Haiti January 12, 2010 revisited – where disaster is profitable for some.

I have had two visits to Haiti in the past 12 months, for a month in November/December 2010 and a week in October/November 2011. Nearly a year apart in time but with very little improvement. Ah yes, a three mile stretch of the road to President Martelly residence is now paved and parts of the market area in Petion-Ville has been torn down presumably for “urban renewal” otherwise known as poor people removal. So it comes as no great surprise to learn that the largest receipient of Haitian earthquake funds is the US government followed closely by International NGOs.

One. The largest single recipient of US earthquake money was the US government. The same holds true for donations by other countries.

Right after the earthquake, the US allocated $379 million in aid and sent in 5000 troops. The Associated Press discovered that of the $379 million in initial US money promised for Haiti, most was not really money going directly, or in some cases even indirectly, to Haiti. They documented in January 2010 that thirty three cents of each of these US dollars for Haiti was actually given directly back to the US to reimburse ourselves for sending in our military. Forty two cents of each dollar went to private and public non-governmental organizations like Save the Children, the UN World Food Program and the Pan American Health Organization. Hardly any went directly to Haitians or their government.

The Save the Children compound lies directly opposite SOPUDEP free school for poor children through grade school. The school is so oversubscribed they now run morning and late afternoon sessions and every day cook for over 400 children. The women who cook start work soaking beans at 4am in the morning. For most of the children this is their meal of the day. Prior to the earthquake, as far as STC were concerned, SOPUDEP might well have been on another planet. Post earthquake a small offer of funds was made which was refused – what you just discovered we are here and now you want to put me on your list? A gift of school supplies for the children was accepted.

Four. A large percentage of the money went to international aid agencies, and big well connected non-governmental organizations (NGOs).

The American Red Cross received over $486 million in donations for Haiti. It says two-thirds of the money has been contracted to relief and recovery efforts, though specific details are difficult to come by. The CEO of American Red Cross has a salary of over $500,000 per year.

Look at the $8.6 million joint contract between the US Agency for International Development (USAID) with the private company CHF for debris removal in Port au Prince. CHF is politically well-connected international development company with annual budget of over $200 million whose CEO was paid $451,813 in 2009. CHF’s connection to Republicans and Democrats is illustrated by its board secretary, Lauri Fitz-Pegado, a partner with the Livingston Group LLC. The Livingston Group is headed by the former Republican Speaker-designate for the 106th Congress, Bob Livingston, doing lobbying and government relations. Ms. Fitz-Pegado, who apparently works the other side of the aisle, was appointed by President Clinton to serve in the Department of Commerce and served as a member of the foreign policy expert advisor team on the Obama for President Campaign.

1% of the money went to the Haitian government; very little to Haitian NGOs; much of the promised money never arrived and much that has arrived hasnt been spent – does that mean it is sitting in a bank somewhere in the US or Europe earning loads of interest which I’m sure will not go to Haiti.

Last November I took to drinking beer at one of the camp tent bars / food drop / barber shop near Petion-ville. The Tents are so crammed together there is hardly room to move in a space shared with giant sized rats. Here young girls – some pregnant hustle for customers and hope they will not be thrown out onto the streets. Sometimes they fight but at least those who are young can somehow just about survive the day – each day you return you wonder if someone will have been raped, beaten or just died from a broken heart. Each time I visited the bar, there was an older woman who seemed alone with no clients. I remember thinking how beautiful she is, elegant with a gentle smile. I did not want to think about how she managed from day to day or how she had come to this point in her life. I am sure she herself did not want to think of these things so in the meantime, a beer, a cigarette and a few words. One time I met her at a voudou ceremony, where she looked happy so I guessed she was with friends. I wonder…. will she still be there the next time?