Non-government organizations perform the bulk of essential services for the population in Haiti. This is particularly true in health care and education. Yet there is no system in place now to regulate these activities. The Haitian government does not have a comprehensive list of which NGOs are operating in the country or what projects they are implementing. NGO activities are not coordinated to support clear objectives established by the government. And there are no uniform standards set by the government to establish consistent guidelines for projects.
This haphazard arrangement cannot persist if the basic needs of Haitian citizens are to be met in the near term while the government improves its response capacity in these areas. Improving access to health care, water and sanitation, education, shelter, and food are essential components of promoting social stability in the near term. The government will improve its legitimacy in the eyes of the population when the government can support these services regularly. Until then, it should work with NGOs and the international community to develop a mechanism to address essential human needs in a coordinated fashion.
One way to do this would be to invite the U.N. Office of the Coordinator for humanitarian Assistance to coordinate an NGO registration process and strategic action plan. UNOCHA is skilled at working with NGOs in humanitarian crises around the world and serving as a mechanism through which they can coordinate their work. The “cluster system” they pioneered distributes the expertise of particular NGOs across vital humanitarian sectors.
The government of Haiti, in cooperation with the United Nations and donors, should mandate compliance with a registration and coordination system by denying visas to NGO personnel who fail to comply. Donors can similarly withhold funding to NGOs who do not register and who do not coordinate their activities with the Haitian government and the United Nations.
There is some concern that institutionalizing NGO activities in a more systematic way will breed donor dependency on the Haitian government, create parallel structures for service delivery that would compete with governmental systems, and dampen the Haitian government’s responsiveness as it cedes responsibility for social services to the NGO community. These concerns may ultimately materialize, but the effective provision of services is the urgent consideration. Organizing the NGO community is the most practical way to address this issue in the near term.
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