Doing More, Better: Reflections on the Future of Canadian Assistance to Haiti

By Gaëlle Rivard Piché

Ready for change. That was the Liberal Party’s main slogan during the Canadian electoral campaign that brought Justin Trudeau into power on October 19. It is also the state of Canada-Haiti relations after four years of sullenness due to a decline in Canadian funding for Haiti’s reconstruction and successive diplomatic faux pas.

After a decade of Conservative reign driven by hard-line security imperatives and a development strategy resolutely based on economic priorities, a new Liberal government suggests a change in Canadian foreign policy. Considering Trudeau’s commitment to restore Canada’s image abroad, what will be the Canadian role in the next chapter of Haiti’s development?

In 2004, Paul Martin’s Liberal government agreed to participate in a multilateral effort towards Haiti’s stabilization and reconstruction. Under the following Conservative governments, Haiti officially remained a priority, but a shift in the rationale for aid put a stop to several bilateral programs, including quick impact projects funded by the Department of Foreign Affaires and International Trade’s Stabilisation and Reconstruction Task Force. The reduction of the budget envelope had a direct impact on the ability of the Canadian embassy to engage with its Haitian counterparts. The lack of a clear strategy after the end of the earthquake recovery phase in 2012 also marginalized the role and the importance of Canada at the donors’ table. Canada still remains a key contributor to the MINUSTAH, the UN peace operation deployed since 2004, but the foreseen end of the mission after 2016 raises serious concerns about the future of international assistance.

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We must be careful as a nation donating to fragile states

As originally published in The Ottawa Citizen, August 19, 2012

In the last decade, Afghanistan and Haiti have been the two largest recipients of Canadian official development assistance (ODA), receiving more than the traditionally large recipients of Canadian aid of the 1990s such as Bangladesh and China. Key reasons for this transformation in Canadian priorities were the 9/11 attacks and perceived need to remove the Taliban regime from power in the case of Afghanistan, and the forced exit of Jean-Bertrand Aristide in 2004, as well as the more recent earthquake in the case of Haiti.

Canada is certainly not alone in throwing large sums of money at these countries. Globally, Haiti has received $8.1 billion (U.S.) in aid from 2001 to 2010 while Afghanistan has received a staggering $36.5 billion, not to mention the billions more spent on security and diplomacy initiatives in Afghanistan and to a lesser extent Haiti. Nor are Afghanistan and Haiti alone in the category of countries classified as fragile. In its assessment on resource flows to fragile states, the OECD reported that approximately $47 billion (37 per cent) in ODA went to 45 fragile states in 2009.

Based on a 2012 fragile states report that we have just completed for the Canadian government, we question whether aid is having an impact in fragile situations such as Afghanistan and Haiti. In our report, Afghanistan ranked second only to Somalia — a failed state — in 2012 and has been in our top five for almost a decade. In fact, since 2001 there has been deterioration in key measures of Afghanistan’s governance, security and crime, economic performance, human development and even the environment.

In the case of Haiti, the situation was improving in the two years prior to the 2010 earthquake. In particular, improvements in the state’s capacity to provide a safe environment to its citizens and in the political sphere were, to a certain extent, offsetting the country’s poor economic performance.

However, the earthquake’s devastating effects mean that the situation in the country is beginning to deteriorate again. Specifically, our report shows increasing problems in governance, security and crime, human development, gender and the environment, and only a very minor improvement in Haiti’s economic performance.

Needless to say the results for both these countries are far from encouraging, especially considering the money their governments have been given. Examining the big picture allows us to draw two basic conclusions. First, we have clear evidence that Afghanistan is stuck in a fragility “trap,” whose situation can best be characterized as worsening, despite receiving global support over the last decade, with promises of billions more by the international community at the recent Tokyo Conference.

Second, we have evidence of volatility and quick reversal in the case of Haiti where rapid gains in the previous decade were quickly evaporated when the earthquake struck.

Given the difficult financial situation faced by many donor countries, global aid flows will not increase over the next few years and may even decline more than they already have. Canada will be no exception as the projected freeze to the international assistance envelope will mean that its aid to gross national income ratio will remain stagnant. It is essential now more than ever that our aid dollars be more effectively used and carefully monitored.

For that reason, having the right tools to monitor how donor money is spent must be a priority if Canada is to avoid another lost decade of aid spending. An effective donor program on fragile states must be linked more thoroughly to development planning through a three-step process.

First, detailed structured risk analysis, covering everything from governance and security to environment and demography, should be properly used by donor agencies. Most agencies work from different starting points and assumptions; by using a common set of benchmarks, misinterpretation, duplication and redundancies are avoided.

Second, this multi-sector approach should be demand-based and not supply driven. This means that agencies need to identify links between key causes of fragility and identifiable focal points of activity in which the donors must be engaged, not where they want to be engaged.

Third, these multi-sector risk assessments should be used constantly and we must consistently monitor and evaluate progress. The key goal is to determine if aid is having the desired impact and if course corrections are required.

David Carment is a fellow at the Calgary-based Canadian Defence and Foreign Affairs Institute and a professor of international affairs at Carleton University. He is editor of Canadian Foreign Policy Journal.

Yiagadeesen Samy is an associate professor of international affairs at Carleton University and a research associate at the Ottawa-based North-South Institute. Their work on failed and fragile states can be found at

© Copyright (c) The Ottawa Citizen

Legal Liability and Humanitarianism: A Game Changing Idea?

The ultimate goal of humanitarian assistance is to alleviate suffering in situations of disaster or conflict. Haiti has suffered through internal conflicts and natural disasters and has therefore been the recipient of much humanitarian aid. Following the 2010 earthquake, for instance, billions of dollars of aid was spent on disaster relief in Haiti (the New York Times reports that, by December 2012, $7.5 billion had been promised to Haiti for humanitarian aid and general reconstruction purposes).

The delivery of Haitian quake relief aid has been criticized on multiple levels. Most of the arguments center on the theme of inefficient delivery. One argument, however, stands apart: over a thousand Haitians are demanding compensation from the UN for harms that befell them due to problems with the delivery of UN assistance. More specifically, these claimants (convincingly) allege that UN peacekeepers from Nepal triggered a cholera epidemic in post-quake Haiti. The Nepalese troops introduced the disease to the water supply as the result of poor sewage management at their base.

Fundamentally, these Haitians and their lawyers are demanding that the UN be held liable for the humanitarian services it provided. This demand breaks with a long-standing tradition that holds humanitarians above reproach and beyond the reach of the law.

Humanitarianism and humanitarian assistance have existed in one incarnation or anther for at least a century. For most of that period, humanitarian activities were shrouded from criticism by the undeniable nobility of its fundamental goal. Over the last 20 years, however, policy-makers and academics have recognized that humanitarian actions can lead to undesirable and unintended consequences. This has led to calls for accountability: demands for humanitarians to evaluate the actual and potential outcomes, good or bad, of their actions.

To date, however, humanitarian accountability has largely been an academic discussion limited to the pages of journal articles and books. These sources recognize that accountability in the humanitarian sphere is necessary. The most oft-repeated point is that humanitarians must “do no harm” but that is where the advice ends.

In summary, the literature is calling for greater assessment and evaluation in the humanitarian sphere. In contrast, the Haitian litigants are calling for humanitarians to be held legally liable for their actions.

What would being held legally liable mean for humanitarians and humanitarianism? While a strong case can be made that accountability in the humanitarian sphere can improve the delivery of assistance I don’t think the same can be said for liability. Providing humanitarian assistance is expensive and dangerous under even the best circumstances. If humanitarians and humanitarian organizations are liable for their actions their costs and risk increase dramatically. That said, I think it’s fair to question whether liability and humanitarianism can coexist. Will increased cost and risk force humanitarian actors out of the market? As someone with a great deal of respect for humanitarianism and the principle that no individual or organization should be above the law, I’m troubled by this thought.

Fortunately, at this point, unpacking the effect of liability on humanitarianism is only an academic exercise. Ban Ki-moon announced last Thursday that the UN will not compensate the victims of the cholera epidemic since UN lawyers have deemed the claim “non receivable” due to diplomatic immunity. Yet, despite the lack of a real-world scenario forcing the exploration of the interaction of liability and humanitarianism, I argue that it is still an issue worth examining since the Haitian claim highlights that this interaction will likely not remain a moot point for long.

Stephanie Soiffer

Ph.D. Candidate