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Kevin McCort


The Danger of High Expectations for International Aid

Posted: 02/07/2013 8:12 am

You may not know this, but beyond my role as president and CEO of CARE Canada I'm a bit of a hockey fan. I began playing recreational hockey a few years ago when my three kids started and was happy to see NHL players hit the ice again.

So, when I heard the country's leading hockey mouthpiece Don Cherry criticizing aid to Haiti, I must say, I felt kind of like my worlds were colliding.

The Coach's Corner star took to Twitter in early January to question how Canada could spend so much money on the earthquake-ravaged nation.

"Maybe it's just me. But Canada gave Haiti 49.5 million dollars last year. Are we nuts?" he wrote.
For more than two decades, the first week of February has been dubbed International Development Week.

It's a time when we're meant to reflect on what Canada is doing to help others around the world.

While Cherry's comments provoked much gnashing of teeth in the international development community, he does raise a pretty pertinent question: What is the value of Canada's contribution to international aid and development?

As someone who works in this field, my opinion is obviously quite biased. I've seen first-hand dramatic results throughout my more than 20 years at CARE Canada. While the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) seems to receive a lot of negative flack in the media, looking back on my career, CIDA has done a lot of good, which often gets ignored.

Regardless, the question of Canada's return on investment bubbles up every time we talk about international aid.

Part of the problem is the issue of false expectations. After a disaster such as the 2010 Haiti earthquake, organizations scramble to raise essential funds to help rebuild shattered infrastructure, supply clean water and food, and offer immediate, life-saving emergency assistance.

In our effort to meet these needs and raise awareness, celebrities, governments and organizations may inadvertently give the impression that a country devastated by a major disaster can be rebuilt in a few short years.

However, raising false expectations only breeds disillusionment in international aid, which harms our efforts to raise critical emergency funds the next time tragedy strikes. After all, a lot can happen to sideswipe development.

Returning to the Haiti example, the reconstruction effort has met no shortage of challenges. A cholera outbreak in October 2010 spread throughout the country, resulting in more than 490,000 cases and over 6,700 deaths.

The disaster-prone country has also suffered through no less than three hurricanes since the 2010 earthquake. The most recent, Hurricane Sandy, destroyed 42 per cent of Haiti's corn, 30 per cent of its rice and 20 per cent of its bean crop.

A recent column in the Hill Times noted that "Development is not a career for the impatient." A pretty accurate summation I would agree.

My colleagues and I who work in this field are routinely humbled by the sheer magnitude of what it is we're trying to accomplish. Organizations with years of experience in international development like CARE have learned to think the long game, not the short.

Indeed, there are wins along the way, but there are also losses. Nevertheless, development professionals have a stubborn persistence to fight through the losing streaks to accomplish their goal.

That's why, for example, there has been a 47 per cent drop in the number of women worldwide who died from complications in childbirth in the last two decades. Or a 41 per cent drop in the mortality rate of children under five in the same period.

In Haiti, the mortality rate for children under five fell from 143 deaths per 1,000 live births in 1990 down to 70 in 2010. Canada, in comparison, is just six deaths.

Progress, but there still remains a lot to be done. It's important we constantly assess our efforts along the way to continuously learn and improve.

You dig deep, quietly grind your way forward and, eventually, hoist the cup above your head.

Then you get back to work and look to do it again.

Kevin McCort is President and CEO of CARE Canada

Loading Slideshow...
  • Haiti: Two Years Later

    Photo taken on Jan. 5, 2012, shows the presidential palace of Haiti in Port-au-Prince, still unrepaired since it was damaged by a major earthquake on Jan. 12, 2010. (Kyodo / Landov)

  • Haiti: Two Years Later

    In this picture taken on Jan. 7, 2012, a youth walks inside the earthquake damaged Cathedral in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. As the hemisphere's poorest country marks the second anniversary of the earthquake that killed some 300,000 people, only about half of the $4.6 billion in promised aid has been spent, half a million people are still living in crowded camps and only four of the 10 largest projects funded by international donors have broken ground. (Dieu Nalio Chery, AP)

  • Haiti: Two Years Later

    In this photo taken Jan. 4, 2012 photo, a man displaced by the 2010 earthquake and offered money to relocate, salvages his belongings after authorities disassembled tents and shut down the camp near the airport, in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. More than half a million Haitias are still homeless, and many who have homes are worse off than before the Jan. 12, 2010 quake, as recovery bogs down under a political leadership that has been preoccupied with elections and their messy aftermath. (Dieu Nalio Chery, AP)

  • Haiti: Two Years Later

    In this Jan. 4, 2012 photo, Pirist Dugard, 31, places rock on a tarp covering his tent at a camp set up for people displaced by the 2010 earthquake, in what used to be an airstrip in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. (Dieu Nalio Chery, AP)

  • Haiti: Two Years Later

    In this picture taken on Jan. 9, 2012, workers stand at the construction site of homes being built for people displaced by the 2010 earthquake on the outskirts of Port-au-Prince, Haiti. (Dieu Nalio Chery, AP)

  • Haiti: Two Years Later

    A student passes by posters of victims of the Jan. 12, 2010 earthquake on Jan. 10, 2012 in Petion-ville , a suburb of Port-au-Prince. UN agencies said Tuesday that Haitians face many challenges on the second anniversary of the earthquake that killed more than 200,000 of their people, but those living in camps have dropped dramatically. (Thony Belizaire, AFP / Getty Images)

  • Haiti: Two Years Later

    A Haitian woman waiting for a taxi in Potau-Prince looks at earthquake damage on Jan. 9, 2012. According to the UN some 50 percent of the rubble left by the Jan. 12, 2010 earthquake still litters the Haitian capital. (Thony Belizaire, AFP / Getty Images)

  • Haiti: Two Years Later

    Saoudit Augustine, 7, and Clishnaika Pierre, 5, stand in Place de La Paix, an Internally displaced peoples (IDP) camp in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, which used to be a football field. (Niall Carson, PA)

  • Haiti: Two Years Later

    Construction takes place on new homes being built in Zorange, Haiti, Jan. 4, 2012. (Patrick Farrell Miami Herald / MCT Landov)

  • Haiti: Two Years Later

    Elianette Derilus tucks her prematurely born new baby daughter in the top of her dress in the maternity wing at the General Hospital in Port-au- Prince, Haiti, Jan. 4, 2012. (Patrick Farrell, Miami Herald / MCT / Landov)


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