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Consultation with the Global NGO Community on Building Back Better in Haiti

New York University, 25 March 2010

PRESIDENT CLINTON: Thank you very much, Paul. Ladies and gentlemen, I am honored to be here.

I should start by thanking my friend Paul Farmer for agreeing to become my Deputy Special Envoy to Haiti at the UN, and for making a specific commitment to try to do in Haiti what we did, with our two Foundations in Rwanda. We want to try to build Haitians the first comprehensive health care system they’ve ever had. I’d like to thank the EU Commissioner Georgieva, thank you very much for being here. I want to thank Sam Worthington, the President and CEO of InterAction, I’ve worked and with him lot since I’ve been in this UN job which goes back about a year before the earthquake. And I’d like to thank the EU NGO representative, Bénédicte Hermelin, for coming. And I want to express my gratitude to New York University for letting us have the meeting, here.

I have some very specific points I want to make, but I want to put my glasses on so I don’t forget to make some points. [Inaudible] and it is a major respect for the role that I think you have to have, if we are going to succeed.

I’d like to begin by telling you a story. When Paul and I took our first trip to Haiti after the earthquake, we filled an airplane full of very specific medicines and other supplies designed to fully activate the biggest hospital in the country so that they could operate around the clock and they had pain medication and [inaudible]. When we were driving up from the hospital, Prime Minister Bellerive and I were together, and we drove around the Presidential Palace, which is in ruins and we drove by the ruins of the Finance Ministry and the Health Ministry. I’ve been going there a long time, so I said to Bellerive, “God, you know those buildings were so beautiful.” I wanted to see what he’d say. Unprompted, he said, “Yes, they were very beautiful, but I really don’t think we should build them back. I think everything we do from this day forward should be about the country we wish to become not the country we used to be.” I took that as a hopeful sign, but one that imposes, on all of us, new expectations and new responsibilities. This meeting comes just before the UN Donors Conference on Haiti next week, where governments from around the world will make new commitments to assist in the recovery and the construction of Haiti. The plan that the Haitians will formalize, and I’ve already seen several drafts of it, is pretty much finished. The plan will require financial, physical, intellectual, and inspirational support from all corners: from governments, multilaterals, the Haitian Diaspora, investors, NGOs, and every element of Haitian society.

We know that the people in this room represent the vast majority of NGO activity in Haiti, and I thank you for what you have been doing for a long time. I thank you for the contributions you’ve made to provide decent jobs, better health care, education and housing; and in particular, those of you who have been involved in constructing buildings that will last through the next earthquake or hurricane. We’ve seen pockets of success in different parts of the country with which most of you are familiar.

I hope we can all find a way to contribute going forward, and I can be on the other side of the podium because my Foundation also works in Haiti through our Clinton Health Access Initiative. First we went there when Paul Farmer served as my translator when we announced our AIDS involvement and now, since the earthquake, we’ve been involved helping the Haitian Government develop plans and training programs to reconstitute its health care system. Everything I say about you applies equally to me and my Foundation.

If it is true that Haiti has made a decision that they want to build a truly independent, self-sustained modern country worthy of their people for the first time. And they genuinely are going to welcome the Diaspora in the decision making process, in a way that has never been faced before. And the elements of Haitian society that have been too long overlooked and left out of the decision making are making their way into it to a greater degree than ever before. Then we have to ask ourselves how should that change what NGOs do in Haiti?

Haiti, at one time or another, has had over 10,000 NGOs either Haitian or international active there. That is, on a per capita basis, more than any country in the world except India. An enormous amount of the money spent there and the people employed there are the work of a substantially smaller number, Haitian and international NGOs. Yet, all of them have a contribution to make.

I believe, since Hillary and I first went to Haiti in December of 1975, that the country has the best chance in my life time to achieve this objective: to build a modern, self-sustained state. I believe that because of the quality of the leaders even though many of the Ministries have been hollowed out by the earthquake. I believe that because of the commitment of the people and because of people like you.

What this means is that we have to think about our roles in a different way and how we will play them in this reconstruction process. If the Haitian people are dedicated to building back better, than we have to be committed to doing better. To ensure our efforts lead to a Haiti that is described in their strategic plan: increasing their capacity and, eventually, decreasing our role because the need for us will decrease -- that won’t be easy -- we’ll have to challenge ourselves and our donors. We’ll have to be willing to measure our success as well as the failures and measure the efforts of the leaders and people of Haiti. This is what we did in South Asia after the tsunami, I know it can be done.

In some ways, the challenges here are much more formidable because it is a national capital, and the surrounding area that has been affected is a big percentage of the country’s GDP. Based on the work I did in the hardest hit area in Aceh, they had a big challenge because Indonesia is a much bigger country, and it had a more entrenched culture of corruption than Haiti’s harshest critics claim it has.

I have met with many of you since the earthquake and others over the years. I know that a lot of you are already doing the right thing in terms of hiring local staff, consulting with your government counterpart, constructing your programs with Haiti’s people in mind. We have to go further to fulfill the drain [inaudible] Haiti’s plan. Every time we spend a dollar in Haiti from now on we have to ask ourselves, does this have a long term return? Are we helping them to become more self sufficient? Are we building infrastructure and local development plans? Are we creating local jobs, are we paying salaries for teachers, doctors, nurses, police, civil servants? Are we giving money to support government agencies that provide those services? If we are not permitted to do it now, can we ask for permission from our donors and boards and get it directly in salaries or in other kinds of support and training. In short, are we serious about working ourselves out of a job?

I think it’s interesting that it appears that the government of Haiti has embraced and will announce a model for reconstruction very much like what was done in the tsunami area, but their goal is to become more like Rwanda. It is very interesting that Rwandans believe that they can be free of international assistance entirely by 2020. If it seems totally impossible, let me just remind you that four years after the genocide, in 1998, when I went there and apologized to them for not doing more to stop it, their per capita income was $268 a year. In 2008, their per capita income was $1,150 a year. They quadrupled their income in a decade. There are a lot of NGOs in Rwanda, it’s easy to work there, everybody registers with the government, they all work on a common plan but nobody feels that they are not welcome -- it’s astonishing what can happen.

What do we have to do to help this process and fulfill our core missions to help the people we are trying to help?

First, we have to align our resources with the development plan that the Haitian government will reveal either at the Donors Conference or before. A rough draft has already been given to the donors, they had a conference for Ministers and staff people in the Dominican Republic. I ask you all to make every effort to align your programs with that assessment. And to ensure there is no unnecessary overlap of funding, either in function or geography. It’s a big country, we have a lot to do.

You heard a presentation today, from the government of Haiti and I hope you will take it to heart. The government needs information, resources and decision making authority. It also needs a budget that enables it to leverage sustained services for the people. As a first step, if you can, I ask you to support the government in expanding its capacity. Luckily none of the Ministers were killed although several lost family members. But an enormous number of gifted, young Haitians who worked in those Ministries were killed. They have no way to generate anything like the revenues necessary to pay for people who lived much less start re-hiring. I have already taken some of the money I’ve raised to do that and I urge you to do it if you can. The government donors will have to do the lion’s share of the work but based on what I see happening, it is unlikely that they will give as much as should be done. If a multi-donor trust fund is set up, I will personally urge you to support that [inaudible] that some of that money go to direct support for the Haitian government -- but we need all hands on deck.

I also encourage you to think about whether all of us could, for the next year or two, just have a formula. They’ve got to raise $250 million in this financial year. A lot of that money will have to come from governments, but then we’ll have to do it again next year and they’ll have to hire more people. And I urge you to think about whether all of us can take ten percent of the money we’re going to spent in Haiti and either allocate it to the government, or pay salaries, or provide specific technical support or training for new hires so that we can get their capacity back better.

I also urge you to work with local communities and grassroots organizations, helping staff and local religious leaders to identify whether, given the new plan, you should sharpen the focus of your aid. If you represent faith-based NGOs, I hope you’ll encourage them to reach out to Haitian religious leaders. I had a fascinating meeting, a couple of days ago in Haiti, with a Catholic leader, an Evangelical leader, an Episcopal leader and the leader of Voodoo in Haiti, who sat around and talked and had a little bit of spat about the fights they’ve been having. That lasted about three minutes, all the rest was what are we going to do, and how can we do it together.

You might think that we’re not going to be able to do this because Haiti can’t absorb this amount of aid. You can help increase the absorptive capacity. One thing we know is that these people are incredibly resilient. Contrary to all the fears in the aftermath of the earthquake, living under unimaginably awful circumstances; where the first nights were spent by people wandering around in the total dark, tripping over bodies dead and alive. All these predictions that there would be chaos, calamity, riots didn’t come to pass. Even now, when security is a genuine issue and gender-based violence is a genuine issue in a lot of these camps, there is not substantial proof yet that it’s any worse than it was before. Now everybody is concentrated, and we have a responsibility to try to do something about it. But again, these are capacity issues that can be addressed. Second, it’s important to support the Government’s emphasis on decentralization of the public institutions and the rebuilding of the public sector. Seventy percent of Haitians live outside of Port-au-Prince. The capital was decimated but most of Haiti lives like it did before January 12. That area of Haiti has a lot more people than it used to have, between six and seven hundred thousand people. We cannot delay activities in these parts. Depending on what your area of expertise is, you may be able to do more good for the country by doing something there than by doing something in the quake-affected areas.

Two years during the Clinton Global initiative, in September of ‘09 and ‘08, we had special programs devoted to Haiti. We received over a hundred million dollars in commitments in NGO activities but also in private investment activities. I brought all those people together again with the help of Denis O’Brien, who coordinated with me, and everyone of them reaffirmed their commitment to do what they said they would do. I said, “If your commitment was outside of Port-au-Prince, do it sooner rather than later, do it now. We need to wave the flag here and show some progress outside the quake-affected area.”

Yesterday, I was on the phone trying to close the arrangements of some investors to meet with Haitian officials so we can build a couple of hotels along the northern coast of Haiti, near Labadee, to put thousands of people to work. They need it more than before because they have all these people pouring in from the quake-affected area. For too long Haiti has revolved around its capital city rather than just being supported by it. In a recent series of consultations held across the ten departments in rural Haiti with the UN in Haiti and my UN Office of the Special Envoy, people everywhere said they wanted to be involved in the process of decentralization. They wanted more responsibility for the work that was being done and the decision making that needed to be forthcoming. And [inaudible] a required change in mind set by them, but they say this is what they want to do. When I talked to President Préval, the day before yesterday, if he spoke to me about decentralization one time, he said it five times. This is a really good thing that the government wants a plan that everybody is a part of. It wants to operationalize that plan and define it and flush it out in a more decentralized way that empowers Haitians at the grassroots level, and therefore, will empower NGOs operating with them at that level, that’s really important.

The third thing is, that as we want to ensure transparency in how international funds are spend there by the EU and the United States and the multilaterals, we should participate in the transparency movement as well. I know that most of you care a great deal about this. I have asked our staff to design a transparency system based on what we did in the tsunami countries. When it was over and done, because of the way Indonesia organized their reconstruction program, and the extraordinary man who headed it, Pak Kuntoro; and because of the simple website accounting of transparency nobody in the world criticized the program there and all the money that flowed into it as being affected by corruption, incompetence or anything else. It was there for everyone to see. Now, this is really important. If you believe we ought to have transparency, and you want it to work, I think that it’s important to participate.

The Haitian government has a registry of NGOs, only 550 NGOs are registered with it. If you have any problem, if anybody ever comes after you, I’ll take care of them. This is not the issue. We ought to do it, it works. In Rwanda most people I know who have NGOs there, including ours and Paul’s, we literally opened hospitals in every region of the country and build clinics and other stuff. We are more efficient because we all are coordinated and we are registered. I urge you to do that. Sharing your information with the government is key, especially in Haiti because NGOs control 65 percent of all the donor contributions in Haiti and in some sectors there is more NGO than government funds. In addition, we set up a web portal, with the help of the IDB, to try to register all the NGOs and to provide a central database for everyone working there. It’s at If you haven’t already done so, I hope you’ll go to the portal, sign in, introduce yourself and find out what everybody else is doing.

The financial tracking system is also at It’s a joint initiative of the UNDP, the government of Haiti, Synergy, and Development Gateway. Soon it will provide the information on how much money has been committed by public sources, national and international donors, and how much has been given and how it’s been spent. I hope that all of you will participate in that as well. It worked like a charm in Indonesia where they told you, you could never run an operation of that size without sustained corruption and they were wrong. The people of Indonesia knew where every last penny was spent to benefit building back better, all we had to do is have a transparent system that you and the press could check that was updated twice a month and everybody followed the money around. The same is true in other countries as well. I implore you to participate in this. We know that there’s going to be at least a billion dollars of NGO money flowing through Haiti and probably more before we finish.

Fourth, I hope you too will make local participation in job creation a key priority in all your programs, including on-the-job training. When you give contracts, I hope you give them to local companies whenever you possibly can. If the local companies do not exist, I hope you think about creating some incentives to start them. I am doing the same thing. I am trying to figure out how we can set up a fund that can finance the start up of local companies to do things that anybody can do if there were such units in Haiti. The multiplier effect of this will be quite staggering. If you’re running a school and you have curricular, I think Haitian educators ought to be involved. If you have to build structures or require an architect, you ought to look for a Haitian architect. The same thing is true in health care, and Dr. Farmer can give his testimonials about that.

I’ve had two meetings since the earthquake working with leaders of the Diaspora organizations. One of the things they are considering doing is trying to partner with public agencies wherever someone was killed, or there is a big gap in the technical knowledge or skills, try to provide members of the Diaspora to go there and work for a while and train. We are going to try to set up a rotational system, so that we can cover their cost. One problem is, most of these people [inaudible] successful professional, are not [inaudible]. It’s not as if they can overlook their homework or their college tuition payments or whatever they have to do, to go and work. So I am trying to work through that but I think it’s really important.

I’m working on this now and we should, wherever possible, try to support the decentralization process and the middle to larger communities with community funds and foundations that are governed locally and have some funds at their disposal to allocate. The community foundation model has been very successful around the world and we haven’t done it in Haiti, but we should. If I can help, I’ll be glad to do so.

Just, to give you one example. The UNDP is working on its cash for work program, to date it employs about 70,000 people, many of them women. Providing jobs, training and entrepreneurial opportunities for women is one way out of poverty for once poor countries. I do think it’s interesting that the only country in the world that has a women majority in parliament is Rwanda. Fifty-six percent of the national parliament is female.

When I was in Haiti this week, I met with ten of the designated leaders of the settlement communities and they were all immensely impressive. Four of them I wanted to hire on the spot. They were intelligent, articulate, knew what was going on in the camps, didn’t make outrageous claims, and were very specific about what they wanted done. They created these structure services spontaneously. They are very worried about security issues, as they should be, and some other issues and they didn’t have the mechanisms to deal. So, I appointed someone with the UN in Haiti and they all exchanged their cell phone numbers and they promised, both sides, that they would meet or talk at least once a week from now as long as those settlements existed. We’re getting somebody from the government of Haiti to do the same thing.

I have met with the leaders of a lot of the women’s organizations of Haiti, and the Minister of Gender Affairs at this meeting, and they said that their number one concern at the time was security in the camps because it’s so dark at night. We got 58 solar lamps that light up the foot path and let local people decide where these could be distributed. I want to get some more, I am sort of alone in that. A lot of my colleagues think it’s crazy because they are so expensive. But the point is, as soon as we clean the place up they can be used economically to light the streets in cities in ways the [inaudible]. All these investments were short term. We’ve now delivered over 9,000 and have over more than 13,000 flash lights that are LED lights and have six different settings, they can be hung inside homes to provide opportunities to work or read, and let students to study at night. They can be hung in the camps to provide the same kind of light as long as there is some kind of [inaudible] people will live through it, but we’ve got to look for creative ways to try to create a structure.

One of the things I want to try to do is to provide some more money to hire more police officers to be in the camps at night, to be there around the clock because there is this whole history of gender violence in Haiti that the camps create a [inaudible] you’ve got so many people packed in, in physically difficult positions, without jobs and other things to occupy their time and attention. But we can do this.

There are some emergency needs that we have to meet while thinking about the long-term plan and what we’re going to do about it. First, the government of Haiti, last week, finally took three parcels of land by eminent domain on higher land so that we can move the 20,000 to 40,000 people in imminent risk of serious physical harm or death in the event of heavy rains or hurricanes. So, we can move out 20,000 to 40,000 people. I realize that that creates a dilemma for a lot of you who’ve been working there because you don’t want to move people until you know they’ve got at least a level of services where they’re going, that they have where they are -- it’s a problem. There are 20,000 to 40,000 people that can die if the heavy rains come where they are now. If they die, our concern about the future of the services they were going to get two weeks from now while we held them there won’t sound very good. We are going to have to make this up as we go along. There will be some shortcomings, there’ll be some problems, but I am pleading with you, if you can do anything about this, let’s go make the perfect ending good now. We’ve got to get these people out of there. They’re in place where their lives are at risk and there is no way that this is all going to be done by some centralized system. You know it and I know it the plans got to work. Right now we’ve got to get the show on the road and anything you can do to help us move to this new land, you should.

Whatever momentary inconvenience these people experience may be offset with the fact that the government of Haiti wants to decentralize and decompress Port-au-Prince itself. They intend to use the two sites that are near Port-au-Prince as permanent developments, where they’ll have housing and neighborhoods and other things. And, the people that are living there may wind up with some plan to whatever housing is available there if they can’t go back to their old neighborhoods. I’ve studied the weather reports, I’ve studied the past rainy seasons. Nobody knows what the weather is going to do, maybe we’ll catch a huge break. But every day we leave people in a low camp at risk of flooding that we don’t have to, is a day we put their lives at risk. That’s more important than not having the services. You call me if you don’t have the services, call me and I’ll do something, we’ll figure out something good, but we have got to do this.

If you get the people out of the really watery places, you minimize the risk that our sanitation shortages create for water-borne illnesses: cholera, dysentery, and diarrhea. You minimize it because there won’t be as many kids stepping in foul water. And that’s my stay-awake-at-night, worried over the medium term. Third, we still have a serious sanitation shortage, as I’m sure a lot of you know. We can hire people to take care of this, there’s still some problems in the whole chain of the management of the waste but just getting sanitary facilities up is important. I know how hard this is, because one of the things I learnt when this occurred is, we immediately turned to the World Food Programme which had 68 tons of food prepositioned in El Salvador. And they did a great job of getting it out, with no trucks, no roads, nothing --they did the best they could. They asked for 100 trucks and we sent them and we’ve received more just recently.

When this crisis struck there was no reserved production capacity that we could find anywhere in the world to immediately produce emergency sanitation facilities. There ought to be reserve capacity too, in compost toilets alone. If we had had it, we could have figured out how to store already treated waste and then created a whole new industry in organic fertilizer and given it to the farmers for their first year instead of what we’re doing now, which is searching around the world for the best prices we can get for fertilizer. We don’t want to cry over spilt milk in hindsight. I’ll try to fix it for the next disaster. My Foundation provided 3,000 sanitary units. I want to compliment those of you who’ve been involved in this, a lot of NGOs had to learn how to properly dig trenches for the first time. That’s just the first step, even that requires some more support, as all of you know. Anything you can do on that I would appreciate.

There are two other things. I believe, and the Chief Engineer there on the ground for the United States military believes, that all the encampments that are in places that typically get high winds, but won’t flood out, are at risk if we get hurricanes. What I have been doing for a month now, is figuring out how to organize, at least one hurricane resistant, big, open structure in every camp of any size, which in the interim can be used as a clinic, and as a school. But there needs to be one big, or two or three big things, that if a hurricane came along, God forbid, we could go cramp people in. The government of Haiti didn’t think much about this because Haiti’s hurricane losses are normally like Katrina in America, and unlike our usual hurricane losses. Our hurricane losses in America are 85 percent from the land, 15 percent from water. Katrina was the reverse because of what happened at the levees, and so is Haiti. They’ve tried to fix the water problem and it won’t be as bad this year in a lot of places. Gonaïves is much better protected than it was before because of the trenching and banking that has been done, but they’ve never had this many people in tents and tarps. And I’m telling you, I went through this [inaudible] one place that I saw, a 40 mile an hour wind will blow down a lot of those places. And if you have a fragile elderly person or a little baby there, people can be killed in circumstances where the rest of you could stand up in the wind -- that’s not to say what would happen if the winds blow further. So, if you have the capacity to do this or if you have an idea, I have collected a zillion designs and we’re trying to source them all, see what it would cost and how quickly we can do it. I’ve got the engineers and the army working on it, but I think this is a problem. You should know that not everybody does, but I do, because we have had no stress test on all these tents and tarp. We have no idea what kind of winds they will hold up.

And finally, if any of you have any other ideas about anything we can do to protect the women and children in those places at night apart from what we are trying to do: get more lighting, hire more people. At the request of camp leaders, they asked me to get 30 thousand distinctively colored t-shirts that they can give to self proclaimed security personnel within the encampments. They will then make sure they have the lights, they have the training and they’ll work around the clock. It sounds simple, but the shirts are being delivered this week and I think they’ll make a big difference. Just on the off chance, I’ve ordered 30 thousand more. They’re picking the people, they’re training, they’re doing whatever needs to be done. All this is being done totally decentralized. It would help if you have any other ideas, any suggestions for me that we can do on the security, I’d really like to know. I’m worried that because it’s a problem, even though it’s a problem that Haiti had before, this is one of the things that can dampen the order of supporters around the world to continue this project to fruition.

The most important thing is, we need to join the government of Haiti in greater transparency, greater responsiveness to the plan and recognizing that we want to be partners. God only knows how many people wouldn’t be alive today, had it not been for the efforts of the NGOs or the [inaudible], and we need it more than ever. But we’re being asked to do something we have never really been asked to do before. And that is to work with a country and a government that shares our aspirations if we share theirs. And, eventually, for a lot of us to work ourselves out of a job. I wouldn’t worry about it if I were you, because if we do it there’ll be someplace else that would need us.

Thank you very much.