How Haiti’s Aid Money Is Being Spent

Generous Americans donated $2 billion to Haitian earthquake relief. Host Scott Simon talks to NPR's Carrie Kahn, who is in Port au Prince to assess how those billions were spent and how much remains in aid groups' coffers.

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SCOTT SIMON, host:

The earthquake sparked a huge outpouring of donations to U.S. charities -nearly $2 billion. A lot of the money went to immediate relief, but complaints are growing that desperately needed funds have not been spent.

NPR's Carrie Kahn has been tracking charity spending in Haiti for the last year. She's at the U.N. Logistics Base, right next to the airport there in Port-au-Prince, and joins us.

Carrie, thanks for being with us.

CARRIE KAHN: Thanks for having me.

SIMON: We've just heard Jason Beaubien report that progress is - is mixed. You were in Haiti within hours of the earthquake. You've been back a number of times. What's your impression?

KAHN: I definitely agree with Jason, it is mixed. You do see progress. Before, huge buildings pancaked, leaning over sidewalks, leaning over other buildings, were everywhere in the city. But you can get through now. I was amazed when we were driving from the airport just recently - back roads are cleared. So you do see progress.

But then again, you know, you see hundreds of thousands of people still living in - I can't think of any other word but wretched - wretched camps, under tents. And I hate to tents because in some places all they are is a tarp and a few big sticks. And there are very few latrines. Fresh water is given in some of the camps but not in all.

So for the vast majority of people it's still a very difficult situation here.

SIMON: Now, the $2 billion that Americans donated privately to organizations, including the Red Cross or Oxfam USA, do we know how that money has been spent?

KAHN: We do to some degree. There is a question about the accountability of these organizations and their transparency. Americans were incredibly generous to Haiti. This is one of the largest recipients of international aid from private organization ever.

You know, the tsunami affected how many - many countries. This is a small country, which has received the largest amount of private donations. And the aid groups are accountable to their donors but you don't really get detailed accounts of what they do. A lot of them put out annual reports. We're getting a lot of those right now because it has been a year since the earthquake, and you get these aggregate numbers.

But one of the other big concerns is that when you look at the money spent, many of them are still holding on to a lot of money. If you look at the American Red Cross, which got the lion's share of the generosity of U.S. donors, they raised a half a billion dollars, they still have half of that in the bank.

SIMON: And why is the money still in bank accounts?

KAHN: They says it would have been very irresponsible of them to just come in and spend so much money so quickly, and that they are determined to engage in long-term recovery for people.

SIMON: There's been some criticism within the charitable community too, hasn't there been, about the pace of recovery in Haiti?

KAHN: Yes, and that's what's most surprising. You usually don't hear international aid groups criticizing one another. Oxfam just came out with a very strongly-worded report of what they felt was a slow pace of recovery here in this last year. And they highlighted some of the people that they felt were to blame. Mostly they said it was inaction by the Haitian government and not enough coordination happening.

But Doctors Without Borders also came out with a strong condemnation of the lack of coordination between humanitarian groups.

SIMON: Does Doctors Without Borders, or any of the other groups or(ph) - who've been criticized, a lack of coordination - nominate any organization or group to do that, seeing as how there's at the moment not really a responsible government?

KAHN: I asked that exact question to one of the lead U.N. officials here. There is not one entity that can take such a strong-hand role. The government does not have the capacity to do it. And the U.N. cannot take that role - it's not their mission.

So it's frustrating, but this is the way humanitarian aid is run.

SIMON: NPR's Carrie Kahn in Port-au-Prince, thanks so much.

KAHN: You're very welcome. Thanks for having me.

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