Where did all that Haiti aid money go?

2011-01-12 14:01

Port-au-Prince - International donors pledged almost $10bn to reconstruct Haiti. So, one year after the earthquake, where is all that money and why has so little progress been made?

Most of the $5.3bn pledged for the first 18 months has been legally committed, but only $1.2bn has been allocated to specific reconstruction projects and donors are reluctant to disburse funds.

Future cash commitments are drying up as confidence evaporates in an effort that has only managed to clear 5% of the rubble, leaving more than one million survivors subsisting in tent cities that look more and more permanent with every passing day.

Of $2.1bn pledged in 2010 for reconstruction, less than half has been given. The United States, the biggest single donor, has delayed disbursing most of its $1.17bn pledge until 2011, spending only one-tenth of that.

Haitian officials voice fears the country is turning into a republic run by foreign NGOs - estimates of how many operate here vary between 1 000 and 10 000. Donors prefer to channel money through the non-governmental organisations as they fear they will otherwise just feed into a bottomless pit of government corruption and incompetence.

Transparency International ranked Haiti near the bottom of its world corruption index in 2009. The US Congress made the State Department prove money would not be stolen or misused before allowing American aid pledges to be honoured.

Aid oversight

NGOs have ended up running key sectors such as schooling and hospitals while the longer-term need to address the Haitian government's infrastructural shortcomings has been neglected.

The Interim Haiti Recovery Commission (IHRC), co-chaired by former US president Bill Clinton and Haitian Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive, was established in April, giving the international community strong oversight over aid funds.

Tasked with co-ordinating reconstruction for the first 18 months, its efforts were criticised this week as "lacklustre" and it was accused of having failed to "cut through the quagmire of indecision and delay."

"Many Haitian officials still do not have the technical ability to lead projects, and almost no major reconstruction projects have started," a report by humanitarian group Oxfam said.

Tellingly, the IHRC only this week proposed an anti-corruption office to vet potential aid projects. It is unlikely it will become an effective coordinating agency before its mandate expires at the end of October.

Deadly riots following disputed elections last month provided a grim reminder of Haiti's violent past. Until a bona fide successor to President Rene Preval is in place, international donors will be reluctant to sign any blank checks towards Haiti's recovery, fearful that political upheaval could return.

Class system shake-up

The quake highlighted glaring land ownership issues. Relocation of survivors into safer, cleaner camps was held up interminably because rich families owned the large tracts of land around Port-au-Prince. Many survivors had no papers to prove ownership of their lots after the quake.

Many observers say a radical shake-up of Haiti's class system is needed. A wealthy elite dominated by a handful of families controls the bulk of the economy and enjoys political hegemony, making substantial progress difficult.

Despite a high infant mortality rate, the 10 million-strong Haitian population is growing by almost 2% each year. Four in 10 Haitians are under the age of 14, and most of the population lives on less than a dollar a day.

Port-au-Prince's estimated population of three million is expected to double over the next 15 years. Haitians are drawn here to escape poverty but most end up in sprawling slums. Haiti would likely benefit from having several smaller growth poles rather than a single, swollen metropolis.

Read more on:    rene preval  |  bill clinton  |  haiti  |  haiti quake
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