Explicit interests

Even if USAID wanted to invest money in helping Haiti to become self-sufficient in rice or sugar production, the agency is prohibited from doing so by a little-known American law called the Bumpers Amendment. The law prevents U.S. government aid from being spent on programs that could benefit crops that might compete with American exports on the global market. As then-Sen. Dale Bumpers, D-Ark., said in 1985, the law is designed to “prevent American tax dollars from being used to help foreign countries who are trying to take our export markets.” It is the reason farmers like Gilbert would not be eligible for USAID programs if they were growing rice or sugar rather than lettuce or mangoes.

From Maura O’Conner’s ongoing piece on aid and Haiti at Slate.

Guardians of poverty porn

Oh come on, Guardian. You run a somewhat-reasonable rebuttal by Claire Melamed of the Overseas Development Institute to the recent attacks on increases in UK ODA, but then you feel the need to top it off with this photo:

Let’s see how many boxes this checks:

  • Very cute, if impoverished, Haitian child? Check
  • No shirt? Check
  • Other cute, impoverished children, for context? Check
  • Longing gazes upward (where you look down upon them and consider yourself gracious and merciful donor). Check
  • Hands outstretched to receive help. Check

These are real children, ones that are obviously in need of help, but you do them a disservice when you exploit them in this way to make your arguments.

On the wisdom of giving shoes

I’ve written a short piece for Foreign Policy on the problems with giving in-kind aid to Haiti (and to other countries). Regular readers and fellow bloggers will recognise many of the arguments and examples in the piece:

However, cost-effectiveness and the marginalization of local markets are not the only worries. When Clowns Without Borders, an NGO that provides free clown-based services to the poor, lands in Port-au-Prince, the main concern is not the harm they might cause to the Haitian miming industry, but whether flying in imported clowns is an efficient use of resources.

Apologies for the shameless self-promotion.

In go the clowns


I’ve seen some bloggers upset about the mass donation of used shoes to the Haitian crisis. That was only the beginning. Remember Clowns Without Borders? They go to needy locations and… perform.  Chris Blattman waged a bitter war on them last year.

Well now they’ve mobilized, and are off to Haiti. From their website:

All proceeds benefit Clowns Without Borders-USA. This will raise money for sending theatrical teaching and performing groups to Haiti to work with thousands of children who will be in tent camps over the next year.

Children there may not have homes, nor a functioning government, clean water, electricity, hospitals or schools, but at least they’ll have quality clown-based entertainment.

I wonder how long before Operation Sock Monkey or Teddy Bears of Hope starts their air drops.

Ned Flanders goes to Haiti

Papa needs a brand new... orphan?

"Papa needs a brand new... orphan?"

I presume everyone has heard about the American church group who have been rounding up random kids in Haiti to adopt.

Has the effect of Brangelina and Madonna been to move adoption right up to the top of development responses? I am genuinely shocked. Many of these children apparently aren’t even orphans. What were they thinking?

“Whaddya mean you still have parents? You’re poor, aren’t you? There’s a collapsed building next to you. Bring your lying ass over here. We’re taking you to the Dominican Republic.”

They may also have slightly unrealistic expectations of Haitian jail conditions these days. A quote from the Grauniad article I linked above:

One of their lawyers said they were being treated poorly: “There is no air conditioning, no electricity. It is very disturbing,” Attorney Jorge Puello said by phone from the Dominican Republic, where the Baptists hoped to shelter the children in a rented beach hotel.

Dudes, you’re in jail. In Zanzibar I don’t have that stuff in my apartment *at all* anymore.

Media and the benefits of giving


I was in a gym yesterday on the Msasani peninsula, watching the news on a muted television, surrounded by over-pumped expats. An ad came up for a CNN special report to be aired that evening. The name?

Anderson Cooper Presents:

CNN Heroes: Saving Haiti

“Ask not what you can do for your country…”

Does this matter? Or just the people that live there?

Does this matter? Or just the people that live there?

When you think about the reduction in poverty, do you think about the number of people who are living in poverty or the number of countries that are characterized by a high proportion of people living in poverty? And on reflection, if you haven’t thought about this before, which do you think is more important?

When I first thought about this, many years ago, my answer was immediate and absolute: the number of people in poverty. Of course: as a humanist, all lives are important and whatever actions will do the most the help the most lives must be the best. I remember reading with satisfaction a paper about growth convergence about 8 years ago, which made this very point: weighting for population, because of India and China, growth rates of the poor and the rich have been converging, in contrast to the conclusion if one takes nations as the unit of analysis (I think it was by Lant Pritchett. If anyone can confirm or correct this, I’d be very grateful).

Now I’m not so sure, and part of the reason is the (marginally) increasing debate around migration-as-development. Many, though by no means all, debates about migration and development take an almost apocalyptic tone in decrying a country as doomed or destined to suffer, and present migration as a cure for the ills of the inhabitants of these countries. (Others like Owen Barder present the migration debate as an essentially moral issue about freedom of movement and ability for individuals to improve their circumstances without getting into the prospects of long term development for the country – this closely matches my own opinions on the issue).

The response to the Haiti quake has been characterized by this kind of pessimism. On these very pages, we asked “What are the chances that Haiti is ever going to grow or develop?”; the Roving Bandit calculated how long it would take to drain Haiti of all of its inhabitants and resettle them in the US; the President of Senegal, Abdoulaye Waye suggested he could give Haitians a region to make their own in Senegal; Alex Tabarrok suggested Port-au-Prince as a Charter City, which would essentially constitute an admission of the failure of Haiti as a sovereign state (by the by: great idea! Let’s tell the descendents of the only successful slave rebellion in history, a people who fought for 12 years against Napoleonic forces *and won* that they’ve had their chance and they’ve failed. Step aside and let the foreigners do it right; after all, we all know the rules that will work in Haiti, don’t we? This does nothing to change my opinion on Charter Cities as an approach to development).

What’s wrong with this kind of approach? Quite a few things, though it’s difficult to unpack them neatly for argument. Firstly, it undermines is the role of identity in determining the best paths for development, which requires us to recognize that different ways of escaping poverty are not equal and should not be judged on the same terms; secondly, it implies that the nation-state is an anachronistic organizing concept for policy purposes; and thirdly, it may have implications for paths of development in the future.

Continue reading

The first country to embrace permanent Haitian resettlement

is… Senegal?

President Abdoulaye Wade said Haitians were sons and daughters of Africa since Haiti was founded by slaves, including some thought to be from Senegal.

“The president is offering voluntary repatriation to any Haitian that wants to return to their origin,” said Mr Wade’s spokesman, Mamadou Bemba Ndiaye.

“If it’s just a few individuals, then we will likely offer them housing or small pieces of land. If they come en masse we are ready to give them a region.”

On Haiti

The Roving Bandit does a good job of aggregating advice you should read before donating:

Texas in Africa

Blood and Milk


Tales from the Hood

Aid Watch

For those more concerned with the medium-to-long term, Paul Currion writes about the tendency for the international community to only act during overt crises:

Nobody can deny that Haiti needs assistance right now to save lives, but it also needed assistance yesterday when the infant mortality rate was the 37th lowest in the world. When it comes to natural disasters, we – our governments, our media, ourselves – are victims of the same biases that cause impulse buying at the supermarket. Thousands of people dying from buildings falling on them instantly mobilises a huge amount of resources, but thousands of children dying from easily preventable diseases is just background noise. This is the uncomfortable reality of the aid world, but it’s not one that our media or governments really wants to hear.

Tyler Cowen wonders if Haiti really exists anymore:

From the reports I have seen, my tentative conclusion is that the country as a whole is currently below the subsistence level and will remain so for the foreseeable future.  Hundreds of thousands of people have died, the U.N. Mission has collapsed, the government is not working (was it ever?), and hundreds of thousands or maybe millions of people are living in the streets without reliable food or water supplies.  The hospitals and schools have collapsed.  The airport is shut down.  The port is very badly damaged.  The Haitian Penitentiary has collapsed and the inmates — tough guys most of them — are running free for the foreseeable future.  There is no viable police force or army.

In what sense does Haiti still have a government?  How bad will it have to get before the U.N. or U.S. moves in and simply governs the place?

Amanda Taub talked about giving Haitians temporary work status:

I have one further suggestion: contact the White House and tell them that you support granting Haitians Temporary Protected Status (TPS) immediately.

Once a country has been given TPS, its nationals who are in the United States can apply for work authorization (a very useful thing to have if, say, one needs to send money home to family members in need of medical care or a house that has not been reduced to rubble), can’t be deported or put into immigration detention (also quite handy if you’re trying to work and send money home), and can apply for travel authorization, which allows them to visit their home country and return to the US, even if they wouldn’t otherwise have a visa that would allow them back into the country (incredibly important if you have loved ones who have been badly hurt and need to visit them, or if you need to go home to attend funerals).

Several bloggers beat me to the logical next step – first Chris Blattman:

Alternatively, as Michael Clemens suggests, simply let their people come.

And in more detail, the Roving Bandit:

How hard would it be for the US to take in Haiti?

The population of Haiti is almost 10 million people. (Legal) Immigration to the US is about 1 million per year.

How about a 10 year plan to (temporarily) double inflows and make an entire country of poor people’s citizens rich?

I think there’s a development case to be made for letting Haitians just leave Haiti, and the current humanitarian situation can only make that case stronger. What are the chances that Haiti is ever going to grow or develop? Let’s let them find a better place elsewhere.