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A massive foreign aid failure

Posted by Richard on January 13, 2011

Today is the first anniversary of the Haiti earthquake. According to the news report I saw tonight, over $11 billion in foreign aid has poured into Haiti since then. And a million people are still living in tattered tents. What's wrong with this picture?

I find it difficult to believe that, in Haiti, you can't build a permanent structure — at least a simple one-room cabin that could shelter a family of four — for a thousand bucks or so. $11 billion amounts to $11,000 for each homeless man, woman, and child, or $44,000 for each family of four. Heck, that would buy a decent 2500 sq. ft. home in Detroit.

So why are a million people living in tattered tents? Where has the money gone? Is there any kind of accurate accounting for how the funds have been spent? 

I doubt it. What matters to the people in charge isn't the outcome, but the intentions

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3 Responses to “A massive foreign aid failure”

  1. Hathor said

    Are you certain that the money has actually been given to Haiti. It was my understanding that the UN had control of all money being collected for Haiti. That’s not to say anything would have been done, because some organization that was building housing from their own funds had their building supplies held hostage in customs. A couple of other organizations have been building temporary housing from shipping containers or similar material. I know a group of engineers were trying to offer their expertise on modifying shipping containers including sanitation to the UN and the US government, to no avail. This was only to be a stop gap measure until whoever was in charge of that money would decide when and what they would build. I thought those containers would be much better than sheets and tents.

  2. David Bryant said

    I’m not certain how accurate the $11 billion figure is, Richard. This story indicates that the total amount pledged as aid to Haiti so far amounts to some $4.7 billion, of which some $1.1 billion remains “uncommitted”.

    Here is another story, emblematic of the problems that bedevil the people of Haiti. Briefly, Doctors Without Borders funded the construction of an obstetrical hospital in Port-au-Prince. Construction was completed last summer. But the Haitian “government” refused to allow it to be opened until November. And it is now operating solely as a center for cholera patients, because that’s the only license the NGO can obtain.

    I recently heard a news story on NPR indicating that the U.S. military has removed 2 million metric tons of rubble from Port-au-Prince, and that the job of clearing the wreckage away is still less than halfway done.

    The bottom line, I think, is that the incessant internecine squabbles among the people of Haiti — and the deeply entrenched culture of corruption there — will continue to impede progress long after most of the foreign aid workers have gone home.

  3. rgcombs said

    I was wrong about $11 billion having “poured into Haiti.” $11 billion has been ”pledged,” according to Raymond A. Joseph, the former Haitian ambassador to the US, and various other sources. Apparently, $4 or $5 billion was supposed to be delivered in the first year, but some of those sources say only a billion has actually been delivered so far.

    Joseph’s recent Wall Street Journal column took aim at the political corruption and incompetence exhibited in the November election. Romesh Ratnesar of the New America Foundation spread the blame a bit further, arguing that both “rapacious foreign aid workers” and “feckless local politicians” are at fault for the continuing mess.

    Regardless of the real dollar amounts (and there doesn’t seem to be an accurate accounting, with numbers all over the map), there seems to be little disagreement that this is a foreign aid failure, and that the UN, the 12,000 NGOs, and a corrupt Haitian government have accomplished damned little.

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