Huge Sums Raised, Much Unspent, After Haiti Quake
MARY LOUISE KELLY, Host:
Six months ago, Haiti was rocked by a 7.0 earthquake that killed more than 200,000 people. It also left more than a million and a half homeless, and destroyed the capital, Port-au-Prince, and surrounding areas.
Lots of Americans gave generously to charities helping the Caribbean nation deal with the devastation - from elementary schools donating pennies to rock stars reuniting for a remake of the "We Are The World."
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WE ARE THE WORLD")
Unidentified People: (Singing) Like Katrina, Africa, Indonesia, and now Haiti - they need us, they need us. We are the world, we are the children, we are the ones who make a brighter day...
LOUISE KELLY: To date, Americans have phoned, texted and mailed in more than $1.3 billion. Much of the money was spent on immediate relief, but hundreds of millions of dollars remain in the coffers of nonprofits, such as the American Red Cross and Oxfam.
NPR's Carrie Kahn has been looking into the charitable outpouring for Haiti, and she joins us now. Hi, Carrie.
CARRIE KAHN: Hello. Good morning.
LOUISE KELLY: So obviously there's still a lot of work ahead in Haiti, but it sounds like the fundraising effort has to count as a success.
KAHN: Yes. The amount of money raised by American charities has been overwhelmingly deemed a success. The donations to Haiti almost equaled the money raised after the Asia tsunami of 2004. And remember, that money was distributed to several countries.
LOUISE KELLY: And I know you've been to Haiti four times since the quake, recently doing some reporting on whether these Americans charities are spending all that money wisely. Tell us what you found.
KAHN: Well, if you talk to the charities, they say they are spending their money wisely, of course. U.S. charities legally only have to account for their finances once a year, and that's at tax time.
So NPR producer Marisa PeÃ±aloza and I sent questionnaires to a dozen groups working in Haiti, including the Clinton/Bush Haiti Fund and Doctors Without Borders. And we asked them about their finances and projects, and their responses are at NPR.org.
And the response from Oxfam's spokeswoman in Haiti, Julie Schindall, was similar to what we heard from many aid groups.
JULIE SCHINDALL: I think the first six months' response has really been quite effective, because we're not seeing these mass deaths. We have had a huge disaster here. The people are surviving.
KAHN: And aid groups say there have been no major disease outbreaks. More than a million displaced Haitians have some sort of emergency shelter and access to clean water. And while in Haiti earlier this month we could see that progress. But there are still hundreds of thousands of people living in overcrowded camps, in tents and under tarps, a miserably hot and humid way to live as temperatures hit into the hundreds and rainy season is in full force.
So one thing that's most striking from what U.S. charities told us is that many groups still have substantial amounts of donations in the bank.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HALO")
BEYONCE: (Singing) I ain't never gonna shut you out...
KAHN: Remember that two-hour telethon sponsored by stars like George Clooney and with performances by Sting and Beyonce?
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HALO")
BEYONCE: (Singing) ...surrounded by your embrace. Haiti, I can see your halo. You know you're my saving grace...
KAHN: The Hope for Haiti Now telethon raised $66 million, yet it wasn't until last week that the charity announced it was disbursing the remaining $35 million.
And the American Red Cross, which received the lion's share of charitable donations, raised nearly half a billion dollars, but says it has only spent about a third.
Like most groups, the Red Cross said it wouldn't have been prudent to spend all their money in just six months, and they plan to be in Haiti for several years.
Peter Walker, director of the Feinstein International Center at Tufts, says that makes perfect sense.
PETER WALKER: The reality is, after a crisis like this, the ability of a country to absorb money and use it wisely really goes down.
KAHN: Disaster experts point to wasted and redundant spending during the 2004 tsunami. Walker says the scope of the disaster in Haiti, with more than 200,000 deaths and nearly all government offices destroyed, makes a quicker recovery impossible.
WALKER: Rebuilding in a country that's been devastated, to use that money wisely is actually quite difficult. If you think about it, a ministry has been destroyed. The people who would take decisions aren't there.
KAHN: The government, which wasn't strong even before the quake, has been criticized for hampering Haiti's recovery. Rubble removal is moving at a snail's pace and not enough land has been secured to build replacement housing.
Foreign charities won't publicly criticize the government, but like Oxfam's Julie Schindall, they discretely push the government to pick up the pace.
SCHINDALL: We want to see them there, we want to see them in the driver's seat, so to speak. And we know they're going to need help, but they have to take that position.
KAHN: While aid groups may not criticize the Haitian government, the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee has no problem doing so. In a scathing report issued last month, Democrat John Kerry blasted Haiti's leaders for not taking a stronger role in the recovery. And Kerry had harsh words for the foreign charities too, which he said need to better coordinate their efforts.
I spoke with Haiti's Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive at his residence in Port-au-Prince. He says he agrees with many points in the report.
JEAN: There is a total lack of coordination between themself and between themself and the government. We are improving, but it is very slow, and at the same time the problems are huge and there is a lot of frustration. I believe it's the best word to describe the situation.
KAHN: Bellerive says he's grateful for Americans' generosity, but he says the organizations distributing that money are too independent and some are not informing the government about what they're doing. As it stands now, many of the larger charities have more money at their disposal than some Haitian government agencies.
Donor countries pledged billions to Haiti but to date have yet to make good on those promises. So, as in the past, the cycle of aid in Haiti goes on. Important development projects are bypassing the cash-poor, inefficient government and instead are being financed by foreign charities.
Haiti's former prime minister, Michele Pierre-Louis, says her country cannot be run by aid groups.
MICHELE PIERRE: Nobody knows to whom they are accountable to - how the money is spent, where it's spent.
KAHN: Pierre-Louis, who runs her own nonprofit organization in Haiti, says there must be more transparency.
PIERRE: If you come to help, show us that you are really helping, that the Haitian people, especially the poor, the destitute, those that are - that most need this help are the ones really getting it.
KAHN: So there is a lot of finger-pointing going on in Haiti now. Meanwhile, the situation remains difficult, with so many people still living in terrible conditions.
LOUISE KELLY: Okay, Carrie. Fascinating report there, and I know tomorrow you're going to be back to tell us about the victims of this quake, who are caught in the middle of all this.
KAHN: Right. And we'll talk more about the bureaucratic snafus holding up plans to move thousands of these earthquake victims out of tents and to try and get them into more suitable housing.
LOUISE KELLY: Thank you, Carrie.
KAHN: You're welcome.
LOUISE KELLY: That's NPR's Carrie Kahn. And if you go to NPR.org, you'll find a breakdown of money raised and spent by a dozen U.S. charities now working in Haiti.
RENEE MONTAGNE, Host:
And in a ceremony yesterday marking the six months since the quake, Haiti's president pointed out some positives. Rene Preval noted that Haiti had not descended into widespread violence, as had been widely predicted, and that there had been no major outbreaks of disease. Preval was standing before the once-elegant, now collapsed presidential palace as he handed out medals of appreciation to aid groups and some big names who've kept a spotlight on Haiti, including Sean Penn and Bill Clinton.
Then came a torrential storm, which swept through a camp for the homeless outside the capital. Almost 100 tents collapsed in the wind and rain.
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