by Khorri Atkinson
Special to the NNPA from the New York Amsterdam News
Four years ago, when a 7.0 magnitude earthquake damaged Haiti’s capital, Port-au-Prince, many countries, including the United States, pledged large sums of money to assist with rescue, recovery and reconstruction efforts. According to the United Nations’ figures, the earthquake killed more than 220,000 people, while 1.5 million others were left homeless and some 145,000 continue to live in makeshift camps.
Four years later, there have been more questions than answers as to how the money is being spent. Published reports said the U.S. pledged more than $3.6 billion. The United States Agency for International Development (USAID), a U.S. agency that is responsible for administering the funds, has so far used less than 1 percent of the funds directly to assist earthquake victims and local nonprofits.
“I’m not pleased at all. After four years … there’s much more work that needs to be done,” said Rep. Yvette Clarke, who represents New York’s 9th District and the second largest population of Haitian immigrants in the U.S., in an interview with the AmNews. “I’ve visited Haiti a number of times after the earthquake, and each time I go there, it appears, on a psychical perspective, that the earthquake just occurred. That is a great concern to me that we’re not seeing the manifestation on the grounds of the application of those funds. When you still have over 250,000 people still living in tent houses, that’s a great concern.”
Clarke said USAID has given millions in funds to non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that are affiliated with them rather than giving funds to Haitian organizations. Congress is unable to track spending, recovery and reconstruction progress because the State Department’s reporting requirements under the law ended in September of 2012.
Some House Democrats, including Clarke, and GOP members have formed a bipartisan group headed by Rep. Barbara Lee. The group introduced and passed the Assessing Progress in Haiti Act of 2013 in December of last year, which asked for transparency with the USAID’s handing of the funds and for the agency to provide a comprehensive report updating Congress on the progress of the post-earthquake humanitarian, reconstruction and development efforts in Haiti. It is now in the Senate for a final vote.
According to an April 2013 report from the Center for Economic and Policy Research, a nonpartisan research center in Washington, D.C., the USAID’s biggest recipient of U.S. aid after the earthquake—apart from the World Bank and U.N.—was Chemonics International, a for-profit international development company based in Washington, D.C., that has more than 4,800 employees. Chemonics received more than $680 million in 2012 alone for recovery and reconstruction projects. The report also found that the USAID had nearly 1,500 contracts with NGOs.
A major concern that Congress has stems from a report from the Government Accountability Office in 2013. It said that the USAID promised to build more than 15,000 affordable homes for 75,000 to 90,000 people at a projected cost of $59 million. However, its latest target is now 2,649 homes for up to 15,900 people. The report found that there were underestimated or inaccurate cost projections. This caused the need for more funds despite the reduction in the number of housing units to be built. The Government Accountability Office said the shortfall in housing is due to the complexity of acquiring land titles in Haiti. It also said they have difficulty working with the Haitian government because they demanded that the homes should have flush toilets, although the country has limited wastewater treatment system.
According to a Jan. 8 report from Haiti Grassroots Watch, an NGO that monitors reconstruction efforts in Haiti, the affordable housing projects “do not necessarily house earthquake victims, over 200,000 of whom still live in tents or in the three large new slums called Canaan, Onaville and Jerusalem.”
Clarke, who is a member of the Congressional Black Caucus, said the group had created a task force “that will be dealing specifically with issues in the Caribbean such as natural disasters.” The reason is that “the USAID’s response has been laughable,” she said. “We need to move from an aid model to a developmental model.”