategy threatens aid effectiveness

A Canada-supported rubble-removal project as part of reconstruction efforts in Haiti. The Caribbean country is Canada’s second-largest recipient of aid funding. Photo by: Jean-Francois Leblanc / ACDI-CIDA / DFATD / CC BY-NC-ND

When a massive earthquake struck Haiti in 2010, Canada was at the front line of the humanitarian response. The government committed close to 200 million Canadian dollars ($160 million) to the relief effort, and humanitarian organizations launched an unprecedented joint effort, supported by an outpouring of donations from the public.

Haiti has been Canada’s second-largest recipient of aid funding after Afghanistan, with CA$92.12 million disbursed in long-term assistance and humanitarian aid in 2013. With a large Haitian diaspora living in Canada, a common official language and close geographic proximity, both countries have enjoyed a privileged development partnership over the years. Yet five years after the earthquake, there appears to be no clear strategic vision for Canada’s assistance to Haiti.

In November 2012, then-Minister for International Cooperation Julian Fantino visited Haiti to assess the impact of Canadian aid programs on the ground. In repeated statements ahead and after the visit, Fantino pressed the Haitian government for more accountability, transparency and results.

“We remain concerned with the slow progress of development in Haiti, in large part due to weaknesses in their governing institutions,” the former international cooperation minister wrote.

In a January 2013 interview, Fantino was then quoted as saying that funding for new aid projects in Haiti had been temporarily put “on ice,” and that Haitians should eventually “take charge of themselves.” The aid freeze was promptly denied by what was then the Canadian International Development Agency (now amalgamated into the Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development).

“The minister has made clear that Canada is reviewing its long-term engagement strategy with Haiti to maximize taxpayer dollars based on results achieved, lessons learned and the needs and priorities of the Haitian government,” read a CIDA statement.

Still no global strategy for engagement

Two years later, this review process is still ongoing, as indicated by several subsequent statements issued by DFATD, as well as a description of Canada’s development activities in Haiti published on DFATD’s website.

In 2014, Haiti was made one of DFATD’s 25 countries of focus, which were chosen “based on their real needs, their capacity to benefit from development assistance, and their alignment with Canadian foreign policy priorities.” But overall Canadian assistance to Haiti decreased from CA$150 million in 2011-2012 to CA$92.12 million the next fiscal year, and DFATD has yet to formulate a global strategy for its engagement in the country.

“It’s very difficult to understand why there’s this very long time lag in articulating formally and publicly our strategy for what is evidently our most important cooperation partner in the Americas,” Hunter McGill, a senior fellow at the School of Development and Global Studies at the University of Ottawa, told Devex.

Information about the effectiveness of past and ongoing Canadian programming is also lacking. According to a DFATD communications officer, a global evaluation of the Haiti country program is being finalized and will be published “as soon as possible.”

A 2013 review commissioned by the Concertation pour Haïti, a group of Quebec-based nongovernmental organizations operating in the country, revealed that very little of Canada’s aid funding has gone to support the Haitian government or other local partners. The document remarked that many projects were conducted on a very short-term basis, and that only one project was dedicated to fighting the cholera outbreak. Because it didn’t support the emergence of a public education system, didn’t fund the construction of social housing in Port-au-Prince and failed to engage local actors, Canadian programming was not likely to contribute to durable solutions, the document said.

Speaking to Devex, Hunter McGill expressed concern that Canada wasn’t participating in strengthening Haiti’s capacity for disaster response and preparedness. He cited a recently announced project to rebuild Port-au-Prince’s fire station and train 140 firefighters to be first responders as an example of programming with limited reach.

“We are helping to build very focused, very localized capacity. We're not helping Haiti to create its own capacity to train first responders,” he said.

Concerns have also been raised regarding the ability of the Haitian government to deal with the growing exploitation of gold, silver and copper by foreign extractive companies, and the possible negative environmental and social impact of mining on Haitian society. Some of the contracts for exploitation in the country’s north and northeast, for instance, include some of the lowest royalties in the world. Several Canadian mining companies are currently operating in Haiti, including Majescor, Barrick Gold, Goldcorp and Eurasian Minerals.

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About the author

  • Flavie portrait

    Flavie Halais

    Flavie Halais is a contributor based in Montreal who covers cities and international social issues. In 2013-2014, Flavie was an Aga Khan Foundation Canada International Fellow, reporting for Nation Media Group in Nairobi, Kenya. She’s also reported from Rwanda, Brazil and Colombia.

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