Two Years Later: Media Assess the State of Reconstruction in Haiti

January 12, 2012

There have been a host of assessments in the media over the past week examining the state of recovery in Haiti two years after the earthquake. All of these present a mixed review, usually noting early on, as this one from Reuters’ Kevin Gray and Joseph Guyler Delva does, that “More than a half a million people still live in a critical situation in crowded tent camps, many without running water or electricity.” Gray and Guyler Delva also mention that “throngs of Haitians line the streets every day in a jarring reminder that 70 percent of the population is either unemployed or underemployed.”

Reuters goes on:

“It’s been two years and I’m still here in the camps,” said Jerome Mezil, a 28-year-old who lives in the Sainte-Therese tent camp in the capital’s Petionville district.

Some tent camp dwellers say they fear life outside the camps will be even tougher.

Indeed, this echoes what respondents told the International Organization for Migration last year regarding their decision to leave camps: “Poor conditions in the IDP site”, “eviction”, “high incidence of crime/insecurity in the IDP site”, and “rain/hurricane” were cited by 77.9 percent of respondents. These answers contradict claims by the Washington Post that “most were pulled away [from tent cities] by programs that gave them rent subsidies or assistance to repair a home.”

While some headlines seemed to present an almost rosy view of things two years later, the Miami Herald’s assessment begins

Half the money world governments pledged to Haiti never showed up. Half the money American private donors raised for Haiti hasn’t been spent. And many millions went to things like gasoline, car rentals and salaries.
So while families continue to live in plastic tents, some organizations are running dry and major reconstruction projects are taking years longer than anticipated. Even after the billions were spent and billions more promised, experts say it will be another 10 years of spending before people see serious results.


Many assessments also note the progress, however limited: half the rubble has been cleared. Roads have been built. A new university is opening. A clear sign of progress: a large new teaching hospital is being opened by Partners in Health in Mirebalais.

The Washington Post reported that “Haiti is providing free education for 900,000 children, many who have never been in a classroom before,” although describing that “the government hasn’t figured out how to pay for it.”

A recent report in Haiti Liberte stated

[Martelly’s education advisor Dimitri] Nau admitted that over 54% of the 903,000 students the government claims are going to school for free were already attending Haiti’s free national school system, and that their $2.50 to $5 annual registration fee was paid for by the Clinton Foundation, not the FNE.

Also reporting that

Senator Steven Benoit said that the taxes being levied on international calls and money transfers are “illegal.” He said that only two state institutions were authorized to collect such a tax: the General Directorate of Taxes (DGI) and the General Customs Administration (AGD).

and Reuters reported

In a potential blow to Martelly, reports surfaced recently that some $26 million have vanished from a new government education fund he set up. Martelly hoped new charges on cellular phone calls and remittances from abroad would help fund new schools.

The Washington Post also cites the “building [of] a Marriott hotel,” and “South Koreans, lured by generous subsidies and tax breaks …coming to make shirts and pants” as indicators of progress.

A Global Post report by Donovan Webster has a rare mention of another form of progress – one that Haitian organizations and grassroots activists are responsible for:

THE LOCAL AGENCY called Kofaviv (which is a Creole-French acronym for The Commission of Women Victims for Victims) is a friendly, welcoming place on the edge of the main city. They are an established organization, working against domestic violence and rape. As I sit and wait for one of the office staff, Sofanie Louis, a woman is sitting inside a pleasant-looking, glass-walled boardroom — its long wooden table down the middle — and she is talking about how she has been enduring domestic violence.

Finally, the interview is ended, and Sofanie Louis is free to talk.

“Kofaviv has 60 agents in the communities and camps,” she says. “And really, now that things have settled down, we don’t see nearly the violence and rape. Still, it exists, but maybe the statistics are half what they were.”

Still, she is not forthcoming with numbers and statistics.

NGO’s and International Aid

“International aid charities have spent about two-thirds of the money they raised after the deadly earthquake that rattled Haiti nearly two years ago,” the Chronicle of Philanthropy’s Marisa López-Rivera and Caroline Preston report. They go on to write:

Over all, 60 groups and their international affiliates raised a total of $2.1-billion, including $1.43-billion from Americans, according to a Chronicle tally. Fifteen of 53 groups that provided updated information to The Chronicle had either spent all of their money or had less than $200,000 left.

These include Relief International, which “spent 81 percent of the $599,344 it collected after the disaster,” Habitat for Humanity International, which “spent all of the $36.4-million it received,” and Food for the Poor, which, “spent all of the $20.7-million it raised in the first 10 months after the disaster.”

The Miami Herald mentioned some areas where NGO spending has gone:

Agencies also burned through money on soaring rents and overpriced supplies. After the quake, landlords charged $7,000 or more to rent a single house and quadrupled the prices of materials.

Consider: Project Medishare, the University of Miami hospital, spends $30,000 a month on electricity alone. It costs another $3,500 a month to rent an SUV in Haiti.

Oxfam is among the few groups that spell out how much it spent just on management: $14.4 million. It also spent $150,000 a month trucking water and $30,000 per month on warehouse fees.

The Herald also notes

The American Red Cross built about 5,000 transitional houses and fixed the same number of broken ones. By this time last year, The Red Cross had built 133 homes. Now it boasts 4,900.

But that organization and other large non-governmental organizations are continuously under fire here for having large balances. The American Red Cross alone has $150 million left, which it plans to use on long-term projects.

As for the Red Cross, which also features prominently in the new film “Haiti: Where Did the Money Go?”, the Chronicle of Philanthropy reports on a new trend: the American Red Cross is

now acting like a grant maker, awarding some of its donations to other nonprofits.

The charity has so far pledged or spent $330-million of the $486-million it received. About $171-million has been committed to other nonprofits. A spokeswoman declined to specify what share has actually gone out the door but said it was the majority of the $330-million.

The Center for Public Integrity looks at how many NGO’s are perceived in Haiti: “as “vòlè” (thieves or crooks), “malonèt” (liars) and “kowonpi” (corrupt).”

(CPI also has a handy infographic titled “Haiti by the Numbers”, with data mostly from the Office of the UN Special Envoy for Haiti.)

Donovan Webster in the Global Post: examines problems with international aid, using food assistance as a jumping-off point:

But the economy of rice in Haiti says everything about the condition the country is in. The US government subsidizes and “donates” ton after ton of rice in Haiti and in so doing has through the last several decades completely undercut Haitian rice farmers and left them destitute and migrating into cities where they live in hovels that were destroyed by the quake.

As recently as the early 1980s, Haiti was producing just about all of its own rice. Now more than 60 percent is imported from the US, making it the fourth largest recipient of American rice exports in the world. That was before the quake and now with donated rice coming in as well, Haiti is even more awash in rice while American agribusiness makes billions of dollars every year through generous government subsidies.

(To avoid this problem, and directly support Haitian rice farmers, we proposed only months after the earthquake that the U.S. government and other international donors buy up the Haitian rice crop at a fair price as part of food assistance. The proposal met with relatively little interest in the U.S. Congress.)

USA Today’s Marisol Bello cites CEPR Co-Director Mark Weisbrot, who explains that

governments did not pledge enough aid for reconstruction, estimated to cost more than $10 billion, and money that has been pledged isn’t being doled out fast enough.

The U.N. says $2.4 billion has been disbursed to aid groups and for-profit development companies, but Weisbrot says that doesn’t mean the money has been spent.

A report by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s Eleanor Bell states:

It’s estimated that there’s 10,000 NGOs operating in Haiti, the highest number per capita in the world. Yet two years on little has changed.

Investigative journalist Michele Mitchell tackles the subject in her documentary, Haiti: Where did all the money go?

It debuts tomorrow on American television. After visits to hundred of camps she makes the extraordinary claim that life for Haitians is worse now than before the quake.

MICHELE MITCHELL: The conditions have actually deteriorated significantly. Those tarps are torn and those pots and pans that were given out, those are being sold for food.

And food is not being distributed anymore in these camps and medical care is very difficult to find. Sanitation is pathetic. All of these things mean that for whatever money was spent, it wasn’t spent very well at all.

These problems with aid, observed in detail over the past two years (and before), prompted TransAfrica, the Institute for Justice & Democracy in Haiti, Let Haiti Live and the Center for Constitutional Rights to recommend:

effective oversight to aid distribution to hold public agencies and non-governmental organizations (“NGOs”) accountable for the money they have received in the name of Haitians, and more emphasis on Haitian-led recovery efforts


reallocation of funds spent on United Nations soldiers to secure basic services for Haitians, such as building the clean water and sanitation infrastructure necessary to control the cholera epidemic.

Among other recommendations.

“Haitians are never at the table to determine how money should be spent, and they certainly aren’t participating in evaluating the success so far,” Let Haiti Live’s Melinda Miles states in the press release, “despite the evidence that Haitian-led efforts are the most successful.”


Many reports note that Haitians also continue to struggle with the cholera epidemic, something that is not a direct legacy of the earthquake (contrary to a Tweet from UNICEF), with some 7,000 having died from the disease and over 520,000 infected. Partners in Health believes it has identified the first cholera victim, a mentally ill man who bathed and drank water from the Meille River, AP reports.

ABC News’ Brian Ross and Matthew Mosk have a new report citing scientists on the epidemic’s origins, and noting that the strain is “more virulent, more capable of causing severe disease, and more transmissible,” as Harvard’s John Mekalanos describes it. While the report cites UN officials as continuing to deny that MINUSTAH troops were responsible for the outbreak, epidemiologist Renaud Piarroux is quoted as saying there is “no doubt”:

“The scientific debate on the origin of cholera in Haiti existed, but it has been resolved by the accumulation of evidence that unfortunately leave no doubt about the implication of the Nepalese contingent of the UN peacekeeping mission in Haiti.”

UPI quotes the Pan American Health Organization as calling the cholera epidemic “one of the largest epidemics of the disease in modern history to affect a single country,” and warning of an increase in cases with the onset of the rainy season in the Spring. Despite this, the Chronicle of Philanthropy notes

Medical charities worry that they won’t be able to respond effectively if cholera resurges or if the country experiences another major health crisis.

International Medical Corps now has roughly 40 staff members in Haiti, compared with 700 in June. This month it plans to hand over to the government the last of the cholera treatment centers it has been overseeing.

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