Carlos Barria / Reuters A couple builds a makeshift tent as dark clouds cover a tent camp in Cite Soleil in Port-au-Prince February 26, 2010. 

House Hunters

How Reconstruction in Haiti Went So Wrong

In the five years following the devastating 2010 earthquake that killed more than 200,000 and displaced nearly two million, approximately $13.5 billion in aid poured into Haiti. Yet many Haitians still lack access to suitable housing, clean water, and proper sanitation. The American Red Cross led U.S. fund-raising efforts. It hauled in nearly half a billion dollars, which it pledged to use for housing and long-term stability. But according to exposés by ProPublica and NPR, thanks to five years of mismanagement, the organization created a total of six permanent homes. 

The Red Cross debacle is appalling, but it is only a symptom of a larger problem: the lack of accountability in humanitarian assistance.

EXPOSED 

Criticisms about the Red Cross’ efforts in Haiti predated the exposé. In the immediate aftermath of the disaster, donors expected that their money would go toward meeting the population’s urgent needs. But Haitians and others have long lamented the slow pace of spending. One resident, Simone Charles, told reporters in 2010, "Today marks the sixteenth day that I have been here with the children. I am dying of hunger.” Although some funds were spent on emergency relief, part of the money continued to sit in general accounts or went toward eliminating the group’s $100 million deficit, or was earmarked for extended development projects. As former Red Cross board member Victoria Cummock told reporters in 2010, “That's not disaster relief, that's long-term recovery, and that's not the Red Cross' mission and not the donor intent either." 

A woman raises her arms for products as people loot from a destroyed shop after Tuesday's earthquake in Port-au-Prince, January 16, 2010.

A woman raises her arms for products as people loot from a destroyed shop after Tuesday's earthquake in Port-au-Prince, January 16, 2010.

For years, the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR), a Washington-based think tank, has meticulously chronicled the bungled post-earthquake aid efforts in its Haiti: Relief and Reconstruction Watch. The Red Cross claims it “helped 132,000 Haitians to live in safer conditions—ranging from providing temporary homes and rental subsidies to repaired and new homes” and helped 4.5 million Haitians get back on their feet, but CEPR’s blog criticizes the relief organization’s self-reporting as being plagued by a lack of transparency and accountability. Indeed,

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