Haiti aid efforts criticized

The world's bill for the Haitian earthquake is large and growing — now $2.2 billion US — and so is the criticism about how the money is being spent.
A boy entertains himself with a plastic ring and a wire Sunday at a camp for earthquake survivors in Port-au-Prince. ((Andres Leighton/Canadian Press))

The world's bill for the Haitian earthquake is large and growing — it's now $2.2 billion US — and so is the criticism about how the money is being spent.

A half a million homeless have received tarps and tents, but far more are still waiting under soggy bed sheets in camps that reek of human waste.

More than 4.3 million people have received emergency food rations, but few will be able to feed themselves anytime soon.

Medical aid has been delivered to thousands, but long-term care isn't even on the horizon.

International aid groups and officials readily acknowledge they are overwhelmed by the scale of the disaster. Haitian leaders — frustrated that billions are bypassing them in favour of UN agencies and American and other non-governmental organizations — are whipping up sentiment against foreign aid groups they say have gone out of control.

In the past few days, someone scrawled graffiti declaring "Down with NGO thieves" along the cracked walls that line the road between Port-au-Prince's international airport, the temporary government headquarters, and a UN base.

Ahead of a crucial March 31 post-quake donors conference in New York, many are taking a hard look at the money that's flowed in so far.

First the good news: Assistance has indeed been pouring into Haiti, sometimes from unexpected places.

Donations from Americans for earthquake relief in Haiti have surpassed $1 billion, with about a third going to the American Red Cross, the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University said Friday.

Other major recipients include Catholic Relief Services, the U.S. Fund for UNICEF and the U.S. wing of Doctors Without Borders, according to a separate report by the Chronicle for Philanthropy.

As of mid-February, the 14 Canadian charities reporting donations to the Canadian International Development Agency said they had raised $154.4 million, of which $128.8 million is eligible to be matched by the government's Haiti Earthquake Relief Fund.

Haiti's leaders complain about NGOs

But leaders including Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive are not happy with the way the aid money is being delivered.

"The NGOs don't tell us … where the money's coming from or how they're spending it," he told The Associated Press. "Too many people are raising money without any controls, and don't explain what they're doing with it."

Haiti wanted aid organizations to register with the government long before the Jan. 12 quake, a goal identified as a priority by former U.S. President Bill Clinton when he was named UN special envoy to Haiti in 2009. But the task was never completed.

UN and U.S. officials said there is close monitoring of NGOs who receive funds. The U.S. Agency for International Development requires recipient groups to file reports every two weeks on how their activities are lining up with their planned programs, said Julie Leonard, leader of the agency's Disaster Assistance Response Team.

A Nevada real estate developer agreed to send $5 million worth of circus tents formerly used by Cirque du Soleil. Actor Leonardo DiCaprio and Coca-Cola are each sending $1 million. Hanesbrands is shipping 2 million pairs of underwear.

DiCaprio's million is going through the Clinton Bush Haiti Fund, while Coca-Cola's donations are headed for the American Red Cross. The underwear is going through the Atlanta, Georgia-based aid group CARE.

The circus tents are for the Haitian government.

In the days immediately after the quake, this is exactly what many Haitians said they wanted. Distrustful of local leaders they said were corrupt, some went so far as to say they hoped the U.S. would annex the country.

International community has kept government weak

But the top UN official in Haiti said the country's leaders are right: For half a century, the international community has kept Haiti's government weak and unable to deal with disaster by ignoring officials and working with outside organizations.

"We complain because the government is not able to (lead), but we are partly responsible for that," said UN Assistant Secretary-General of Peacekeeping Operations Edmond Mulet.

Worse, the patchwork of roughly 900 foreign and thousands more Haiti-based NGOs do not co-ordinate, take on too many roles and swarm well-known neighbourhoods while leaving others untouched — doing what Mulet called "little things with little impact."

He said the individual organizations should identify specific roles, such as road construction, and stick to them to make it easier for the Haitian government to co-ordinate the overall response.

A French Foreign Ministry official said the solution is to take the Haitian government seriously.

"It's a bit the image of a child: If you believe he will never become an adult, he will never become an adult," said Pierre Duquesne, who oversees foreign aid.

Clinton has put out two statements in the past week noting that much has been left undone in the massive international relief effort. Refugees International published a report saying the "the humanitarian response has fallen short of meeting the Haitian people's immediate needs."

But deputy UN emergency relief co-ordinator Catherine Bragg said the group was being unreasonably pessimistic.

"The Haiti situation, as has been said many, many times since the first day, is the most complex humanitarian response we've ever had to deal with," she said.

No civil registry to track citizens

The government estimates the quake killed 230,000 people — though without a civil registry or accurate means of counting, nobody really knows how many died.

More than 1.2 million lost their homes, about half of those fleeing the capital for the countryside, where they're even harder to track and reach.

The Haitian government has gone through three prime ministers in two years, had a president overthrown in 2004 and was already helpless to rebuild from hurricanes and riots in 2008. It lost nearly all its major buildings and much of its staff in the January quake.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper travelled briefly to Haiti in February, when he announced that Canada had pledged $12 million to temporarily house government departments whose buildings were damaged and destroyed.