Where did all the Haiti relief money go?

13/01/2011 12:15

Carleene Dei, director of the United States Agency for International Development told reporters in a January 7 conference call that there was a "lack of understanding" about the pace at which pledges from March's donors conference could be met, referring to the UN conference where nations pledged more than $10 billion to help Haiti rebuild itself.

"A pledge is not a check," she said. "A pledge has to be turned into legislation. Legislation has to be turned into plans. Plans have to be vetted and approved. And money has to be made available."

While Dei did not point the fingers at any one entity for the shortcomings, many experts have criticized the Haitian government for not following up on the steps Dei outlined. With a lame duck president Rene Preval, whose term expires next month, there is little chance that Haiti will be in a position any time soon to mount any significant diplomatic and lobbying efforts necessary to turn pledges into cash.

Still, aid organizations said that they've made great strides in reducing the misery in Haiti and averted a greater catastrophe than the 300,000 deaths and 1.5 million homeless created by the earthquake. Throughout the week, scores of organizations have sent journalists press releases outlining their one-year achievements. Many others have held conference calls for reporters.

"Nobody can pretend that this has been a hugely successful humanitarian response," said Paul Conneally, a spokesman for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies. "If anything, it demonstrates the limitations of humanitarian action."

"We have seen results in the past year, but significant gaps remain and much more must be done," said Francoise Gruloons-Ackermans, UNICEF's representative in Haiti. "Haiti poses huge institutional and systemic issues that predated the earthquake and that require more than an emergency response to resolved."

According to Gruloos-Ackermans, four million children in Haiti still face inequitable access to water, sanitation, health care and protection from disease.

While the aid organizations were tampering their progress with a dose of reality, many Haitians say that part of the problems stem from the fact that projects are designed and implemented with little input from Haitian government officials or Haitians who know what's going on on the ground. For instance, six weeks before the UN donors' conference a group of more than 1,700 Haitian community organizers fanned across the country asking villagers and city dwellers what their hopes and aspirations for the development of their country. Most people said that they had a desire for self-determination and direct participation in the rebuilding effort after the earthquake.

"I'm working with a lot of sophisticated people but who have absolutely no notions of what this country is about," Michelle Montas told Slate recently. Montas, who retired as UN Secretary General's Ban Ki Moon press secretary came back to work with the UN as a special adviser with the UN mission in Haiti. Even she couldn't convince the UN brass to incorporate Haitians in their decision making.

"I work at the U.N and every day I have to go to meetings. I"m the only Haitian there, and I have to tell them, 'your perception is not right.' I feel that is a lost battle."

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