By STEPHEN DI BENEDETTO
The numerous aid groups that clamored to rebuild Haiti following a destructive earthquake two years ago have since failed to achieve long-lasting improvements to the island’s infrastructure, a former international journalist told a group of Knox College students Wednesday.
Jonathan Katz, a former Associated Press journalist in Haiti who was one of the first to report on the quake, spoke at length in the Seymour Union about Haiti’s dependence on aid groups, and the failed efforts to coordinate and plan long-term solutions to reconstruct Haiti, a country historically ravaged by poverty, oppression, famine and inadequate social services.
“If they run a program, the program goes well, lives are saved, the money is spent, the report is written correctly … they get promoted, they are out of there,” Katz said. “Nobody cares. Nobody cares if what’s been left behind is a country that is better off before they came down there.”
Numerous American and international aid groups, like the Red Cross and UNICEF, emphatically pushed to rebuild Haiti, after the 2010 earthquake that notched a seven on the Richter scale and practically shattered the country’s infrastructure, displaced millions and killed thousands.
Katz, who covered Haiti starting in 2007, said those groups, although well intentioned, have failed to accomplish meaningful changes because the aid workers have failed to coordinate its efforts. Many Haitians are still living in temporary shelters and still rely on imports to fuel their food supply, Katz said.
Katz stressed that many aid groups have found success building schools in villages throughout Haiti, but haven’t put forth the effort to develop a countrywide school system, which Haiti has lacked. He argued that Haiti’s problems are doomed to repeat unless the aid groups, which have a powerful presence, reform their approach.
“I don’t want to be the guy standing in the airport (in Haiti), saying ‘go back where you came from,’” Katz said. “I know what you think you are doing is good, but think about what you are doing before you do it.”
The former journalist recently returned to the area after he stopped working for the AP in 2011 to write a book about his Haiti experiences. His reports in Haiti also revealed that U.N. peacekeepers were the source of a deadly cholera epidemic that spread throughout the country following the earthquake.
Standing in front of students and facility, Katz argued that the United Nations’ lack of accountability for the epidemic fueled protests and further tarnished the international community’s efforts to rebuild the country.
Following the speech, political science professor Daniel Beers, who organized the event, questioned Katz’s criticisms that aid groups weren’t being productive, arguing a successful group is usually marked by its ability to start projects.
But Katz repeated that aid groups have been successful, but have generally lacked the foresight to create a sustainable plan to rebuild Haiti.
“Not to use a loaded metaphor, but it’s like asking, ‘Who’s the best crew member on the Titanic?’” Katz said.