Humanitarian Failure in Haiti

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Writing in the Wall Street Journal, Mary O’Grady documents the debacle that is the Haiti humanitarian effort. She writes:

Four years after a magnitude 7.0 earthquake toppled the capital city of Port-au-Prince and heavily damaged other parts of the country, hundreds of millions of dollars from the State Department’s U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), allocated to the IHRC [Interim Haiti Recovery Commission], are gone. Hundreds of millions more to the IHRC from international donors have also been spent. Left behind is a mishmash of low quality, poorly thought-out development experiments and half-finished projects.

Haitians are angry, frustrated and increasingly suspicious of the motives of the IHRC and of its top official, Mr. Clinton. Americans might feel the same way if they knew more about this colossal failure. One former Haitian official puts it this way: ‘I really cannot understand how you could raise so much money, put a former U.S. president in charge, and get this outcome.’

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On the Militarization of Humanitarian Action

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Joeva Rock writes:

As the world remains transfixed by the kidnapping of almost 300 Nigerian girls, there have been increasing calls for international intervention in the effort to rescue them. But what many people don’t know is that the U.S. military has been active in the region for years.

Read the entire thing here.

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Field of Nightmares

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From The Washington Post:

But when the violence subsided, the Iraqi government and the United States began pumping in millions of dollars to clean up Sadr City. That’s when the scrap was cleared to make Jameel’s makeshift neighborhood pitch into a full-size soccer field.

The contractor who built the field — who did not want to be identified, out of fear for his safety — said he was paid $1.1 million for the job by the U.S. Army. But it’s difficult to see where that money went, despite his assurances that the site was once in a better state of repair.

There are no lights, no bleachers, no showers. The boys who play here use a nearby shop to wash. When it rains, the field floods and local residents chip in to buy new dirt to resurface it.

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Afghanistan Landslide Attracts Fraudsters

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On Friday, May 2, a landslide destroyed much of the remote village of Aab Bareek, which is located in the Badakhshan province of Afghanistan. The response was humanitarian aid provided by a variety of aid agencies. However, The Guardian reports that the inflow of aid has attracted “outsides” who seek to secure of the aid meant for the landslide victims. According to the article:

Aid agencies have rushed tonnes of emergency supplies to the capital of Badakhshan province but distribution has been hindered by scuffles between the survivors, the poor from nearby villages and security forces.

…the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said the sudden arrival of food, tents, blankets and medical supplies had attracted many locals from surrounding parts of the mountainous northern province.

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Foreign Aid and NGOs

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Many briefcase NGOs begin with noble intentions. But international funding agencies often dictate funding and programme priorities, causing cash-strapped NGOs to chase funding and adjust strategic visions.

As a consequence of chasing funding, organisations shift their focus away from their areas of expertise into where the money is to sustain themselves. This causes them to make commitments they can’t deliver on; thus, the briefcase NGO can be unintentionally formed.

Funding priorities are often communicated in a top-down manner, with few systems in place for considering feedback from local organisations. To prevent this, major international funders must work to understand the unique expertise local organisations offer.

That’s from The Guardian. Read the entire thing here.

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Mulligan on Radomized Experiments

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Casey Mulligan writes the following in a New York Times blog post regard RCTs:

The problems with randomized trials cannot be dismissed as mere philosophical challenges, because people react to the poor treatment they get from experimenters. Why should a patient agree to let a dice or random number generator decide his fate?

By insisting on randomization, experimenters have troubles recruiting study participants, and their reluctance to take part prevents us from learning as much as we could about new treatments (I owe this point to my colleagues Tomas Philipson and Gary Becker).

One approach to this problem is to prevent participants from knowing that they are participating in experiments or that researchers are introducing randomness into their environment, as natural or “unframed” field experiments do (see this paper by Omar Al-Ubaydli and John List on the different kinds of experiments in economics). Professor Sachs’s approach is to economize on the randomness.

Randomization is not a necessarily even the best way to advance science. More than a few statisticians suggest that study samples should be chosen more deliberately, and less randomly (see “The Unprincipled Randomization Principle in Economics and Medicine” by the econometricians Stephen T. Ziliak and Edward Teather-Posadas).

Jessica Goldberg responds here.  She writes:

We use RCTs to answer certain types of questions about the impact of a program or product. When the questions have been answered and we know whether, how, and for whom a product works, RCTs are neither necessary nor interesting.  But at the time of evaluation, we didn’t know whether tutoring improves student learning (or, for that matter, whether Millennium Villages improve welfare for their residents).

 

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Australian Troubled Aid to Cambodia

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From Ashlee Betteridge at Devpolicyblog:

Activists have long challenged the project’s forced resettlement of thousands of poor families who had made makeshift homes along disused railway tracks, alleging inadequate compensation, threats, harassment, inadequate facilities at resettlement sites and adverse impacts on livelihoods.

The CPR report [pdf], released on Friday, agreed with many of these concerns and found that the project was non-compliant with a number of ADB safeguards.

The review found that project caused “direct, adverse and material harm” to the resettled families, with “insufficient compensation for loss of property and incomes… lack of electricity and water services at resettlement sites as well as from poor access roads… weak or ineffective grievance redress mechanisms…  lack of timely assistance for income restoration…  indebtedness and insufficient information and consultation.”

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