Haiti relief: first, do no harm

It’s hard to be hard-headed about giving to Haiti when people are hungry, thirsty and injured. But before you reflexively hit the DONATE NOW FOR HAITI button on the first email (or text message) you see, take a moment to consider your own values. Even in emergencies, perhaps most of all in emergencies, it’s important to try to give in ways that can help to avert similar disasters in the future.

Timothy A. Wise reminds us that “aid is power” in his 2005 blog posting Humanitarian Crises: What is a Progressive to Do? A lot of American aid power goes, intentionally or unintentionally, to helping entrench American businesses and exports at the expense of local products and producers. Food aid often winds up driving local produce and producers out of business. Reconstruction contracts with international construction firms undercut local professionals, builders and workers. Wise advises sticking with agencies which were present before the crisis and will stick around later and those with clear strategies to build local capacity.

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