The amount of money raised for Haiti earthquake relief has reached a staggeringly high $1.4 billion in less than one year from the United States alone. Everyone from celebrities to regular people held telethons, bake sales and dinner parties whose proceeds went to help Haiti earthquake victims.
A year later, people who opened their purse strings and wallets so generously are asking where the money went and how well was it spent. According to a survey by the Chronicle of Philanthropy of 60 major relief organizations, only 38 percent of that money has been spent to provide recovery and rebuilding aid. By comparison, in New Orleans, about 80 percent of the money raised for Hurricane Katrina victims has been spent.
Furthermore, only 63.6 percent of the money pledged for 2010 has been disbursed, according to the U.N special envoy for Haiti. The Haiti money train tends to take two different tracks. There is the money that was raised and donated shortly after the earthquake. That money has been spent on emergency relief efforts. And then there are billions pledged by foreign nations, most of which may not now be disbursed after all, according to many officials with knowledge of the process.
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Carleene Dei, director of the United States Agency for International Development told reporters in a January 7 conference call that there was a “lack of understanding” about the pace at which pledges from March’s donors conference could be met, referring to the UN conference where nations pledged more than $10 billion to help Haiti rebuild itself.
“A pledge is not a check,” she said. “A pledge has to be turned into legislation. Legislation has to be turned into plans. Plans have to be vetted and approved. And money has to be made available.”
While Dei did not point the fingers at any one entity for the shortcomings, many experts have criticized the Haitian government for not following up on the steps Dei outlined. With a lame duck president Rene Preval, whose term expires next month, there is little chance that Haiti will be in a position any time soon to mount any significant diplomatic and lobbying efforts necessary to turn pledges into cash.
Still, aid organizations said that they’ve made great strides in reducing the misery in Haiti and averted a greater catastrophe than the 300,000 deaths and 1.5 million homeless created by the earthquake. Throughout the week, scores of organizations have sent journalists press releases outlining their one-year achievements. Many others have held conference calls for reporters.
“Nobody can pretend that this has been a hugely successful humanitarian response,” said Paul Conneally, a spokesman for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies. “If anything, it demonstrates the limitations of humanitarian action.”
Organizations like the Red Cross have said that because of an ineffectual Haitian government they have had to play roles that they were ill equipped to fill. For instance, the Red Cross said that it has to essentially provide water and sanitation to the Metropolitan area of Port-au-Prince. But the Red Cross received more than $1 billion in donations after the earthquake, the largest response in its history.
UNICEF officials said last week that they have provided more than 11,000 latrines, serving more than 800,000 people. In addition some 360,000 insecticide-treated bed nets were distributed to more than 160,000 households in malaria endemic Southern coastal regions.
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“We have seen results in the past year, but significant gaps remain and much more must be done,” said Francoise Gruloons-Ackermans, UNICEF’s representative in Haiti. “Haiti poses huge institutional and systemic issues that predated the earthquake and that require more than an emergency response to resolved.”
According to Gruloos-Ackermans, four million children in Haiti still face inequitable access to water, sanitation, health care and protection from disease.
While the aid organizations were tampering their progress with a dose of reality, many Haitians say that part of the problems stem from the fact that projects are designed and implemented with little input from Haitian government officials or Haitians who know what’s going on on the ground. For instance, six weeks before the UN donors’ conference a group of more than 1,700 Haitian community organizers fanned across the country asking villagers and city dwellers what their hopes and aspirations for the development of their country. Most people said that they had a desire for self-determination and direct participation in the rebuilding effort after the earthquake.
“I’m working with a lot of sophisticated people but who have absolutely no notions of what this country is about,” Michelle Montas told Slate recently. Montas, who retired as UN Secretary General’s Ban Ki Moon press secretary came back to work with the UN as a special adviser with the UN mission in Haiti. Even she couldn’t convince the UN brass to incorporate Haitians in their decision making.
“I work at the U.N and every day I have to go to meetings. I”m the only Haitian there, and I have to tell them, ‘your perception is not right.’ I feel that is a lost battle.”