Haiti: report assails cash for work programs

A group of Haitian media organizations released a report on Nov. 8 about the “cash for work” (CFW) temporary jobs programs that international agencies and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) set up after a Jan. 12 earthquake devastated much of southern Haiti. The programs employ tens of thousands of Haitians at jobs such as clearing away rubble in Port-au-Prince and digging latrines for the camps where more than 1 million displaced people still live. In the countryside, CFW workers dig irrigation ditches and contour canals. They are generally paid the full minimum wage of 200 gourdes (about $5) a day, although some are partially or fully paid in food.

The report found that while much of the work is useful and the payments do provide temporary relief for the workers and their families, CFW programs fail to stimulate the Haitian economic significantly: so many consumer goods are now imported that a large part of the CFW money ends up going to other countries instead of producing permanent employment inside Haiti, according to Haitian economists. The programs also increase Haiti’s dependency on other countries, deform attitudes towards work and weaken grassroots and communities efforts for reconstruction, the report said. The authors suggested that groups like the US Agency for International Development (USAID) are promoting CFW as a way to prevent the sort of militant demonstrations that thousands of displaced Mexico City residents organized to demand housing after a major earthquake there in 1985.

The report was produced by Haiti Grassroots Watch (Ayiti Kale Je, “Haiti Keep Your Eyes Open” in Creole), a collaboration of Groupe Medialternatif/AlterPresse, the Society for the Animation of Social Communication (SAKS), the Network of Women Community Radio Broadcasters (REFRAKA) and the Association of Haitian Community Media (AMEKA). (Haiti Grassroots Watch, Nov. 8)

Groups of displaced people in Port-au-Prince continue to protest their living conditions, usually on or around the 12th day of each month to mark the date of the Jan. 12 quake. Hundreds of camp residents demonstrated outside the main government offices on Nov. 12, demanding housing, rejecting plans for general elections on Nov. 28 and calling for the withdrawal of the 13,000-member United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH), whose troops are suspected of causing an outbreak of cholera through unsanitary conditions at a base in the Central Plateau. “No to elections under tents and tarps!” the protesters chanted. “Out with MINUSTAH, which defecated in our rivers!” (Radio Kiskeya, Haiti, Nov. 12)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, Nov. 14.

See our last post on Haiti.