What Does Haiti Have to Show for $13 Billion in Earthquake Aid?

Tracy Connor, NBC News, January 12, 2015

Americans texted tens of millions of dollars in donations and governments gave billions, but five years after an earthquake left corpses and rubble piled across Haiti, 85,000 people still live in crude displacement camps and many more in deplorable conditions.

The disconnect between the massive amount of private and public aid and the poverty, disease and homelessness that still plague the country raises a question that critics say is too difficult to answer: Where did all that money go?

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Ninety-five percent of the 1.5 million people who were in camps in 2010 have been moved, but many of them are still not in permanent housing. At least 200,000 people are in new hillside slums, known as Canaan-Jerusalem, where there are wooden and tin homes but no running water, electricity or sanitation yet.

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In the immediate aftermath of the 7.0-magnitude quake, heart-rending images beamed in from the island to U.S. homes spurred Americans to open their wallets for victims in the poorest country in the Western hemisphere.

They gave $1.4 billion to relief and recovery efforts over the course of the next year, according to an analysis by the Chronicle of Philanthropy. Of that, $32 million alone came in the form of $10 text messages to the American Red Cross.

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The United Nations said that in total $13.34 billion has been earmarked for the crisis through 2020, though two years after the quake, less than half of that amount had actually been released, according to U.N. documents. The U.S. government has allocated $4 billion; $3 billion has already been spent, and the rest is dedicated to longer-term projects.

Some global development analysts say that the spending structure–with the vast majority of money being funneled through foreign contractors instead of the Haitian government or local outfits–has built-in inefficiencies, compounded by a lack of accountability and transparency.

The U.S. Agency for International Development, which oversees the aid program, says using experienced Beltway-based firms that could move quickly in the beginning was a necessity, but acknowledges that more should go to local entities. The new goal is to put 17 percent of funding in Haitian hands.

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The USAID list of expenditures includes: emergency food for 4 million, temporary shelter for 1.5 million, 2.7 million cubic meters of rubble removed, 600 classrooms created, construction of a power plant for a new U.S.-brokered factory park, support for 160 health clinics, funding to arrest a cholera outbreak that killed nearly 9,000, better technology for farmers, and the creation of permanent housing.

The housing program can hardly be branded a success, though. A government audit in 2013 found that USAID underestimated how much would be needed for settlements, ballooned the budget from $59 million to $97 million while cutting its goal from 15,000 houses to 2,649. It’s put up about 900 so far.

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In the meantime, there are still 85,000 people in displacement camps–half of which did not have latrines, according to a 2014 UN report.

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USAID also scrapped plans to build a new port in northeastern Haiti after delays mounted, projected costs skyrocketed, and it became apparent shippers would not use it–and, as the Miami Herald reported, after it spent $4.5 million on feasibility studies.

Audits of other contracts have also highlighted problems with small projects. A North Carolina company that was paid $12.9 million to develop a Creole-based school curriculum got poor grades from US AID’s inspector general, who noted that some team members didn’t even speak French.

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Then there’s the troubling case of Fugees rapper Wyclef Jean’s Yele Haiti charity, which took in $16 million in 2010 on the strength of his star-power, and spent more than $4 million on internal expenses like salaries, consultants, travel and office and warehouse expenses. Sean Penn’s J/P Haitian Relief Organization spent just 10 percent of its revenue on those kind of overhead costs.

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