President Obama showed positive leadership after the catastrophe in Haiti by pledging the resources of the U.S. government to our neighbor in need. Yet, eight months after the quake, many of the country's Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) remain without food, water, sanitation and shelter. Additionally, civil society and local Non-Governmental Organizations in Haiti report that many international NGOs responsible for policy and programs have been less proactive and seldom prioritize working directly with Haitians.
Following January 12, the world stepped up. Millions of dollars were raised and billions pledged to rebuild Haiti . I am sad to report that, according to the United Nations Office of the Special Envoy for Haiti, debt relief outstanding, as of August 2010, the U.S. had disbursed none of its pledged $898.4 million from the March 2010 Haiti donors conference.
Unfortunately, the U.S. is not alone in its inaction. Excluding debt relief, the top 22 donors pledged $2.6 billion just for fiscal year 2010 alone, yet by August, only 20 percent of this ($538.3 million) has been disbursed. Distrust and racism has led to historic under-funding of the government of Haiti. By August, only $144.9 million of $538.3 million pledged had gone to the government of Haiti. It is a positive step, despite the low numbers pledged in total. Unlike other instances where direct funding to the Government of Haiti has been nearly non-existent, this change can hopefully build capacity and infrastructure and prevent future catastrophes. Support of the government is important. But, with less than 0.33 percent of pledges in humanitarian aid being spent, we see a deep disconnect.
Haiti advocates are deeply concerned that without immediate investigation, strong oversight and accountability of funds, both private and public failures may further the impact of the devastating quake.
My frequent visits, and receipt of daily reports from partners, remind me that the emergency phase is not over. While reconstruction and rebuilding must move forward, conditions on the ground remain appalling. The majority of those affected by the Earthquake are living in the same conditions they did in January. People's ability to access basic goods (including safe and secure housing, food, water, sanitation and healthcare) remains extremely limited. With little to no income over the last eight months, those affected by the quake are forced to take drastic measures to provide anything for their families. Additionally, an increasing number of threats and incidents of gender based violence are being recorded. The situation on the ground requires immediate action to remedy the precarious situation of people today.
Questions should be raised for USAID, NGO partners, and contractors who have been granted millions of dollars with questionable results. It is imperative that the U.S. government hold USAID, and their partner organizations, accountable for the money spent as well as outstanding commitments. In addition, the standards being set for acceptable minimums are offensive and inadequate. For example, the UN Shelter Cluster has reported that 100 percent of the country's shelter needs have been met. To the UN this has meant 1-2 tarps and a couple of sticks, in a tropical country during the hurricane season. If this is considered 100% shelter coverage then we must ask: what are the standards for the response in Haiti ?
There needs to be a serious investigation by independent parties of on-the-ground activities of large NGOs and the amount of money given to these organizations. Many of the NGOs, who received money, are trained as professional first responders. It is worrisome that experts in emergency relief work are now weighing the importance of long-term development assistance. Relief work operates under the guise of immediate action, much different than development work, which includes long-term planning and consultation.
Nicole C. Lee, Esquire is the President of TransAfrica Forum