Haiti: US ramps up 'cash for work' to create jobs, help recovery

The United States and the United Nations are paying for thousands of new jobs to speed earthquake cleanup, put cash in people's pockets, and help the private sector recover.

By , Staff writer

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    USAID Cash-for-work program workers cleaning up rubble in the streets of Port-au-Prince, Haiti, stop to pose for a photo.
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    A USAID Cash-for-work program worker is shown cleaning up rubble in the streets of Port-au-Prince, Haiti.
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While relief efforts involving food, water, and health services continue in Haiti, the United States is also ramping up support for “cash for work” programs designed to get Haitians involved in earthquake clean-up, put cash in pockets, and help get Haiti’s private sector moving again.

The rapidly expanding jobs programs, primarily in the capital of Port-au-Prince so far, are “very important for both creating space to build latrines and also creating sites where people can settle in a more effective and sustainable way,” says Rajiv Shah, administrator of USAID, the US government’s principal relief and development agency. More long-term, he adds, the jobs will assist in “transitioning back to the private sector.”

So far the US, working with the Haitian government, has created 5,600 jobs. But that number grows to more than 50,000 when the efforts of the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) and several private relief organizations are added in.

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Paying jobs boost local markets

The number of jobs created through such programs is expected to top 100,000 by the end of the month. The “cash for work” programs are one of the best ways to feed families over the course of a natural-disaster relief effort, assistance experts say, because the programs put decision-making back with families and reactivates local markets.

“We’ve learned from experience that people prefer money to goods or food,” says Alexandros Yiannopoulos, a food security expert with Oxfam. “That way they can buy what they need, and who better to decide that than the people themselves?”

USAID’s Dr. Shah discussed the “cash for work” programs at a State Department briefing Tuesday afternoon where many questions focused on the 10 Americans being held in Haiti for trying to take 33 Haitian children across the border into the Dominican Republic without proper documentation.

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The Americans, who were affiliated with an Idaho Baptist church, were to appear before a Haitian judge. Haitian government officials have accused the arrested Americans of child-trafficking. The Americans claim they were trying to take Haitian orphans to better living conditions, but Haitian officials say at least some of the children are not orphans.

Cheryl Mills, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s special counselor on Haiti, said at the briefing that she expects the “very good relations with the Haitian government” on the issue of adoptions to continue, in part because the US government has been clear that it only condones the exit from Haiti of children who were “already in the pipeline” and were approved by both governments for adoption before the earthquake.

About 100 Haitian orphans currently fall into that category and “should be united with their American families,” she said. Other Haitian children “should not be removed at this time,” she added.

Jobs program expected to expand rapidly

On the jobs programs in Haiti, Shah said he expects them to expand considerably over the course of February.

UNDP officials in Haiti say they hope to see jobs created for 100,000 Haitians in the coming weeks. Slowing job creation was a lack of the materials workers need to do their jobs, including gloves, brooms, shovels, and wheelbarrows, says UNDP’s cash-for work program manager in Haiti, Abdullah Al-Laham.

An added advantage of such work programs, however, is that at their conclusion “all this material [the workers use to do their jobs] will be given to the poor and vulnerable to help sustain their livelihoods,” Mr. Al-Laham adds. Under the UNDP program, workers are paid $4.50 for a six-hour day, or the equivalent of Haiti’s minimum wage.

In the Port-au-Prince neighborhood of Delmas, a team of rubble collectors in bright yellow USAID t-shirts was busy shoveling streetside rubble into wheelbarrows so that traffic could move more easily.

“These young men are doing a little every day to help get our city going again after this terrible catastrophe,” said Carlo Lomynky, who was managing a group of 12 workers on a recent afternoon. “At the same time most of us lost everything, so this puts a little cash into their pockets and helps them get back on their feet.”

Howard LaFranchi reported this story from Port-au-Prince, Haiti, and Washington.

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