Friday, July 16, 2010
An Army of Clowns
This has been bothering me for some time.
Lots of media coverage of the six month "anniversary" of the earthquake that devastated Haiti in January. Lots of notice that essentially nothing has been done, that the rubble still festers in Port-au-Prince, that the people have had little aid, that they struggle on bravely regardless, that the government continues to be ineffective and corrupt, that the donors haven't delivered, that "Makeshift" is the word, that there is still no shelter for most of the dispossessed survivors apart from that which they stitch and cobble together themselves from sticks and blankets and baling wire that they have pulled out of the rubble.
And there's this: the money, such as it is, that is given for Haiti Relief mostly goes to fund the NGOs that squabble endlessly among themselves to provide the aid; only there's just enough money to fund inadequate NGO staffs, and nothing is available for the People.
So it is in many other lands as well, it's not just Haiti. Far from it. Every now and then, we'll see a news report to the effect that $XX billions of dollars have been allocated and spent for "aid" in Afghanistan since the American overthrow of the Taliban government in 2001. And there is nothing to show for it. Nothing, because most of the money has gone to pay for "training and upkeep" of Afghan "security forces." And all the rest has gone to pay for the inadequate staffs of the proliferation of NGOs that rushed into Afghanistan to provide "aid." But there is no money left to aid the People. Everything goes for "security" and NGO staff salaries.
And every now and then some food or medical supplies is delivered for the suffering People, but not too often or too much, you know, we wouldn't want them to become dependent.
Oh no, wouldn't want that.
But what there isn't is rebuilding of cities or infrastructure for the benefit of the People. That just isn't done. There isn't enough money, you see, for anything like that on the one hand, and it's so very difficult to do that on the other. So, the NGOs say, "We do the best we can."
Amy Goodman spent an hour interviewing Sean Penn the other day at the "IDP" Camp he runs (apparently single-handedly, in true White God fashion -- h/t Matt Taibbi) in Port-au-Prince. And it drove me nuts.
Amy didn't want to attack him, so she didn't, but at the same time, she asked some pretty hard questions, "Why hasn't anything changed? What happens to all the money? What is the point of all these NGOs when the people are still in such misery?" And he had no answer. Well, he did, but it was basically a defense of the System -- which doesn't provide aid -- and the great work all the NGOs are doing, and even if the new camps are crappy, everybody knew that they would be, so what's the problem?
It was aggravating as hell.
And it is the standard bullshit you hear from the proliferating NGO and NPO community globally. They can't get anything done to actually improve the lives of more than a handful of clients or participants. They don't have enough resources. They never do. No matter how much they have or how critical the need, they simply have too many other interests, needs, and concerns -- and there's too much squabbling between them -- to actually take care of the problems they are ostensibly organized to handle.
Watch the Democracy Now! interview with Sean Penn if you can. I actually couldn't sit through it all. He was driving me absolutely nuts with his excuses and dodginess.
Amy does get into why reconstruction is stalled and aid is so screwed up in Haiti in other segments, though what to do about it is not, ever, made clear.
The long suffering People of Haiti are the only real heroes in all of this.
And there are those who will defend the lack of progress and counter that the suffering People are getting clean water and food aid, so what's the problem? Medical teams did heroic work and many are still on scene, so what's the problem? The Haitians are resourceful and eventually they will have to fend for themselves anyway, so what's the problem?
The problem is that most of the aid funding goes to pay for staffs and equipment for organizations that really have no intention to do much more than perpetuate themselves.