By Nikhil Aziz
March 14th, 2010
Cultures in different parts of our planet have long held rivers to be life-giving. Early human civilizations are even known by their connection to the river systems whose banks they arose from like the Indus-Ganga, the Nile and the Yangtze Kiang-Huang He. But today human actions and inaction have literally throttled our rivers through industrial pollution, mega dams, diversification, deforestation and the list goes on.... But people are fighting back -- especially those most directly impacted. In my home country India, numerous popular movements have emerged like the Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA-Save the Narmada Movement) and the Ganga Mukti Andolan (GMA-Free the Ganga Movement).
By Beverly Bell
March 5th, 2010
We plant but we can’t produce or market. We plant but we have no food to eat. We want agriculture to improve so our country can live and so we peasants can live, too.
(Rilo Petit-homme, peasant organizer from St. Marc, Haiti)
What would it take to transform Haiti’s economy such that its role in the global economy is no longer that of providing cheap labor for sweatshops? What would it take for hunger to no longer be the norm, for the country no longer to depend on imports and hand-outs, and for Port-au-Prince’s slums no longer to contain 85% of the city’s residents?
The Haitian government has been largely silent since the January 12 earthquake. Publicly, that is. Who knows what officials are saying behind closed doors to international governments and other donors? Citizens don’t. They have heard from President René Préval about his personal losses from the quake – his shirts, his palace - but about little else, least of all about the substance of governmental plans for reconstruction.
This week – a full six weeks after the world-historic-level catastrophe – the Haitian government launched a post-disaster needs assessment (PDNA). The PDNA establishes working groups to assess damages and look at the macro-plan for reconstruction.
Some of the advice for how Haiti ought to rebuild after the earthquake sounds hauntingly familiar, echoing the same bad development advice that Haiti has received for decades -- even before the nation faced its current devastating situation. To avoid repeating the past failures, we would be wise to review how previous aid models led down the wrong path.
In 1997, Grassroots International released a research study entitled "Feeding Dependency, Starving Democracy: USAID Policies in Haiti." Offering an in-depth examination of USAID development policies in Haiti, the study concluded that, as the title suggests, official aid actually damaged the very aspects of Haitian society it was allegedly trying to fix – namely it created a lack of democracy and too much dependency.
CARE has been "helping" people in the Northwest for decades. But each year, the misery of the people of the Northwest increases. What is the real impact of this aid? To make people more dependent, more vulnerable, more on the margins?...The aid is not given in such a way as to give the people responsibility, to make them less dependent....This is what you call "commercializing" poverty....The people's misery should not be marketed.... - Samuel Madisten, Haitian Senator
The Chicago-based Goldin Institute has been in the forefront of providing research and consultative support to grassroots organizations around the world. They parther with local organizations such as Nijera Kori in Bangladesh -- that have long-established connections to grassroots organizations and movements -- in these efforts. Goldin's Kasia Paprocki recently posted a cautionary note via a blog on HuffPost on some of the solutions being proffered in the rebuilding efforts after the earthquake in Haiti.
Grassroots International ally Food First's executive director Eric Holt-Jimenez wrote recently -- on HuffPost -- on the long roots of the disaster in Haiti. His point about the "historic bleeding of Haiti's economy and the systematic undermining of its political institutions" being at the root of the disaster as much as the "tectonics that leveled Port-au-Prince" is right on the mark. Grassroots' partners and allies in Haiti have long struggled against that bleeding and undermining, and fought for better Haitian and international policies on agriculture, trade, and food that would sustain their people, and their land.