$9B Question: What Happened to Aid to Rebuild Haiti?

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20090908NS-ho-HAITIAID687_t607After a devastating earthquake hit Haiti in 2010, governments and foundations from around the world pledged more than $9 billion to help get the country back on its feet.

Only a fraction of the money ever made it. And Haiti’s President Michel Martelly says the funds aren’t “showing results.”

Roughly 350,000 people still live in camps. Many others simply moved back to the same shoddily built structures that proved so deadly during the earthquake.

Martelly says the relief effort is uncoordinated and projects hatched from good intentions have undermined his government. “We don’t just want the money to come to Haiti. Stop sending money,” he tells Shots, NPR’s online health news channel.

“Let’s fix it,” he says, referring the international relief system.

Disaster specialist Dr. Tom Kirsch from Johns Hopkins School of Medicine agrees with Martelly. “Clearly we saved lives,” he says. “Clearly we put people in tents. Clearly we did all kinds of stuff. But at the same time, the level of chaos and the overall ability to reach needy people, we don’t know how well we did.”

Kirsch, who’s been in Haiti several times since the quake, added, “We could have written a check to everyone in Haiti for — I don’t know — $10,000 a piece, which would support them forever, rather than the way we spent it.”

So where did all that money go?

Reporter Jonathan Katz is the author of the new book, “The Big Truck That Went By: How the World Came to Save Haiti and Left Behind a Disaster.” He was Haiti bureau chief for The Associated Press at the time of the quake. Here are highlights from the Shots conversation, edited lightly for length and clarity.

Shots: Aid pledged to Haiti — $9.3 billion-worth from 2010 to 2012 — is about a third of all global health aid donated in 2012. What happened to the money that was supposed to go to Haiti?

Katz: Money did what money tends to do in most foreign aid situations. That is, rather than being a model in which a rich country gives a poor country a big bag of cash and says, “Here spend this on fixing things up from whatever the latest crisis was,” what actually happens is that very little of the money actually leaves the donor countries.

First of all, you’ve got billions of dollars that are promised, but just never delivered. You’ve got billions of dollars more that were sort of creative accounting. Donor nations say they’re providing debt relief, yet those debts were never realistically going to be paid back. So some of the money is sort of fictive.

So how much actually made it into Haiti?

Even among the real money, if you look at what was labeled as humanitarian relief in the months right after the quake, that amounts to about $2.5 billion.

Read more: NPR.org

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