Roughly five years ago, tragedy struck the already impoverished country of Haiti in the form of a massive earthquake. Images of demolished homes, people living in poverty and an entire landscape that was now nearly impossible to recognize pulled at the heart strings of millions of Americans.
About half a billion dollars were collected for the American Red Cross’s Haiti earthquake relief efforts. However, the organization has paid for a whopping total of six homes. Just six.
A joint investigation by ProPublica and NPR found that the charitable organization has been touting unsupported data as it gave itself a pat on the back for all the work it has done in Haiti so far.
It may have had outstanding plans for the country, but what actually happened with the millions of dollars in donation remains a mystery.
“Among the investigation’s findings was that although the Red Cross apportioned about $170m to the category of ‘shelter’ relief, and although it at first planned to build some 700 houses, it only constructed six permanent homes,” The Guardian reported.
It’s an unbelievably low number compared to the 130,000 homes the Red Cross claimed it had built in the country. After promising to build brand new and improved communities for the people, locals are still waiting to see at least one actually surface.
So much money was dedicated to a worthy cause yet there is almost absolutely nothing to show for it outside of lavish travel expenses for expats, hefty salaries for officials and excessive allowances for housing, food and other living expenses.
And so begins the extensive list of expensive mistakes made by those in charge of millions of dollars meant to bring new hope and better communities to a country that desperately needed help. A team of powerful people with hardly an experience ultimately resulted in the misuse of funds and flawed budgeting that failed to get resources where they needed to go.
“Lacking the expertise to mount its own projects, the Red Cross ended up giving much of the money to other groups to do the work,” ProPublica’s Jim Elliott wrote in the report following the extensive investigation. “Those groups took out a piece of every dollar to cover overhead and management. Even on the projects done by others the Red Cross had its own significant expenses—in one case, adding up to a third of the project’s budget.”
The lack of experience created a series of issues that trickled down to every level in the organization, making it extremely difficult for work to get done.
For one former official that was working on the Campeche project, which was given the name LAMIKA, micromanagement from the States drastically slowed processes that should already been set in place.
“Everything takes four times as long because it would be micromanaged from DC, and they had no development experience,” the former official told the investigators.
In other words, the lack of aid actually rendered to Haiti was, in large part, due to a serious lack of knowledge and willingness to rely on and trust officials from Haiti rather than transferring workers from the U.S. who knew very little about Haiti.
But don’t think this was simply some great $500 million mistake.
Throughout the investigation, the reports take note of the Red Cross’ deceitful ways and their tendency to use unsupported data or petty excuses to justify the existence of only six permanent Red Cross-funded homes in Campeche.
While working in Haiti is certainly a task that comes with its own set of challenges and unique obstacles, other organizations still managed to navigate the territory and follow through on their promises to the community.
More than 9,000 homes were built by other organizations who had significantly smaller budgets than the Red Cross.
But, then again, that’s another issue of its very own—the budget.
When other organizations obtain the money necessary to rebuild communities and help Haitians get back on their feet, they shut down donations and got to work.
The Red Cross, however, soared beyond its $24 million budget to continue collecting the $500 billion in donations that now seems to have vanished into thin air.
“Five hundred million dollars in Haiti is a lot of money,” Bellerive, the former prime minister, told ProPublica. “I’m not a big mathematician, but I can make some additions. I know more of less the cost of things. Unless you don’t pay for the gasoline the same price I was paying, unless you pay people 20 times what I was paying them, unless the cost of the house you built was five times the cost I was paying, it doesn’t add up for me.”
It didn’t add up for some of the Red Cross’ own staffers either, one of whom cut ties with the organization and flew back to America after officials revealed they wanted to focus efforts on projects that would attract publicity rather than focusing on what would be the most helpful to the community.
The full report pulls back the curtain on a list of careless mistakes, disconcerting emails, dishonest reporting, lack of expertise and a plethora of other problems that resulted in Haiti being left to ultimately attempt to rebuild its own communities after a natural disaster left the Western Hemisphere’s poorest country drowning in the aftermath of devastation.