Co-authored by Tom Murphy
The international community’s response to the catastrophic 2010 earthquake in Haiti was one of the largest disaster relief responses ever carried out involving many governments, agencies, hundreds of humanitarian organizations and about $9 billion in private donations and foreign government assistance.
So it may be a bit disconcerting that, three years on, the aid and development community still can’t seem to agree on whether the effort should be regarded as largely a success or a failure.
“There are still something like 360,000 people living in tents,” said Nicole Phillips, a human rights attorney with the Institute for Justice and Democracy and Haiti. Philips is speaking today at the University of Washington along with documentary filmmaker Michele Mitchell who is screening her film Haiti: Where Did the Money Go? – a critical analysis of the lack of accountability within the humanitarian community.
Other aid experts, like Vijaya Ramachandran at the prestigious DC-based think tank the Center for Global Development, have asked the same question. As Ramachandran wrote last spring:
The Government of Haiti has received just 1 percent of humanitarian aid and somewhere between 15 and 21 percent of longer-term relief aid. As a result, NGOs and private contractors in Haiti have built an extensive infrastructure for the provision of social services. Yet, these entities appear to have limited accountability….
But many of those who actually do the work there say this alleged lack of adequate financial accountability doesn’t necessarily mean Haitians did not benefit, that lives were not saved and that many millions of people’s lives have been improved.
“There’s a reason it’s called a disaster,” said Jeff Wright, emergency operations manager for World Vision and a disaster relief worker with lots of experience in Haiti. These situations are always chaotic and hardly ideal for precise bookkeeping, Wright said, adding that Haiti was chaotic and difficult before the quake.
“Are things in Haiti good today? No. Are they better than they would have been had we not responded? Absolutely.” Continue reading