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Critics question funds raised for Haiti

Second in a three-day series

By FRANCES ROBLES

Miami Herald

PORT-AU-PRINCE -- Wearing orange rubber gloves and a straw hat, Marie Siane furiously scrubs a wooden row of two dozen latrines overlooking a basketball court.

The bathroom she uses and is paid $5 a day to disinfect is at the Ancien Aviation Militaire quake survivor camp, nudged between a cholera clinic and a hospital, near where the 41,857 people she lives with get their daily supply of clean water.

“This is a good toilet, because it is the only toilet we have,” Siane said. “I know a lot of money came into Haiti, but let’s face it: I live in a house made of blankets.”

The mini-city she lives in represents a microcosm of how the at least $4 billion donated to Haiti last year was spent: largely on basic services.

More than 200 nonprofit groups and governments around the world rushed to Haiti’s aid after the Jan. 12 quake. But the absence of construction cranes and stalled progress on major projects such as hospitals and schools has many people wondering: Where did all that money go? The short answer: Keeping people alive.

It went to employing Haitians in short-term low-paying jobs, providing tents and tarps, and supplying food for four months. It paid for amputations, vaccinations of a million people and rubble removal.

But Haitians, watch dog groups and other critics complain that much of the money raised went toward foreigners’ salaries, expensive vehicles or sits in the bank waiting for projects to get moving.

“If you come to Haiti now, it looks like the earthquake happened yesterday,” said Karl Jean-Louis, who runs Haitiwatchdog.org. “To me, the money went to expatriate operational costs. If you can’t see it, it’s going somewhere.”

Where did the money go?

International nonprofit organizations spent $1,500 per person last year on tents, shelters, latrines, showers, water and medical services for the 1.5 million people like Siane who lost their homes or left them after the earthquake.

With at least 810,000 people still living in 1,150 ad hoc settlements a year after the devastating quake, Haitian government officials and leading humanitarian organizations say they are burning through donations at a furious pace even with about 60 percent of the $1.3 billion Americans contributed still unspent.

As Haiti’s humanitarian crisis drags on, the money Americans donated will be lost to basic services, which most Haitians did not have even before the quake. And while the private money is going fast, the $2 billion governments around the world pledged to spend in 2010 on reconstruction, experts agree, remain mostly on drawing boards and in bank accounts.

“Our concern is that we are using up the relief funds faster and longer than we anticipated,” said Sam Worthington, president of InterAction, an umbrella group of the United States’ largest aid groups. “The cost of running camps is enormous. It is a massive and costly enterprise.”

Consider: Save the Children spends $166,000 a day. Doctors Without Borders says transportation alone cost $19 million.

When the 7.0 an earthquake shook Haiti at 4:53 p.m. Jan. 12, people around the world responded. Moved by the images of a death toll that the government estimated at 300,000 -- roughly equal the population of Newark, N.J. -- cash started pouring in.

Raising money

Doctors Without Borders raised $9 million in a single day without even asking for it.

In the first weekend after the tremor, Catholics in the United States pooled $90 million in collections.

Governments later pledged $10 billion over a decade. The Red Cross alone raised $479 million, of which $245 million have so far been committed or spent. The U.S. government spent more than $1 billion here last year, including $400,000 for the military presence in the crucial early weeks.

“You will read reports that say: ‘We spent $10 million on shelter,’” Jea-Louis said. “There is not $10 million worth of shelter right now in Haiti.”

He’s right: Many organizations cite what they spent on shelter as soon as the funds are committed to a project -- well before the homes are completed.

The organizations do use money raised to pay salaries and operational costs such as vehicles and office space.

World Vision, one of the few organizations that posts its operational costs on its web site, lists $24 million spent on program management and overhead. That’s about 22 percent of the money the group spent here. The industry average is 25 percent, not including the salaries of people who do the actual aid work.

“The NGOs still have something to respond to about their accountability, because there is a lot of cash out there,” said Nigel Fisher, the United Nation’s chief humanitarian officer in Haiti. “But what about the $1.5 to $2 billion that the Red Cross and NGOs got from ordinary people, and matched by governments, etc? What’s happened to that? And that’s where it’s very difficult to trace those funds.”

That’s the sentiment in the camps, where weary and largely unemployed residents are grateful for the aid they got, but eager to know what happened to the rest.

Hatians want housing, jobs

“We need housing, employment, schools and hospitals,” said Brevyl Jean Elider, who works beside Siane doing odd jobs at the Militaire camp. “What did I get from all that money? A (messed) up toilet and a shower and a job that lasts five days.”

Elider has nine children by three different women, two of whom died in the quake. He and other quake survivors say they are not looking for hand-outs: they want jobs.

Aid groups say that humanitarian organizations and foreign governments kept Elider’s nine children and others alive for the past 12 months. They helped Haiti avoid social unrest and fed millions of people until April, when the government ordered the end of food distributions, because they disrupted the local market.

It’s no coincidence that the death rate from cholera has so far been higher in the rural areas than lower in Port-au-Prince, where the sick had access to free healthcare.

“All of the daily living of those people who have no jobs is being taken care of by the international money,” Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive said. “OK, you don’t see the clear improvement of those people when you look at the TV. But the first result is that they are alive, because that money is maintaining those people.”

Quake survivors living better

Bellerive says many of the quake survivors are living better than they were before Jan. 12, so they will be reluctant to leave as long as aid groups are spending so much money providing services. The amount spent this past year on humanitarian aid versus reconstruction is unbalanced, he said.

“They have some basic services that they didn’t find where they were living before, and they are not paying rent,” Bellerive said.

Thomas Adams, the U.S. State Department’s Haiti coordinator, acknowledged last month that “the people of Haiti heard of this money promised, and haven’t seen much of it.”

At a donor’s conference in April, international donors pledged $10 billion over 10 years. Of the amount promised for 2010, 63 percent was disbursed but not necessarily spent yet, the United Nations said Friday.

The $1.28 billion given so far included $233 million that went directly into Haitian government coffers.

“We need to pick up the pace,” Adams said.

Carleene Dei, Haiti mission director for the U.S. Agency for International Development, finds the suggestion that it’s hard to tell where aid money went “appalling.”

“To the people who say they can’t see where that money was spent, I say: ‘Did you see the food and water and tarps and tents going up?’ Did they see the toilets being dug? The health centers going up?” Dei said.

She acknowledged that there was a lag time between pledges and delivery, because donations required congressional approval, and then each project had to be reviewed.The United States government also hires some 7,000 Haitian laborers a day. The United Nations Development Program and the World Food Program also spent $60 million hiring Haitian camp dwellers to do odd jobs.

Organizations throw such huge figures around that it is tough to tell what the money actually paid for, said Ben Smilowitz, executive director of the Disaster Accountability Project.

Millions spent in the dark

A recent study by Smilowitz’s group concluded that the millions spent in Haiti were spent “in the dark.” He sent a survey to 200 organizations; only 38 responded.

“A lot of the money went to help people; organizations do get credit for that,” Smilowitz said. “But they’ve only done one-third to one-half of the job they said they’d do.”

A representative of Haiti’s Planning Ministry told a conference of Haitian journalists last week that of the 295 registered aid groups in the country, only 19 have filed reports to the government.

“A lot of the reports you read are out of whack,” said Jean-Louis, of Haitiwatchdog.org, who organized the conference. “The figures do not add up.”

For example, many organizations give money to each other, then both cite the gift on annual expenditure forms. So two or more organizations may take credit for the same batch of new temporary shelters, critics said.

InterAction said it’ll launch a website Tuesday to track how nonprofits, which so far spent $532 million, have used their money.

“Some of this work isn’t visible work,” said Amy Parodi, a spokeswoman for World Vision, which raised $194 million for Haiti. “Education is not visible. We invested a great deal in washing stations. You don’t see that. The thing you see is shelter. If they don’t see shelter, they think nothing is being done.”

American Red Cross

Much of the snickering about the humanitarian organizations is centered on the American Red Cross, which raised more than any other organization in the world.

Criticized for holding on to a chunk of its funds, the agency boasts providing clean water to more than 300,000 people a day. It spent tens of millions on a wide variety of projects, from $8 million in grants to small businesswomen to $13 million to help Haiti’s water department, the Red Cross said.

The first of its shelters are finally being built at L’Annexe de la Mairie, a flood-prone area the government ceded in August for shelters and a school.

The group’s plan to inject $40 million into the Haitian economy by giving $130 to each family in the camps was nixed by the government, which feared that such handouts would encourage camp living.

“In terms of the Red Cross, we are not as far along as we would have liked to be,” said spokeswoman Julie Sell. “It’s been an incredibly challenging year. Problems managing land, delays in importing products, delays in decision-making by key organizations have all contributed to the impression that you have to look closely to see what has been done.”

The Red Cross has completed less than 3,000 transitional shelters. The global Red Cross’ goal: 30,000.“We spent $50 million in Haiti, more than normally would have been spent in the first year of an emergency,” said Charlie MacCormack, CEO of Save the Children, which raised $80 million. “The real issue is that it’s almost entirely on relief and not on rebuilding long-term recovery. Every dollar spent on a handout is a dollar wasted not going to a hand up.”

A transition to recovery should have happened around July, he said.

“I do ask,” MacCormack said, “what happens next year, when everyone runs out of funds?”

Miami Herald Staff Writer Jacqueline Charles contributed to this report.

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