Curtained behind the bloated non-profit sector working in Haiti are the for-profit corporations who work for USAID. Not much is known about the for-profits because they are accountable only to the organizations that give them funding.
News that humanitarian relief efforts in Haiti have stalled has prompted scrutiny of international aid for Haiti.
Haiti's tragedies continue to generate economic activity for more fortunate actors. A small job boom is underway as non-profit agencies hire personnel for Haiti, attesting to the importance of Haiti to the international development sector. Including Haitian organizations, there are over 550 development and assistance organizations operating in Haiti. Underneath the busy world of non-profit sector are transnational corporations who carry out development work in Haiti, earning millions of American tax dollars in the process.
These are not the same companies who, allured by the promise of billions of dollars in aid for Haiti are engaged in a "feeding frenzy"as they prepare for land contracts for work in Haiti. The aid frenzy, reported the Miami Herald is troubling, and in itself is creating a new crisis for impoverished Haitians. Haitian land owners wanting to take advantage of the bustling real estate market are evicting earthquake refugees, reported the Christian Science Monitor. It is thought that 30 refugee camps have been evicted to date.
A makeshift tent camp for the homeless in Port-au-Prince, Haiti
Aside from the temporary companies, there are two transnational corporations virtually entrenched in Haiti. Chemonics International and Development Alternatives Inc.(DAI) work on contract in Haiti where they carry out projects for USAID. Both corporations exist mainly due to various contracts with USAID, working on behalf of the government all over the world. Chemonics International has received $140,856,662 million from USAID so far this year, while DIA has cornered $152,583,503 million.
Both corporations were recently given $50 million each from USAID for emergency relief efforts in Haiti. The companies did not have to compete for the money. A spokesperson for DAI told DevEx the funding was awarded without a bidding process because "If we had to go through another bidding process, we’d all be here instead of helping the people of Haiti."
Information about what the corporations are doing with the emergency funds given to them is scarce. In one report made in March by Daniel O'Neil, a PanAmerican Relief employee, said "... We put together a proposal to do demolish the buildings that were falling into the street and to remove the rubble from the roads. The Office of Transition Initiatives (part of USAID) funded it through Chemonics and we were given money to put 300 people to work. We began working just over two weeks ago."
DAI told the Institute for Multi-track Diplomacy in May “DAI established a cash-for-work program by employing people to clean up the rubble, re-build the roads, markets and schools – running a fleet of dump trucks. DAI had hired 20,000 Haitians.”
Haitians are allegedly paid around $5 US per day from the cash-for-work programs, and as of June, there were 35,000 Haitians temporarily employed through a multitude of relief work. Some Haitians are paid only in food, while others are paid in a combination of food and money.
Adam Rogers / UNDP
Workers in the Carrefour Feuilles neighbourhood clear rubble from the street as part of the UNDP cash for work programme, 2010.
Chemonics International has an interesting relationship with Haiti. Chemonics is owned by ERLY Industries Inc., a corporation concerned with agriculture. ERLY's company, American Rice, had a corner on the Haitian rice market in the 1990s. However, business tanked after American Rice Inc. and ERLY executives were found guilty of bribing Haitian officials to waive fees and taxes on the rice exports to Haiti. Since then, the only Haitian presence ERLY has had is through Chemonics International. Chemonics has worked in Haiti for at least the past ten years, most notably creating the Famine Early Warning System (FEWS) for USAID.
Chemonics has also implemented agricultural programs for USAID in Haiti, as has DAI. Just last year, Chemonics landed a contract for the USAID WINNER project. DAI has a contract for DEED.
The WINNER project, in part, is encouraging Haitian farmers to grow Jatropha curcas, hiring on the UK-based for-profit D1 Oils to provide engineering expertise.
Jatropha is the new darling of the biofuel industry, and the Haitian government has seen Jatropha as the cure for its ills.
Said to need little in the way of care or inputs, Jatropha would help with reforesting Haiti's denuded hills and mountains, while enriching the soils, stripped of their nutrients from erosion. Growing the biofuel would help to reforest Haiti’s denuded hillsides while providing the nation with income. Some non-profits support growing Jatropha because of the potential seen in providing Haiti’s poor with an affordable renewable energy source.
Haiti's Limbe river as seen from Morne Bambou near Camp Coq facing North.
There is strong interest in creating a Jatropha bioefuel industry in Haiti. DIA, through DEED, said planting half a million hectares to Jatropha would created around 450,000 jobs (page 36 of the presentation). Change said Jatropha is the answer to most of Haiti’s problems because the plant can be used as both food and fuel.
However, the United Nations Food and Agriculture program (FAO) recently issued a warning about Jatropha. Jatropha could benefit poor farmers, the FAO said, but only with careful management. The problem, says the organization, is "Many of the actual investments and policy decisions on developing jatropha as an oil crop have been made without the backing of sufficient science-based knowledge. Realizing the true potential of jatropha requires separating facts from the claims and half-truths."
The Haitian peasant farmer organization, MPP is opposed to growing Jatropha, concerned that the allure of profits made from the crop will see prime agricultural lands devoted to Jatropha. Haiti’s small farmers also fear they will lose what little land they have access to if Jatropha is embraced as a fuel crop.
You can link to Part II of this article here.