Nine months after Hurricane Maria, recovery has been slower for Puerto Rico residents, and even more so for those in the outskirts. Many still do not have access to electricity. Locals we had the chance to speak with point to corruption as the culprit. I was wondering whether something more was amiss – lack of proper disaster recovery and rehabilitation planning and coordination both on the part of the government and civil society, perhaps?
Before coming to the US, I led a 12-member research team to evaluate our government’s million-dollar rehabilitation and recovery program post-Haiyan through community-driven development programs. Our main finding – it was a total disaster! The goal was to Build Back Better. Yet after all the resources that have poured in and years later, the locals have not been able to rebuild their lives and their communities through these government programs. The failure was compounded by a number of factors – corruption, a patron-client culture, and lack of capacity. But also key was the power dynamics between the donors and the project implementers and the lack of ownership over the programs. We found that many of the projects were driven by deadlines, and ended up being rushed so that the local government and NGOs could deliver, not positive impact, but numbers. Those living in the outskirts, those difficult to reach, were bypassed. Because trying to reach them would take a longer time, and staff had a deadline.
The business-as-usual and value-for-money approach do not lead to sustainable results. We have to do development differently.