1/11/11 The Nation: Haiti: Where’s the Money?

Isabel Macdonald

January 11, 2011

The Nation Magazine

After a devastating earthquake killed more than 200,000 people in Haiti on January 12, 2010, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton warned that there could be dire consequences “if the effort to rebuild is slow or insufficient, if it is marked by conflict, lack of coordination, or lack of transparency.” At a March 31 UN conference, the international community pledged $5.3 billion dollars for 2010–11 to help Haiti “build back better,” with the United States pledging $1.15 billion.

Structurally unsafe and laced with formaldehyde, the “hurricane-proof” classroom trailers installed by the Clinton Foundation in Haiti came from the same company being sued for sickening Hurricane Katrina victims.

Yet excluding debt relief, the governments and international institutions that promised to help Haiti rebuild have disbursed just $1.28 billion of the pledges they made at the UN conference, according to the UN Office of the Special Envoy to Haiti. The United States has disbursed only $120 million of its pledge, according to Office of the Special Envoy’s most recent update.

Of the European Community’s pledge of $294 million for 2010-11, it had paid $97.2 million, or about a third, by December 2010. Canada, which was originally reported to have pledged $375 million for Haiti’s reconstruction, had disbursed only $55.3 million by December 2010. Meanwhile, France has delivered less than a quarter of the $30 million it pledged to the Haiti Reconstruction Fund, according to the fund’s website.

A scathing recent report by Oxfam found that “neither the Haitian state nor the international community is making significant progress in reconstruction,” and called this lack of progress “deeply disappointing.” The report, which cited donor governments’ slow progress on delivering on UN pledges, urged donors to “release funds promised at the New York conference in March 2010 and improve transparency related to pledges and disbursements.”

The private relief sector, which also made pledges at the UN conference, has also been slow in delivering aid to Haiti. Of the $1.4 billion private American donors gave charities to help Haitians after the earthquake, a Chronicle of Philanthropy survey of sixty major relief organizations published on January 6 showed that just 38 percent of the donations had been spent.

The Washington, DC–based American Red Cross (ARC) alone raised $479 million through its Haiti earthquake appeals. In an email to The Nation on January 11, ARC spokesperson Julie Sell stated that “We are now at about $200m spent.” But that’s less than half of what the organization raised. ARC projects that it will have signed contracts by the time of the anniversary of the January 12 quake to spend $78 million more. But for now, Sell says the remaining millions are being kept in “short-term, conservative government-backed investments. Any interest generated will be spent on Haiti,” she added.

Similarly, World Vision (which reports spending $107 million of the $194 million it raised through appeals to help Haitian earthquake survivors) is keeping unspent millions of Haiti donations in “low-risk investment accounts,” according to spokesperson Amy Parodi. She told The Nation that the organization plans to “re-invest” any interest accrued into World Vision’s Haiti response program.

Mark Weisbrot, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, has observed that such surpluses are particularly worrying when one considers that the UN was unable to raise $164 million with an emergency appeal to combat the spread of cholera. The disease is easily preventable when people have access to clean water and sanitation. But in the context of the slow pace of post-earthquake recovery, it has killed 2,100 and infected more than 93,000 in recent months.

“These organizations have been much too slow to spend their money from the beginning, and again with the cholera epidemic,” Weisbrot said. “When people donated money to these organizations in the aftermath of the earthquake, they weren’t donating money for some kind of long-term strategy, they wanted disaster relief: housing, clean water, disease prevention, clearing the rubble. Not saving the money for something else.”

Haiti relief and reconstruction efforts have also fallen short of the UN conference participants’ bold rhetoric about transparency and accountability. A recent survey by the Disaster Accountability Project reported on by the CEPR’s blog, Haiti Relief and Reconstruction Watch, found an alarming lack of transparency and accountability amongst the private charitable organizations that raised funds for earthquake relief and recovery.

Other discrepancies abound. For example, according to the Office of the Special Deputy Envoy to Haiti, the United States had originally made its pledge of 1.15 billion “for 2010.” However, the same fact sheet lists the US contribution of $120 million as “100 percent” of its pledge for 2010. As the document explained in a footnote, “In September 2010, the United States indicated that it intends to program the $1.15 billion in fiscal year 2011 (1 October 2010–30 September 2011). The Haiti pledge data set has been amended to reflect this change.” But Lee Bailey, the spokesperson for the Office of the Special Deputy Envoy to Haiti told The Nation in a telephone interview, “We do allow donors to change the pledge.”