British agencies urge UK to help prioritise the needs of Haiti’s poor
The Right Honourable Hilary Benn, MP
Secretary of State for International Development
Department for International Development
1, Palace Street,
London SW1E SHE
July 5th 2004
Dear Secretary of State,
We are writing to you as British agencies working in Haiti to raise our concerns about the increasingly deteriorating situation of poor people in Haiti. We believe there is a key contribution to be made by the UK government, through DfID, to address their needs. Although we recognise that Haiti has not been a priority country for DfID in the past, we appreciate the proactive role that DfID, through CHAD, played in responding to the emergency earlier this year.
As you know, an important international donors’ conference hosted by the World Bank will be held on 19 July in Washington DC to discuss the level and the conditions of international aid to Haiti. The UK has an influential voice in the international financial institutions. We believe it is vital that, when exercising this influence at the donors’ conference, the UK give priority to the needs of the vast majority of Haitians – some 75% of whom live on US$1 a day or less. Nearly half of Haiti’s population are under the age of 18.
The world cannot continue to ignore the plight of Haiti. It cannot afford to live with a permanently failed state in the Western Hemisphere. The current situation in Haiti poses a threat to sustainable development across the whole of the Caribbean.
We are concerned that there has been an absence of any serious consultation with civil society organisations representing the vast majority of Haitians during the recent meetings to draft the Interim Cooperation Framework (ICF) that the current Haitian government is taking to the July donors’ conference. The ICF will form the basis of the proposals to be discussed at the donors’ conference and will help decide the economic development policies implemented over the next few years. We fear that the opportunity to implement development policies that truly address the root causes of poverty in Haiti – including the marginalisation of the poor majority from political and economic decision-making- will be missed. Without valid participation it is likely that development programmes will once again fail for lack of relevance to the majority of the population. This will stunt the education, development and life chances of some 3.8 million children, perpetuating the cycle of poverty.
It is with this concern in mind that we are taking the opportunity to draw your attention to some of the most important proposals put forward by civil society organisations in Haiti over the last decade:
- There is a need for a radical rethink in terms of the country’s relationship to the world economy and the imposition of liberal economic policies that have failed to target poverty eradication. Previous development approaches have focused on taking advantage of Haiti’s relatively cheap labour to the detriment of producing for local needs. This has contributed to chronic food insecurity and to a crisis in agricultural production and rural communities. For international aid policy to be effective in supporting economic development that benefits the greatest number of people in Haiti it should assist the country to direct its work force and resources towards sustainable development that includes the production of locally consumed food and other consumer goods.
- Environmental degradation is a huge problem in Haiti as evidenced by the recent floods that killed thousands in the Haiti-DR border area. Any production strategy needs to tackle this issue, and resources need to be put into environmental regeneration.
- Economic development policies must be based on labour and economic rights. Without these rights, women as well as men will continue to subsidise industrial production through poverty wages and other forms of exploitation. Foreign companies operating in Haiti with the support of international finance institutions should be required to respect Haitian laws regarding minimum wages, working conditions and collective bargaining.
- Economic policies must recognise the need for integrated rural development programmes that have at their heart support for peasant associations, along with a land reform programme that distributes state lands. These policies are needed to increase food production to strengthen food self-sufficiency by both increasing the availability of food locally and decreasing its cost. Export crop production can be an important source of income, especially for larger scale farmers, but in a country with chronic food insecurity and the highest rates of malnutrition in the Americas, it should not take precedence over production for domestic consumption.
- Since the 1980s Haiti has been characterised by one of the most open economies in the world. Local farmers have had to compete with huge imports of subsidised products like rice and poultry grains. The professional agronomists’ association, ANDAH, has called for steep increases in tariffs on grains imported to Haiti as a means of levelling the playing field on which Haitian farmers are forced to compete with their heavily subsidised competitors. It is vital that governments of developing countries like Haiti are able to support poverty focused development policies through protecting against cheap subsidised imports. IFIs and international donors must recognise that free trade is not necessarily fair trade.
- Industrial sector planning should strengthen local production, for example small scale food processing or handicrafts. Long-term policies for the development of either the Haitian craft sector or small scale food processing that establishes and strengthens linkages with government programmes in agriculture, environment, natural-resource management, education, tourism and commerce is badly needed. These should be integrated with a larger national development strategy.
- Banks operating in Haiti should be supported specifically to make flexible, affordable credit available to peasant and small informal-sector producers across the country, if necessary through special programmes that target these sectors.
- Immediate and substantial increases should be made to spending on health and education -We would be looking for increased state provision in these sectors as soon as feasible, however, in the short to medium this may be in the form of subsidies to private providers – so that services are increased and cost to families decreased.
- Youth participation should be taken seriously. The 3.8 million who are currently under 18 are going to be the economic drivers of Haiti for years to come. These young people need the opportunity to participate in shaping their country’s future, as well as better health and education services now. Consultation with the children’s groups that already exist is vital to improve the quality of development in the country and to foster an inclusive, democratic and participatory future for all Haitians.
- Whilst government revenue needs to be increased, this must be done in the most equitable way possible. Civil society organisations have called for fairly calculated, progressive income and property taxes, and heavier taxes on luxury imports rather than taxing critical consumer items such as food and fuel.
- The Haitian people are also calling for debt cancellation. They argue that the poor of Haiti should not be made to pay for the excesses of past governments that have behaved irresponsibly and/or immorally if not illegally.
- Active inclusion and consultation with civil society organisations, community organisations and poor communities must be a key component of any current or future economic development plan for Haiti. Aid to Haiti in the short-term must support and ensure the implementation of processes that seek to include participation by civil society and to encourage the accountability of the government – such as the publishing and circulation of all documents in Creole. In the long-term aid to Haiti should be conditional on such civil society participation in economic decision-making around aid spending.
These recommendations have been made by many different organisations representing the poor majority in Haiti – and we are happy to assist you in providing further details on these organisations and on the details of the policies they advocate.
For the Haitian people, these policies form a relevant framework for Haiti’s economic future. We urge you to back the essential policies listed above at the forthcoming conference in Washington DC. We would be grateful if you could let us know whether you are prepared to do so.
- Richard Miller, UK Director, Action Aid
- Christine Allen, Executive Director, Catholic Institute for International Relations
- Paul Valentin, Head of International Department, Christian Aid
- Charles Arthur, Director, Haiti Support Group
- Marie Staunton, Chief Executive, Plan UK
- Richard Teuten, Head of Latin America and the Caribbean, FCO
- Jo-Anne Alston, Head of the Caribbean, DfID Barbados office
- David Biggs, Governance Advisor, DfID Barbados,