Haiti Earthquake Anniversary: Little Progress, Broken Promises

NEW YORK -- It's been almost a year since a catastrophic earthquake killed more than 230,000 people and left more than a million homeless in Haiti. But from the slums of Port-au-Prince to the rural Central Plateau, this impoverished country continues to suffer -- buffeted by Hurricane Tomas in November, a cholera epidemic that left over 3,600 dead and the violent chaos of political stalemate.

Though countries around the world promised billions of dollars in aid and nonprofit organizations raised hundreds of millions in the weeks after the disaster, many have not delivered on their promises and crucial funds have been misspent. In the last year, Americans gave more than $1.4 billion to relief aid to the country, but only 38 percent of that has been spent to provide recovery and rebuilding aid, according to a Chronicle of Philanthropy survey of 60 major relief organizations. (By comparison, after Hurricane Katrina, a domestic disaster, charities spent about 80 percent of the money they had raised.)

The Huffington Post contacted each of the organizations to find out how they have spent the money raised for Haiti relief -

This week, a leading international charity slammed the relief effort as a "quagmire", sharply criticizing the recovery commission chaired by former U.S. President Bill Clinton, saying that the much-praised panel "failed to live up to its mandate." And some problems have worsened -- rape is prevalent in Haiti's tent camps that were set up all over the country in the wake of the earthquake, according to a report by Amnesty International, which interviewed more than 50 victims of sexual violence.

Soon after the earthquake, leaders from around the world gathered in New York for a donors conference in March, pledging almost $6 billion in aid for 2010-'11. "Today, the international community has come together, dramatically, in solidarity with Haiti and its people," United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in his closing remarks at the conference. "Today, we have mobilized to give Haiti and its people what they need most: hope for a new future. We have made a good start, we need now to deliver."

Nine months later, however, the results have been disappointing. Only 63.6 percent of the money pledged for 2010 was actually disbursed, according to the Office of the U.N. Special Envoy for Haiti, and some countries have reneged on their promises, sending less than 1 percent of the amount they pledged to spend on aid. U.N. peacekeepers from Nepal have been blamed for causing the cholera outbreak by dumping human waste into a river used by locals as a water source. (While the U.N. has called for an independent probe of the outbreak, French epidemiologist Renaud Piarroux concluded that the disease was brought into Haiti by outsiders, stating, "There is no other possible explanation for the emergence of the epidemic in a country where it was absent."

But the world seems to have turned its attention elsewhere. The U.N. made a $174-million emergency appeal to help stem the cholera epidemic, but has only raised 20 percent of that.

Speaking on the phone from Haiti, Julie Schindall, a staffer with the antipoverty organization Oxfam International, was emphatic in her outrage. "Big promises were made and there was very little follow-through, that's very typical of how things work in Haiti," she told The Huffington Post. "People are dying because promises are not being kept."

Schindall, who has been helping with water sanitation and hygiene efforts as part of the emergency cholera response, acknowledged that such relief work is difficult and complicated after any disaster, let alone in a poor country like Haiti with a dismal infrastructure and ineffective government. She said that Oxfam has spent $68 million out of $98 million raised so far, providing emergency aid to roughly a million people.

"One year on, progress is not as we had hoped. We knew that it would be difficult, but there were some tangible steps that could have been done," she said, citing the failure of many NGOs to include Haitians and their government in planning decisions. "We can't leave these people hanging in the balance and dependent on emergency aid. We have to get them back on their feet and living their lives again."

An Oxfam report report released Thursday painted a bleak picture of the situation on the ground.

"As Haitians prepare for the first anniversary of the earthquake, close to one million people are reportedly still displaced," the report said. "Less than 5 percent of the rubble has been cleared, only 15 percent of the temporary housing that is needed has been built and relatively few permanent water and sanitation facilities have been constructed."

The report took particular aim at the Clinton-led Interim Haiti Recovery Commission, which is meant to coordinate relief action between international donors and the Haitian government. Concluding that the IHRC, which has only met a few times, has failed in that mission, Oxfam blasted the commission for not doing more to include Haitian ministries and people in the process.

As an example of the IHRC's aloofness, the Oxfam report claimed it often sends out documentation printed in English to people in the French-speaking country. The commission's action plan was not supported by more than 80 percent of Haitians questioned in a recent Oxfam survey.

Sam Worthington, the president of InterAction, the largest alliance of international NGOs -- which has raised more than $1.2 billion in private funds and spent almost $530 million -- said that though he sees progress in "very concrete ways," including 30,000 temporary shelters that have been set up around the country, there is a long way to go.

"The fact that total pledges in year 1 has not been delivered is not good. We will have to shut down services if resources don't flow," Worthington said, noting that many underfunded NGOs need to shift resources intended for reconstruction to emergency relief. And the political instability of the disputed presidential and legislative elections has exacerbated these problems, he said, noting that water trucks were not being delivered to refugee camps where cholera remains a threat.

"It is crucial that we have a government we can work with, there has to be a leadership role so we can align our efforts," Worthington said. "We're waiting for some clear signal for who is going to win this election. In many ways, decision-making has been put on hold."

Most NGOs on the list compiled by HuffPost have spent hundreds of millions to provide water, sanitation, shelter, food and other assistance to million of Haitians. And many have carefully planned their expenditures, setting aside money for long-term projects that are crucially needed to rebuild the country. But some organizations seemed vague in their plans for how to spend millions in their coffers.

Donors need to ask clear questions about how an organization will spend their money, said Oxfam's Schindall, who cautioned that spending quickly is not always a good plan. "The way that aid money gets spent is very difficult to explain to donors," she said. "It's irresponsible to spend all the money right away but at the same time, it is their responsibility to make clear to donors how they're spending money and why they're spending the money that way. If you haven't spend it all right now, why is that?"

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