By Isabel Morales
A magnitude 7.2. earthquake struck Haiti on August 14th. This event has revived feelings of anger regarding the responses of international NGOs after the 2010 earthquake (Gottesdiener & Graham, 2021). Haiti received a substantial amount of international aid and support following the 2010 earthquake: more than $9 billion in public and private donations (Ramachandran & Walz, 2020). Yet, despite the billions of dollars in aid, Haiti was still in the process of recovering from the damage 11 years later. This raises questions about where the money has gone and the true impact of NGOs in the country. Haiti’s lack of recovery and development is attributed to several reasons, most notably its colonial history and political instability. However, issues found within Haiti’s government relating to mismanagement, bureaucracy, and corruption are equally present within international non-governmental organizations and aid agencies (Patterson, 2018).
Due to Haiti’s weak institutions and vulnerability to natural disasters, international NGOs have risen excessively, especially after 2010. As a result, NGOs created a parallel state more powerful than the government itself (Ramachandran, 2012). These organizations deliver social services to citizens, creating little incentive for the Haitian government to provide its own resources. This has pulled talent away from the public sector to the private and created a broken relationship between the government and the NGOs in the nation (Ramachandran, 2012).
A few hours after this year’s earthquake, Haiti’s Prime Minister, Ariel Henry, stated that all the donations from aid countries and organizations must be handed to the Haitian Civil Protection Agency, which oversees risk and disaster management (Adams, 2021). International donors are usually reluctant to send money to the Haitian government because of its former ties to several corruption scandals. For example, humanitarian agencies, NGOs, private contractors, and other non-governmental service providers received about 99 percent of the total $2.9 billion in aid
after the 2010 earthquake, while about one percent went to the Haitian government (Ramachandran & Walz, 2012). Though it is valid to be cautious, the government’s capacity will not improve if NGOs continue to disregard the idea of collaborating with them. This hinders the hope for recovery because long-term solutions require government leadership (Ramachandran & Walz, 2012).
Another issue with NGOs having disproportionate levels of funding in comparison to the government, is caused by the “trickle down” effect of development financing. Within large international donor entities, international NGOs, and U.N. agencies, there are several layers of subcontracts before funding reaches the people who are working on the ground. For instance, a large donor sends funding to an international NGO. Then, the international NGO will transfer that money to smaller NGOs and small Haitian community groups. Each step in the money- transferring process can use up seven to ten percent of the funds in administrative costs, which reduces the amount of funding for programs needed on the ground (Ramachandran & Walz, 2012).
After the 2010 earthquake, NGOs and private contractors were the main recipients of funding for recovery efforts. They received $9 billion; an amount almost equal to Haiti’s gross domestic product (GDP). However, most of the country—about 59 percent—continues to live in poverty and lacks needed infrastructure. This demonstrates that international NGOs and organizations can mismanage the same money that many are wary of sending to the government. It has been found that most of the money that gets spent by aid organizations in the wake of a disaster ends up staying in the donor country itself (CBS, 2016). Jake Johnston, a Haiti expert at the Center for Economic and Policy Research, claims that about 95 percent of the funds raised for Haiti’s recovery were sent to NGOs and for-profit businesses headquartered in Washington D.C. He
highlighted that most of the funds end up in a handful of organizations that are closer to his office in Washington D.C., then in Haiti where it is needed (Adams, 2021).
One of the problems within the world of NGOs and aid organizations is a lack of transparency. In the case of Haiti, there are many databases of information that report the primary recipients of donated funds from 2010. However, tracking the final recipients and the outcomes of on the ground projects is extremely difficult (Ramachandran & Walz, 2020). Recovery funding figures after 2010 reflect that 60 percent of U.S.-disbursed aid is categorized as “not specified.” Data reporting for specific organizations, agencies, or individuals that received funding or contracts in Haiti is not clear, and detailed financial reports and project impact evaluations are also difficult to obtain. Of course, there are organizations that have been transparent. Yet, most of them only publish case studies or are vague in their wording. For example, out of the thousands of projects in Haiti, a study conducted by The Guardian only found 45 project evaluation reports at the end of 2011. Out of these reports, only four contained specific information on how the funding was used (Ramachandran & Walz, 2020). Reports in the media have often claimed that there were issues related to inadequate supplies and questionable financial tracking, but due to the lack of resources and evidence from NGOs and private contractors, it is difficult to confirm or back these claims (Ramachandran & Walz, 2012).
The work of the American Red Cross in Haiti after the 2010 earthquake presents an example of the many NGOs and aid groups that receive a substantial amount of funding but fail to fulfil most of their promises. The Red Cross is known for providing emergency disaster relief such as food and shelter but has little experience in long-term recovery and rebuilding in developing countries. In 2015, NPR (National Public Radio) and ProPublica investigated the $500 million fundraised by the American Red Cross after the 2010 earthquake (Sullivan, 2015). By reviewing
the humanitarian organization’s internal documents, interviews, and emails, they found that the American Red Cross poorly managed projects, spent the fundraised money in uncertain ways, and had questionable success claims. After the earthquake, the American Red Cross out-raised charities and kept raising money even after it had enough for immediate disaster relief. The humanitarian organization claimed that most of the money went to help 4.5 million Haitians. Yet, that would mean that they helped entire cities in Haiti, which is not possible (Sullivan, 2015). In addition, the America Red Cross was very vague in their wording as to how the money was being used. For example, they stated that aid would be invested in housing and shelter instead of specifying that shelter meant handing out tarps. Out of the number of homes they claimed would be built to help more than 130,000 people, the organization had only built six (CBS, 2016).
A common failure in community outreach and development is the lack of dialogue with community members or people on the ground, which often leads to the mismanagement of funds. Many NGOs and aid organizations impose projects on the community. Though these projects may immediately help people in need, they might not be what the community needs in the long term (CBS, 2016). Few long-term investments were made in new sanitation systems or infrastructure. Rather, efforts were put into projects that would eventually become profitless or have little impact (Gladstone, 2021). While immediate disaster relief is important, it is counterproductive when another natural disaster hits—like the one this year. Therefore, NGOs and aid organizations must directly ask the community on the grounds about their long-term needs for recovery and development to truly be effective (CBS, 2016).
Many donors ask about the best way to help Haiti after the recent 2021 earthquake. People often blindly trust NGOs and large humanitarian organizations. Yet, an important strategy to help Haiti
is learning the lessons from 2010. Instead of channeling large sums of money to organizations and NGOs outside of Haiti that have little knowledge of how to tackle long-term recovery, the funds can be channeled towards smaller organizations that work on the ground with community members (Adams, 2021). This is not to say that international NGOs are not needed, but more transparency and collaboration between them, the government, and smaller organizations based in Haiti, are crucial for the well-being and recovery of the country.
Isabel Morales (she/her/hers) is a third-year international student from Pereira, Colombia. She is currently pursuing a B.A. in Economics with a minor in French, along with a certificate in Latin American Studies. Due to her background and opportunities offered at Pitt, Isabel has become greatly interested in development economics, politics, and human rights, which are topics of focus in her writing. As a Panoramas intern, she hopes to promote the LAC region and its people, while also using CLAS as a space to continue learning and having conversations about key issues and matters not commonly within her scope of research. in addition, Isabel will be the Public & Professional Relations chair for the Women in Economics club at Pitt. She is grateful and excited to be a part of a group of motivated and supportive people at the Center this year!
Adams, D. C. (2021, August 24). Para ayudar a Haití hay que aprender las lecciones del pasado, dicen expertos. [In Order to Help Haiti, Lessons from the Past Must be Learned, Experts State.] Univision. https://www.univision.com/noticias/america-latina/para- ayudar-a-haiti-hay-que-aprender-las-lecciones-del-pasado-dicen-expertos
CBS. (2016, December 19). Seven years later: The mixed record of NGOs in post-earthquake Haiti. CBS News. https://www.cbsnews.com/news/how-some-foreign-ngos-failed-haiti/
Gladstone, R. (2021, August 21). Donors Send Quake Aid to Haiti, but for How Long? The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2021/08/21/world/americas/haiti-earthquake- aid.html?
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Ramachandran, V., & Walz, J. (2020, October 16). Haiti’s earthquake generated a $9bn response – where did the money go? The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/global- development/poverty-matters/2013/jan/14/haiti-earthquake-where-did-money-go